End of SEO, End of 3rd-Party Data

by Jim Cain

Everything Old is New Again: Dealing with Data and Privacy

It was the year 2013.  I remember it like it was yesterday (mostly because I’m still stuck in a pandemic time warp). Napkyn was two and a half years old, we’d gone from just me to a small team of 3 and most of our clients were mid sized eCommerce firms.

We’ve always been an analytics-only shop, we were doing a lot of analysis at that time on SEO (search engine optimization) data.  Unlike now, SEO in 2011 was a pretty technical practice, designed to ensure that a given website page was coded and positioned in such a way that it had the maximum chance of showing up on page 1 of search.  

And the data we could see was awesome. For every visit from Google organic search, we could see the exact search term used, including how it was spelled. Not only could we help customers understand the performance and impact of their SEO investment, but we could:

  • Marry that data with in-site search to help merchandisers identify products they should be carrying. 
  • Perform really interesting competitive analysis, by looking at searches that included competitor names “Brand X T-shirts vs Competitor T-shirts”.
  • Combine organic search data with paid search data to provide a detailed view of total search performance.
  • Apply the data in tons of other ways (in short, this was really great stuff).

And then all of a sudden it was gone.  Over the course of a few short months all of the organic search data in Google Analytics and other analytics tools went from fully featured to ‘not set’.  It was brutal.

Why did this happen?  Who can I blame for this massive shift?  Two words: Edward Snowden.

When Mr Snowden alerted the world to some of the shenanigans that were going on with the American intelligence services, there was a pretty big uproar.  Google in particular was super angry that the NSA was using packet sniffing technologies to see what people were searching for inside the Google search engine.  So they solved the problem by moving all web interactions with Google from ‘HTTP’ to ‘HTTPS’.  Just FYI, the ‘S’ stands for Secure, and it both solved the NSA problem and totally blocked the data about search results that was going to digital analytics tools.  

I remember sitting in the little office we’d rented off Kijiji (Canada’s Craigslist), and calling all of our customers one after the other to explain these changes.  Here’s the key points from every single one of those calls:

  • I’m sorry this is happening (Canadians always lead with an apology)
  • Your organic search data is gone, and there is no way we’re ever getting it back.
  • While this sucks for your reporting, ultimately it’s a good thing for the privacy of both you and your customers.
  • A few of the reports we’ve lost can be rebuilt through other means, the rest are gone.
  • Let’s treat this as an opportunity to move measurement forward in different ways to make up for the gap. (i.e advanced segmentation, better shopping card abandonment analysis, etc.)

It was an impactful change for us, and a major change for the SEO industry, but we all made changes and moved on.

Skip Skip Skip.

The year is 2021 and everyone is freaking out.  In an attempt to protect individual privacy while safeguarding and futureproofing its ad business, Apple and Google are making some major changes that will have significant impact on data and reporting. Some changes, especially in regards to cookies have been underway for years and already showing impact.

Not gonna lie, the data loss from the cookieless world is significant.  The easiest way to wrap your head around it is that any reporting that is tied to a visit should be safe, and any data tied  to time is about to disappear.

One of the most important things that cookies do for analysts is provide a unique identifier to let us track visits and conversions over time. No cookie, no identifier, no time based reporting.  Full stop.

The team at Napkyn has provided some amazing content to help you better wrap your head around what all these changes are and what you can do to prepare.

That said, I’m Sorry. A lot of the data you are used to seeing in Google Analytics is starting to disappear, and by the middle of next year will be completely gone and there is no way we’re going to get it back.  This is frustrating for everyone but ultimately it’s good for the privacy of you and your customers.

A lot of the things you’re losing can be reconstituted by other means (i.e. logged in users and app users for data, applying machine learning and AI to build certain reports differently) and we’re here to help. Finally, let’s use this as an opportunity to take the time we can no longer easily spend looking at your visitors and double down on better understanding your customers.

Cheers,

Jim

Hear more about how you can continue to win once cookies become extinct in this fireside chat with Jim and Joy Brazelle.  You’ll learn the “What, Why, and How of a 4 Step plan to survive in the cookie-less world.

Register Here

Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

See more posts from Jim