||How Google's Search Changes Affect Small Businesses
Google recently switched to something known as secure search, limiting the data that can be seen using its analytics.
This means Web site owners and managers can no longer see the string of words used by an individual to find their site in a search, which could have a profound effect on marketing efforts. Knowing how customers found them helps business owners optimize their sites so that they rank higher in search results.
Web site managers who use Google's Webmaster Tools, which are free, can see some data for the top 2,000 search queries in a selected period of time. The information is not sent in real time, but is available in a secure dashboard that managers log can in to. The goal of the change, according to a Google spokesman, is to stop hackers from gaining access to the data, but it also means that business owners will have a tougher time piecing together the moment in time someone found them and the browser they used to get there.
We asked Louis Gagnon, chief product and marketing officer at Yodle, which helps small businesses with online marketing, including search engine optimization, to help us make sense of the changes. Based in Manhattan, Yodle, serves about 35,000 small businesses in 400 industry segments, had 2012 revenue of $132 million and has been growing about 40 percent a year.
Q: What exactly did Google change?
A: First, you need to understand the way search works. When you search for something on Google, at the top and on the right of the page are paid advertisements. Results on other areas of the page are called organic or the S.E.O. results.
In 2011, Google decided that for organic results, they would no longer make available the search terms a person used to get to that page if they searched while logged into a Google account like Gmail or another Google Web property. Before that point in 2011, if I had a Web site I could see the search words any individual who came to my site used to find me. Thirty percent of all global searches were made by people logged into a Google account. That meant if I was the owner of a business Web site, I lost information for about 30 percent of those who come to my site. I can't see the terms they used to get to me. Last week Google changed that again and expanded what they started in 2011, by applying it not just to those logged into a Google account but to most users -- not yet all users but likely 100 percent soon.
Q: Is there any way for business owners to get that information now?
A: Yes -- you have to pay for it. You will have to create a Google AdWords account and an ad campaign. Paying for AdWords allows you to access that string of search words, but it's related to the number of people who click on your ad. If no one clicks on the ad, you won't see any information. That means there is an incentive to spend more and for a longer period of time, to test keywords.
Q: Is there any other way?
A: I would suggest trying to get your hands on ranking data -- generally gotten by using an external vendor, who will tell you where your organic results are ranking and what keywords are connecting to you. Then combine that with several different reporting sources and look at the relationships between them. Those sources could include Google Webmaster Tools, Google Places for Business and Google Keyword Planner. Use those with Web site logs -- the database that records everything that people do while on your Web site, so you understand which page is actually getting traffic and what visitors do on these pages. You have to put together ranking data, impressions data, click data, etc., and none of these reports will bring them all together, so you may also need an expert to interpret the data.
Q: Do you really think small-business owners are going to do that?
A: Most of them won't. The average business owner is working 12 hours a day, and then they come home and have to deal with the rest of their life. There are only a few hours a night to do their other business chores, and most of them lack the background and expertise to do that. Even for those that do have the expertise and understanding, it's not the best investment of their time. It's better for them to get someone else to do it.
Q: Do you think this is cause for them to panic?
A: No. When you don't know what you don't know, it doesn't hurt. A lot of business owners weren't using this information before. Their level of understanding and sophistication is such that they just don't know this has changed. I'm convinced it's less than one percent that have this on the radar screen.
Q: Is it too early to know how much of an impact this will have and how businesses are reacting?
A: It's early, but I think it will have a big impact on people who are managing their own sites. Maybe 20 to 30 percent of small businesses are doing this themselves and for those people, this change will hurt. They will have to pay for AdWords, or they will have to absorb the complexity in some way and do something with it. It's not easy. They have to work harder. There's no doubt it will require more time. The other 70 percent of small businesses have already outsourced this. There are different types of service providers that would help with solving the problem -- they are bigger technology companies, like ours, that are not affected. But if you've outsourced digital marketing and S.E.O. to your cousin, now your cousin has the problem. He's likely to come back with higher fees, because he has to spend more time on this, or he'll suggest you spend a little bit on AdWords.
Q: What do you think most business owners will do?
A: Most people who really care about digital marketing and really understand it will reconsider what they're doing from an organic search standpoint and ask themselves if they should outsource this to a technology company.
(Source: Eilene Zimmerman, The New York Times, 10/09/13)