November 21, 2011

Give Thanks Google Hasn’t Secured Mobile Search Data – Yet

(Read in entirety at Search Engine Land. Published 2011.)

As we approach Thanksgiving in the US, Google’s recent introduction of secure search understandably left many in SEO-land feeling more like the 99% these days – betrayed and powerless over the sizable disappearance of organic keyword data in the name of privacy.

But besides PPC advertisers, there appears to be another exception to Google’s secure search keyword stripping: mobile organic search.

I think Google is signaling where their focus is (and where they want your focus to be) by giving a small window of opportunity to act.

Securing Search Activity

Not that I quibble with the views expressed by others on the sense of loss: organic keyword referral data makes it possible to listen to what searchers want, and build relevant content.

It does seem a double-standard for Google to expect websites to feed lifeblood information, while now providing less information and control in return for non-advertisers. I get how these facts weaken Google’s claims about privacy.

Still, the bigger picture is a mobile picture, where privacy must be paramount. Smartphones and tablets encounter more networks and interception points than desktops or laptops. I was present at Where2.0 this year when it was revealed iPhones track location. Apple made the evening news.

Without some type of encrypted search, it’s inevitable hotspot sniffers will publish personally identifiable mobile search history, location, and clicked SERPs.

The Mobile Exception

That’s what makes it so interesting that secure search evidently hasn’t rolled out to Google’s mobile SERPs. Whether logged into Google or not, using Google’s mobile Web or Google app search, I have not yet seen evidence that any of these default to encrypted SSL search – or secure search that strips referrer keywords.

Check your own log files and mobile analytics: If you’re not seeing “not provided” in your mobile organic keyword referral data, that means Google is still providing you with unencrypted (and unfettered) access to your mobile search referrer keywords.

If that’s the case, then just as the desktop SEO glass becomes half empty, the mobile SEO glass remains half full.

Google's mobile search passes keywords through referrer string


While this won’t last forever, I can’t help but wonder how long it might – and why. Because in my view, Google seems to be facing a curious mobile predicament – one that might keep the window open just a bit longer, and strangely may even require the work of the “99%” impacted by its secure search desktop roll-out.

Mobile Keyword Data => Bigger Mobile Web

The thing is, the mobile Web is not just spontaneously erupting. It’s nowhere near the size of the 1998 desktop Internet, which needed a smarter algorithm to organize it. The mobile Web is nascent, improperly configured, and mostly invisible. It’s still being built.

The reason is simple: the mobile Web has lacked a clear ROI equation. Without this, marketers have been unable to make the business case to prioritize and invest dollars into mobile Web over competing initiatives.

Data is at the crux of Google’s mobile problem.

Bigger Mobile Web => More Mobile Ads

For Google to really monetize mobile search, they must first coax the mobile Web into existence – until there’s enough for algorithms to organize.

So they’re busy providing all the carrots, sticks, tools, and data possible to accelerate adoption of the mobile Web – from offering mobile keyword demand data, to tools for creating mobile pages, to rewarding mobile pages with higher quality score, and now the GoMo site with case study ROI data and visualization tools.

It’s all great. But just like SEOs have lamented lately, it’s not possible to calculate mobile opportunity if you can’t measure your current mobile keyword performance.

In other words, the data marketers need to build-out and prioritize mobile Web content (like keyword demand, market share, average order value, conversion rate) is the data that secure search keyword stripping will take away!

If it’s in Google’s best interest to accelerate the mobile Web, it’s in their interest to not strip referring keywords from mobile organic search for now, because it’s too crucial to mobile Web resourcing and development. Even if that does run counter to privacy concerns.

10 Tips To Get Active In Mobile Search

Mobile is secure search’s raison d’etre; it must eventually make its way into Google’s mobile SERPs and apps. But for a brief moment, while desktop SEOs struggle to see past “not provided” keywords, an opportunity has been created for forward-looking search marketers to take advantage of.

We may not see a better opportunity than this to apply this data, to estimate the value of creating, integrating, and delivering mobile versions of desktop content for mobile searchers.

Here are ten mobile steps I recommend SEOs take today:

  1. Audit your site’s mobility for your top desktop site category, subcategory and product pages
  2. Export from your analytics the organic mobile keyword referral data for each of these pages
  3. Benchmark your mobile SERP rankings (by parsing the referring URL for “cd=” parameter)
  4. Upload these phrases into the Google AdWords keyword tool to get exact match demand
  5. Calculate your actual keyword market share
  6. Apply GoMo (and other) case study results for average order size and conversion
  7. Extrapolate incremental revenue projections
  8. Calculate ROI by dividing incremental revenue by cost of developing /integrating mobile content
  9. Prioritize development of each mobile page by ranking against ROI or incremental revenue
  10. Build and integrate mobile pages not just for searchers, but all mobile users

The future is mobile. Mobile search will be secure. It’s just not yet. Maybe you have another year, maybe just another day. Either way, seize the opportunity! You’ll be thankful you did.

Use your data to make your mobile Web presence more visible today. One day, like we’ve seen on the desktop, it’s possible that organic mobile keyword data will vanish.

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