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Why Isn’t Google Playing Ball?

January 15, 2014 By Pete Sheinbaum
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When Google announced its new policy to encrypt 100 percent of search result data, marketers and publishers flew into a minor panic. The keyword data so many relied on to optimize their sites or to target ads was now hidden. In a double whammy of sorts, Google shortly thereafter introduced a brand new search algorithm called "Hummingbird," further de-emphasizing the once-powerful keyword. Google responded to questions about these changes with an emphasis toward protecting consumer privacy, but I believe other motives are at play.

People, including me, initially thought that the update hurt publishers the most because valuable analytics were no longer accessible. But the more I look at the situation, the more I believe the real targets of these updates were the advertising networks. By removing search queries from publishers' site analytics, Google's changes really hurt all of the pixel droppers that are correlating your personal keyword search history to targeted advertising. The ad networks that were building search profiles of users are now cut off from this data, and this will likely degrade the quality of their algorithms (read: be a big problem).

What Was Lost
How does this work, exactly? Well, how many times have you wandered onto a website and seen an ad for that car you searched for two weeks ago, or that pair of shoes that are now sitting in your closet, delivered overnight by Zappos? Remember your quest for these items started with a Google search, moved through several sites offering reviews or advice, and ended with you ultimately clicking "buy now"? Along the path to your commerce victory, one or more of the sites you visited was running ad servers—and the networks supplying the ads—that married your Google search query with your online identity. Embedded in your cookie cache, and tied back to the server farms, is a profile of you and what you were looking for. Now when you visit other sites, these same ad networks are serving ads to you related to what you were searching for, even if that search is now woefully out of date (but that's another topic altogether).

In theory, tying your search history to you means you'll see more targeted ads and increases the likelihood you will click on them, or remember the brands you have seen. And this may be true. Better performance on the ads will allow these networks to charge more, make more money, grow their business, and perhaps even compete with Google for more ad dollars. Therein lies the rub. Google owns this data, it has been giving it away for free, and that was enabling its competition. Not any more.

 

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