Why “Data Apocalypse” is a Great Thing

Ad Age is the latest to weigh in on Google’s decision to encrypt data, and the conclusion from many  publishers, advertisers and SEO gurus is that nuclear winter has decided upon search engine optimization.

The reality is that this may be the best thing to happen to the Internet in years.

google-logoFor those that don’t understand the furor, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version. Google previously allowed website owners to see what search terms lead visitors to their sites. This allowed them to better tailor their content to users, focusing on search terms that bring the best traffic to their site. It’s the brains behind search engine optimization.

Online empires have been built based on this free data. Sites ranging from HuffingtonPost.com to BleacherReport.com have been built on mining search results to drive traffic, sell advertising and make money. Oh, and by the way, occasionally post articles of interest to readers. But only to drive traffic, you know.

I have no doubt Google’s motives are sinister. For a company that claims to live by the motto of do no evil, Google does evil all the time. Their argument to encrypt search data is to give users a sense that their searches are now private and not available for all to see. That suggests that previously that data was available publicly, which Google is telling us is evil. Therefore, Google was already doing something evil. And don’t forget that paid advertisers can still see search data.

I’m not sure there is a specific reason for Google’s move. Even if we grant Google the premise that their decision is pure of heart, the only real winner is still Google. The only way to get search term data now is to be a Google advertiser. The move will also increase dependency on sites to run more ads on their sites, an industry monopolized by Google. It’s pretty much all upside for Google.

Sites will now have to do one of two things: guess what search terms will drive traffic to their sites, or … horror of horrors … create quality content that will drive traffic.

Creating content to optimize SEO results in lousy content. When you’re writing headlines, inserting search terms in your articles and manipulating design purely to rank high on searches, it’s not writing. It’s constant manipulation.

Even for someone who generates part of his income from search engine optimization for clients, I have no problem with this. It will simply force people to create better content. If Google wants to really do no evil, they will continue to tweak their algorithms to reward quality writing and information instead of the best manipulation.