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PPC vs. SEO – the battle rages on

13 Nov 2012
By Ankur

This post looks at two different changes brought in by Google, and asks the question: does Google put the needs of the PPC community above those of SEOs (search engine optimisation professionals)?

Google 1 – SEO – 0

In October 2011, Google stopped sharing data with publishers which showed how people searched for and found those publishers through Google’s search engine.

Previously, users’ search terms were passed along to the publisher, but post October 2011 Google stopped forwarding this information if the user was signed into any Google property, i.e. (Google+, YouTube, Gmail etc).

This means that where publishers could once see the search term used to find their content in Google Analytics, they now saw ‘not provided’.

Google Analytics Visits

Google said they took this decision to protect user’s privacy, but the move was met with resentment and anger from the SEO community, and it got worse when Google decided to continue sharing the same data with PPC advertisers.

At the time Google stated this change would affect less than 10% of the total search volume, however publishers soon realised that wouldn’t be the case, especially with Google+ gaining more prominence meaning more users would be searching while signed in to a Google account. Below is an example of a data set for one our clients, showing a significant increase in the number of searches being reported as ‘not provided’.

Google Analytics graph

Despite the anger and frustration, Google didn’t budge, and publishers were forced to think of alternative ways to optimise accounts for SEO.

To add to SEOs worries, Microsoft has now announced its intention to use “Do not track” as the default setting for it’s Internet Explorer 10 users, meaning internet marketers will no longer be able to collect information about consumers using that version of the browser.

Under these circumstances SEOs have found themselves in a situation asking the question how search engines expect them to optimise their SEO and ensure their site is the most relevant result for a user’s search query when they have less and less information.

It’s not all bad news for SEOs 

PPC advertisers can continue to find this data in Google AdWords as usual, but it’s not all bad news for SEOs. Google passes this search query information for logged in users to ‘Google Webmaster Tools’, giving the caveat

that the data is limited to:

  • Last 30 days
  • Top 1,000 search terms

Whilst this isn’t the most intuitive work around, it’s better than having no data to offer your clients.

Google 1 – PPC – 1

In May 2012 Google changed the way advertisers were serving their ads. Previously advertisers could specify that they wanted to rotate their ads evenly (indefinitely), which allowed them to test and understand which messages performed best. In May 2012 Google gave a 30 day notice to advertisers about changing that option from indefinitely to 30 days, and then it would show ads that were expected to generate most clicks.

PPC advertisers went ballistic, in fear of being deprived of the ability to test new ad creatives as they previously had done. The PPC community let Google know how exactly how they felt by filing a petition.

Perhaps not wanting to make paying advertisers unhappy, Google tried to compromise by extending the timescale to 90 days, but the advertising community stood their ground. Google finally relented and changed the feature back to how it used to be (albeit adding a warning that this was not the recommended option!).

adwords settings

Finding the balance

In my opinion there needs to be a balance between protecting user privacy and allowing the web’s content creators to capture the information they need to create consistently relevant content that meets users’ needs. I think a good start would be for Google to increase the time period from 30 days for SEOs to find the search query information in Google Webmaster Tools.

Similarly, there needs to be a balance between the needs of the PPC and SEO communities. While the SEO community may not have the spending power of PPC advertisers, it has a big impact on user experience.

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