Google has implemented changes to Google Analytics that are presented as "protecting user privacy" however these changes will present a challenge for SEO companies that rely on Google Analytics data to influence SEO work. This article discusses the changes, and the real and perceived implications for users.
Google Analytics 2013 Changes
Why Google Is Changing Analytics
Every change has (or should have) a logical reason, right? In the case of recent changes to Google Analytics referral data the public statements discuss protecting Google user privacy. This sounds noble but I have to ask, “protect privacy from who or what?” and “why don’t the words match the actions?”.
Words and Actions Don’t Match
Within Analytics there has been what is called "referral data" which shows search phrases used to arrive at your site, sites from which users came, etc. The new changes mean that Analytics will not show granular detail for users who are logged in to their Google account – thus the conflict between words and actions.
If a user is logged in, Google can most certainly, and will, record search queries and other user specific data. Excluding the user information from Analytics means that SEO practitioners and site owners are stripped of information relative to their site . . . although Google has the user data. The bottom line is that the user privacy protection is somewhat misleading because Google now has MORE and very specific information about a user – so much for privacy.
Motivations To Restrict Referral Data
If Google retains data that has true marketing value then they have information that can be bundled and sold to internet marketing agencies and advertising companies. By promoting the user privacy protection spin it will most likely drive an increase in the number of people who log in to their Google Plus account to search. In the end this means that more people login, Google gets specific user data and can monetize the information, or perhaps serve as a willing servant to any part of the government that wants data on an individual. Needless to say, this really does not protect the user, and you have to ask if referral data ever presented a real issue for users.
The Mechanics of Analytics Changes
If a user is logged in to their Google account any organic search and click will be reflected within Analytics as “not provided”. If you click on an Adwords ad the data will be shown in Analytics. If you are not logged in the data will be shown in Analytics in the manner that we have always seen. The estimation of SEO gurus is that this change will cut Analytics data by less than 10%, however it has not been stated as to how this figure was determined.
Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday Discussion
How To Compensate For Data Loss
Rand Fishkin offers some excellent methods to counter the loss of invaluable data in the video we have posted here. In addition to what Rand offers we think that there is a now increased value of the historical data that you have on file. Certainly some statistical averaging can help to feather out some edges. If you are venturing into new areas it may be worth running Adwords campaigns in order to get data that can supplement what remains withing Analytics.
While this change is probably not earth shattering, it is worth considering that knowledge is power and some power is being taken away. We encourage you to leave comments and ideas on your thoughts about the loss of Analytics referral data.
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We are a digital marketing company with a focus on helping our customers achieve great results across several key areas.