With studies showing that privacy concerns are increasingly leading members of the public to change their online habits, Google has begun to change the way its system works so that secure search becomes the default. This has been automatic for logged-in users for several years. The move has fueled speculation, as the search engine giant has given no reason as to why it is making this move now.
The changes, which have developed rapidly over the last few days, potentially represent a problem for those working in search engine optimization, as they make it much harder to trace the keywords with which a particular search originated. Google AdWords still seems to be providing organic search terms to those invested in it, as clicks on ads are still recorded, and some have suggested that the changes may be designed to generate more AdWords revenue; however, Google is denying this, insisting that its motivation is providing an improved service to its general users.
Concern about privacy peaked this summer when the US National Security Agency (NSA) confirmed that it had been spying on internet users through its PRISM program. Though the response in the US itself was slower than in some other countries, it saw users becoming increasingly cautious about giving away personal information online or participating in activities that might reveal sensitive personal details if tracked. Google faced serious PR problems following accusations that it had cooperated with the NSA in sharing user data, and it is possible that its move towards providing users with additional privacy is intended to win back their trust.
The risk Google faces is that tracking search terms will now be more easily done via its competitors, which could in turn lead to those focused on search engine optimization becoming more interested in the offers these competitors have to make. Though some variations between search engines is to be expected, in the absence of clearer, freely available information it may be worth marketers’ while assuming that popular terms will be the same across the board. For bigger companies or those using specialist marketing firms, however, getting access to more accurate data should still be relatively straightforward. It remains to be seen how Google’s new approach to privacy will develop and it is possible that its plans will be adapted along the way as it observes how different customer groups react.
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