Recently within the #measure community there has been much talk about Google launching https://www.google.com which is an SSL version of Google search. The big issue is that when a user clicks through a search result the referring site is stripped off and there is no way for the destination site to tell what keyword was used. What will happen next depends on who you talk to.
Perhaps this means that businesses don’t know what is driving traffic to their site (via natural/organic search) so they will not want to spend ad dollars on keywords that may or may not be used frequently by their visitors. Maybe businesses switch spending to a different service, such as Bing, where they can feel more comfortable knowing what they are spending on. For the web analysts, like myself, there is the issue about where the traffic shows up in marketing channel reporting. We will no longer know how much traffic Google is driving to our sites. Since Google is such a major player in the search game this could be a huge issue.
But there is one problem with all of this. While I – as a web analyst – care about this, I – as a customer, as a searcher – don’t give a crap what a company does or doesn’t get. That’s their problem to work out. In fact, with all the talk about privacy from all the Facebook changes, as a searcher I would be happy with any new security Google can provide for me. So this means that the users of search are not going to drive Google away from defaulting to SSL searches and perhaps do the opposite and attract more pepole. That only leaves the businesses paying for advertising, but they hardly have any strength at all. Really, it just means businesses will not spend money as efficiently as they could be so they would have to buy more keywords or risk lost revenue from lack of paid traffic.
That inefficiency is one of the smaller ways Google could make some money. There is an even bigger opportunity that is revealed in Google’s own statement about the service:
Searching over SSL doesn’t reduce the data sent to Google — it only hides that data from third parties who seek it.
You see where I’m going with this? Google could start charging for access to the natural search. This is sold to senior leadership at businesses by stressing that without the data the company 1) won’t know what is driving search traffic to the site and 2) won’t be able to spend their search advertising dollars efficiently. It is a grand slam for Google. Furthermore, before you get up in arms about the thought of paying for this data, have you ever used Acxiom data to gather targeting information on customers you otherwise know nothing about? If you’re not in the direct mail space, then what about Hitwise or Comscore? All of that is the same thing. Nielsen Ratings? Same thing. Just a company collecting (or buying) massive amounts of data and packaging and selling that data to clients.
At the end of the day businesses simply cannot afford to say “screw Google, we’ll buy ads elsewhere”. They will pay for this data, and probably line up to do it (after the mandatory complaining about how they used to get it free). We all know that Rupert Murdoch is changing the face of news on the internet by charging for it. There were even talks about making Google pay to index it. Google needs to keep looking for new ways to generate revenue; charging for search data may be it. At the very least it could come free with Google Analytics, giving you one more reason to switch. I bet that wouldn’t make Omniture / Adobe very happy.
I think things could get interesting. What do you think?
This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.