Is Google policies change to affect the SEO sphere?

As of today, 1 March 2012 Google’s new Privacy Policy Terms of Service are coming into effect.

Continuing to use Google as a whole regardless of the service (a few exceptions apply) it means you have implicitly accepted the new terms even if you didn’t accept anything, or sign a form.

In the past few days Google has been making this change clear as for every logged in user it has been showing a pop up with a clear message that couldn’t pass unnoticed.

Details and implications

The new policy changes mean Google have rewritten the main Google Privacy Policy from top to bottom, getting rid of over 60 different privacy policies across the Google sphere and replacing them with a version that is more transparent, easier and a lot shorter.

Google now states clearly what data they collect and how they use it. So, if this is not clear yet, it means that when you’re signed in, Google will use data to “refine and improve your own personal experience on Google”.

This can be read also as an attempt for Google to be more upfront about personal data captures creating Personas, pretty much like Facebook does.

So what is the real story?

We mustn’t forget that Google’s primary business is serving ads and selling advertising spaces.

Therefore, at the end of the day, this change is really just another move by Google to boost their revenues while better tailoring their ads targeting the consumers whose searches and behaviours will be inferred primarily from their Web history as a whole.

On the other hand, the new policy changes mean new opportunities for advertisers that, exploiting the collected data, will now be able to specifically target a precise audience, leveraging the CTR and the conversions.

However, as Google ads are integrated everywhere, from Google Search engine to Google Mail down to YouTube videos, the major news here is that it is the first time Google is offering cross-product targeting opportunities.

Do you like or not like it?

Such a change fuelled concerns among people and organizations that questioned Google about the real objectives. Critics like this could be normal because several times Google has masqueraded their real intentions disingenuously claiming that the changes made were for the sake of simplicity.

And criticisms have been raised also from the European Union as well as from some US politicians. So, it is not just a matter of spites.

Digital marketing operators know the truth, and we don’t really need to go too far back in time to see it; the most recent episode was when Google stripped out the “keyword” used by searchers, which in the majority of cases is no longer passed as part of the referral to the requested web site.

Managing a corporate like Google it is not easy and though decisions sometimes need to be taken to avoid the competition or to facilitate third party businesses that with their products may indirectly facilitate those minority of the players who can’t afford those products.

This is not the right place to further discuss what’s happened with that decision, as in this blog I want to talk about the latter privacy change.

What is happening on the SEO side?

Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has recently stated: “Google will be collecting and using data throughout simplified policies, going beyond search and including email scanning, location data from phones and Google +1 activity”.

That’s another aspect that cannot be underestimated. Since the release of Google+, in Mountain View they didn’t keep hidden their intent to leverage search results with the suggestions coming from people belonging to our circles.

With this more simplified policy, it would be easier for consumers to benefit from those suggestions.

I believe this is definitely a positive story, as an interesting study by Nielsen made a couple of years ago stated that 42% of people trust search engine results, while a huge 90% trust recommendations from people they know.

As an example, when someone will search for the word ‘bingo’ Google would have a better idea of whether the person was interested in the game or in the expression, and if someone in a circle has recently gone to a Bingo place not too far away from the searcher, it is likely that an additional personalized result will appear on the SERPs.

How far Google will go with this is not predictable at the moment, so should we trust Google to not cross the promised line?

Perhaps they already have, but we have to remember that Google has been more than a search engine for years now.

What is obvious is that Google is on the search for a world where link influence can be reduced, and without surprise Google+ represents their choice.

Although this may look like a desperate attempt to compete with Facebook and Twitter, making a rather poor and underused (even by Googlers) product, what is really concerning is that a future major ranking signal is now proprietary to Google.

I don’t think that Google will be able to replace this link influence signal sooner, especially considering that in some countries their social network is barely used if not used at all. However, this is just another reason why social should be now incorporated as part of an SEO campaign, producing socially engaging content in order to maximise visibility in these personalised SERPs.

What else is changing in the digital marketing world?

I believe that in this quite long post, I have revealed the majority of the changes. However, I’d like to share with you a small presentation I did earlier this morning with my colleagues in which I aimed to give a brief overview of all the changes across the digital ecosystem.

The presentation per se isn’t too exhaustive, but you may be interested in this as well.

In conclusion

I don’t believe the Google Privacy change is a real concern here. Other companies have more or less the same kind of control on our data and their privacy rules are accepted just because we really like to continue using those services (e.g. have a look how much people complained about Facebook and still continue to use it).

What I’m really scared is the interference the social aspect may have in the natural search optimisation process, which will become more “universal” and unpredictable. This will call in for a link building strategy review very soon, with the necessity to look for “likers” or “G+ers” that have to interact with brands for supporting their online promotion.

This will be even worse than buying or artificially generating content to generate links, as once more it will confirm that only companies with huge capitals can survive on the market space.

I look forward to reading your comments.