In the fall of 2013, Google moved to secure search. That means that they stopped passing keyword data to sites across the web. One day, Google is telling publishers that the keyword “Lasagna recipe” drove 2,120 people to their site. The next, nothing. Nada. The only keyword data available: “Unknown”.
Unless the site was utilizing AdWords paid search, they really had no way of knowing the keywords that were used to drive traffic to their site.
It also meant that sites that monetized their user data had a lot less data worth selling and that companies that purchased that data had a lot less insight into the “digital breadcrumbs” of those users.
Or did it? Let’s take a look at how keyword data is still very available, despite Google’s move to secure search.
Look at Amazon, ZDNet, USA Today, Web MD, Travelocity, Parents.com, social media channels, every news site, blogs and forums. Search events take place on all of these sites all the time.
Each and every site that has one of these search boxes has its very own window into the “digital breadcrumbs” of its users. That alone is a lot of data that can be gathered without the help of Google.
But search data comes from more than just typing a keyword into a search box. Consider how we get around the web – by clicking links. And every time we click a link from one page to another, we create search data that tells the sites a little about us.
If I’m on CNET, reading an article about the iPhone, and click a link from that article that looks like this: best iPhone 6S and iPhone 6 cases, CNET now has data that associates me as a user with an interest in iPhone cases – simply because I clicked on that link. They can probably even assume that I own an iPhone 6 or 6S.
Not only that, every URL contains keyword relevant data. Every single page of every single site on the internet has its own unique URL. Each URL contains a structure, and that structure can be broken down into keyword data that identifies the main keyword content of the page. So as a user surfs the web, these URLs can be used to determine additional search data associated with the user.
This URL tells CNET that I have an interest in iPhone cases, no matter how I arrived here. (A Google search? Maybe. A link from a Facebook friend? Possibly.)
Some URLs even contain actual search events, i.e. q=search event or s=search event. In this example taken from Parents.com, a search for “danger of high fever” in the search box results in a URL that contains information specific to the search event.
Sites that you visit collect this data. They use it to understand more about their site visitors and how they can make their site better. They use it to learn about their audience so they can create better content for future visits. This data is also helpful if they are selling advertising. They can tell potential advertisers about the audience they’ll get in front of by advertising with them.
Are you starting to see how much data there is available even without Google’s search data?
True research takes place on “the rest of the internet” – all your favorite news sites, tech sites, blogs, forums and social networks – those places where you’re spending the majority of your time online
Google search is “tip of the iceberg” – meaning that you begin your searches on Google, but then do the majority of your research on those sites that know much more about the subject matter that you are researching.
Consider a parent looking to send her daughter to college. She may search Google for “best colleges in Kansas”. Those results will lead her directly to some of those schools in Kansas, but may also lead her to education related message boards, forums, blogs, review sites, and articles about colleges in Kansas on her favorite news sites. As she travels from site to site, she leaves those “digital breadcrumbs” that speaks to her interest in college.
Of all of those “breadcrumbs”, only the first search came from Google. Do we really need that particular search to know that this is a mother researching colleges for her daughter? Most of the time, no.
And because so many websites collect and monetize users data, there is a lot of it available – with or without Google search.