Why Search Needs to be Regulated (and by Search I mean Google)

by Alex Becker

When I began my online journey in 2004, Google was quickly becoming a household name. It had officially become the most searched engine in the United States, owning 39.8% of the search market share which totaled over 2.05 billion searches of the 5.15 billion searches made in the U.S. during the month of November, 2005 (Source: COMSCORE). Google also received over 93,124,000 total U.S. visitors in December, 2005 (Source: COMSCORE). That translated into over $1.47 billion in net profits for Google in 2005.


In November of 2011, Google owned 65.4% of the U.S. search engine market share. That is over 11.7 billion searches of the 17.8 billion explicit searches that took place in November (Source: COMSCORE). Google also received over 187,138,000 total U.S. visitors in December, 2011 (Source: COMSCORE). That translated into $9.74 billion in net profit in 2011.


You might be asking yourself, “Why does this matter?” Take a look at the chart below:


SOURCE: Google Financial Tables


As you can see, Google has managed to increase the value of an average unique visitor in the United States from $1.31 in 2005 to $4.34 in 2011, which is an increase in average value of over 230%. However, the amount of unique visitors from 2005 vs. 2011 has only increased by about 101%, so what gives?


Google used to care a lot more about getting people the information they looking for. Unfortunately, today they care more about advertising revenues than providing users with the information they are looking for, and when you couple that greed with manual site reviews, white-lists, hypocritical algorithm updates, preferential treatment of big brands and much more.


Let’s also keep in mind that Google absolutely hates SEO, as it doesn’t make Google any money, and whether you want to hear it or not, SEO is one of Google’s biggest competitors. The more people are spending on SEO services, the less money they contribute to Google’s advertising revenues, which is exactly why Google is working hard to try to kill SEO. That’s right, I said it. Google is trying to kill SEO (or at the very least, make an SEO’s life a lot more difficult).


A clear example of this is the cluster f*$k that is Google Analytics. When Google first announced that they were encrypting the referrer and query string information from logged in users, I wasn’t phased, as it was only to affect about 10% of SEO referring traffic.


But now, the gravity of the change is absolutely undeniable when we try to present our clients with year-over-year or month-over-month SEO traffic and conversion metrics from Google.


First of all, more people are clicking advertisements than ever before, which means overall SEO traffic for a given keyword year-over-year is a challenging thing to acquire. Now throw in the fact that 10% – 40% of SEO searches that once fell under a given SEO keyword are now lumped under “(not provided).” What this means is that we might have increased overall rankings and traffic for a given keyword, but traffic is down compared to the month or year previous because we are not comparing apples-to-apples. Unfortunately, this is very challenging to communicate to clients, and rightfully so.


Furthermore, Google Analytics has completely thrown off the way that SEO traffic numbers are visualized. For example, I was checking over Highly Relevant’s SEO traffic a few weeks ago and my heart sank because I thought we were literally sitting at 0 SEO visits on April 10. As it turns out, we had only 2 SEO visits less on April 10th than we did on April 9th, but the way Google display of the data led me to believe it was dire. See the screenshot below:

Organic Search Traffic

In addition, you can also see that “(not provided)” accounted for over 40% of SEO traffic we received those two days, which is noticeably more than the 10% Google originally suggested.


Try explaining how traffic is up when the graphs and PDFs that Google Analytics provide look like that above.

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