Google Altered the Search Game – Forever?

Google Changes to Search

Systematically, Google has slowly but surely changed the way SEO and search is

For those who don’t follow these things, Google has made a significant shift that impacts organic search and SEO.

One of those shifts was taking away its popular and free Keyword Tool that many used to determine which search terms received the most usage.

Then it decided to increase ‘secure search’ for all users.  What the heck is ‘secure search’?

In your Google Analytics there is a category called Top Searches.  This is where you see which search terms people are using to find your website.  The ‘not provided’ figure represents the search terms Google has deemed “secure”.  The more secure searches, the fewer terms you, as the site owner, see.

Google - Top searches.JPG


Over the last couple of years, the secure search figure has been increasing as the chart below from (Not Provided) Count shows.  There was a significant uptick in September of this year and it is estimated that 100% of the search terms will be “secure” as of November 14, 2013.

Google Secure Search - Not Provide Count Graph

Why is Google doing this? 

Some speculate hiding search terms has something to do with the recent NSA spying scandal.  Others feel it is so Google can force feed people to use AdWords.

There are less menacing scenarios to consider.

1.  Google’s algorithms are less dependent upon keywords and better able to  understand language and the intent behind search google-hummingbirdcombinations – as reported in its recent Hummingbird release.  As a result, Google search results are becoming more personalized and more finely turned.

2.  Other tools such as Google Authorship Markups help to add credibility to web content in a way that keywords alone can’t.

3.  Social media is having an impact on the type of searches being conducted and on the search results being delivered. More about this later.

4.  Or maybe this is another in a long list of attempts by Google to erase SEO gamesmanship and ensure the authenticity of their end product – reliable searches.

The rationale is not as important as are the implications.

Those who have turned a deaf ear to the importance of SEO and keywords, won’t miss the disappearance of tools they never used.  Those always on the hunt for dark alley hacks will continue to hunt.

For the rest of us – online marketers, bloggers, those involved in SEO, business owners interested in getting more traffic to their sites – Google’s search changes have made SEO a lot more difficult.

Are there Keyword Workarounds?

One can use the Google Adwords Planning Tool in Adwords. It works differently than the free Keyword Tool, but it provides more information than pure guesswork.

Another resource is Google’s Webmaster Tools.  Here you can see the data for the top 2,000 queries that returned your site at least once or twice in search results in the selected period.

Then there is your Google Places for Business account, which provides you with the search terms people use to find your business listing.

These data coupled with other SEO tools could yield some SEO insights.  Will it be as good or easy as using Google’s Keyword Tool or the actual search terms used by visitors?  In a word, NO.

But the real question is:

Do we need to bother with SEO?

The driver for SEO and keywords is site traffic.  You wanted to attract the search engines to crawl your site and ranked on page 1 or as high as possible to achieve more traffic.

With these recent Google changes to the search game, is SEO still required?

Before we answer that question, Google also added a new twist to search.

Google+ Hashtags

Google introduced Google+ Hashtags.  Searches using a hashtag will see a live feed of items tagged with a hashtag.  Here’s an example for #smallbusiness.  The orange arrow highlights the live hashtag feed area.


Google Hashtags

When using hashtags, Google’s search results are not limited to items shared on Google+. It also includes things such as Tumblr, some Twitter as well as any kind of blog posts, new stories pages that using the same hashtag.

Per Zaheed Sabur, Google Senior Software Engineer, Google’s hashtags will represent a “richer experience”.  As he explains:

  • When you search on Google for a hashtag, say [#AmericasCup] or [#WaterfallWednesday], a set of relevant Google+ posts may appear to the right of regular results.
  • You’ll only be able to see posts that have been shared publicly or shared with you.
  • If you click on any of these posts you’ll go to Google+, where you’ll see the full set of relevant posts.
  • You’ll also see links to search for these hashtags on other social sites.

What was typically treated as two separate functions – social and search – are now being interwoven.

What do all of these changes mean?

All of these combined changes present online marketers with new tools, new opportunities and a new way of thinking about online marketing.

For starters, online marketers and bloggers need to do some serious mental adjustments as the search game has most definitely been altered.

Those pushing “money making” keywords and no fail SEO strategies, have to craft a new story.

Bigger Picture

Hopefully, the new story will be about the quality of the content and its ability to build communities across the web.

The emphasis has moved the needle away from SEO tricks toward a bigger, more consistent online presence. One that incorporates social media into search.  This isn’t anything new, but Google has pushed us in that direction.

Does SEO still matter? 

I think it does – at least for the immediate future.  Those of us trained in SEO techniques for blog posts and the like, will find it difficult to clean our writing styles.  It will take time.

Besides Google is still using keywords for search.  It’s just added the #hashtag as a new type of keyword.

Google+ #hashtag.

Marketers should take advantage of the Google+ #hashtags by creating branded hashtags that will be tracked in Google+ and across many of the social media platforms.

Hashtags in press releases, blog posts and other web related content should also appear in the searches.  The net search results should be a more comprehensive brand identity.

Obviously, the more engagement in Google+, the better.

Bottom Line

Perhaps one of the best outcomes of these changes to search is that web content is no longer confined to an unnatural usage of keywords to find an audience.  Producing rich content that people truly want to consume should produce richer results for all online.

Hmmm.  That’s sounds like a game changer to me.  You?

What are your thoughts?

How will these Google changes impact your online marketing efforts?  You should put your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Sheila Hibbard

Sheila Hibbard takes the fluff, hype and confusion out of marketing and social media. She provides small business owners with straight forward, no nonsense marketing guidance and techniques that produce results based on her 35 plus years in advertising, communications, research, strategic planning and social media. Author of Marketing Online Made Simple - WHO.

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