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Google Privacy Changes: Good for Individuals, Bad for Reputation Management

Jean Dion • October 01, 2013

"Lock it up tight." When it comes to protecting your reputation online, these are the sage words of advice you'll hear from almost everyone who works in the industry. Turns out, people are following this advice, as a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center suggests that 86 percent of Internet users take some kind of step in order to protect their privacy online.

Some clear their cookies on a regular basis, so websites won't see them as repeat visitors. Others encrypt their email, hoping that their private messages won't be intercepted by others as they zoom down the digital highway. lock

Often, these steps are pretty easy to perform. In fact, I've taught quite a few people how to mask their presence online, and I'm far from an expert on programming and coding. If computer users rely on Google for their searches, however, they might not even need to know anything about programming in order to surf with stealth. Recently, the company shifted its programming, ensuring that most searches are conducted on private channels. I noticed this change when the letter "s" appeared before "http://" each time I went to the Google site.

No matter what combination of letters I typed, I couldn't make that little "s" go away. It was a diversion for a few moments, and then I forgot about the whole issue. Turns out, I might have been better served by paying more attention, as this little shift could have a big impact on the way my clients, and perhaps my readers, manage their online reputations.

Pros and Cons of Google's Boosted Privacy

Normally, any shift in programming that would result in an increase in privacy would be cause for celebration. After all, most of the reputation attacks this company deals with on a regular basis come about when someone shares something that should be kept private. Sometimes, people share this stuff willingly, boasting about their private dealings in public forums, but some attacks come about due to hacking or other computer-based techniques.

If Google can keep that from happening, that's typically considered a win for the little guy. However, some of the information that's shared in a standard, public search is absolutely vital for people who hope to boost their online reputations. In fact, I might argue that public searches are one of the cheapest and easiest ways to both spot and amend a reputation problem that's new and deadly.

Google Analytics' Privacy Changes and the Loss of Keyword Data

The privacy changes impact Google Analytics, which some experts suggest is in place in more than 10 million websites. A few lines of code, tacked to the bottom of almost any website, can put a user in touch with a remarkable amount of information concerning:

  • The number of visitors who have seen a specific web page.
  • The keywords the users typed into Google in order to find that page.
  • The places the users live.
  • The computer programs these people access in order to surf the web.

In online reputation management campaigns Google analytics is a vital tool. Keywords, in particular, can help those with online reputation problems understand what sorts of issues are brewing in cyberspace. If you're running a blog, for example, and you see that hundreds of people are visiting your site because they're looking for your name followed by the word "lies" or "fraud," you'd know that something terrible was afoot. Obviously, there are other ways to monitor a reputation online, but Google Analytics is a powerful tool for DIY entrepreneurs to use in order to keep track of their good standing. As long as these users have sites that generate fewer than 10 million hits per month, the service is free.

It's also remarkably easy to use, with detailed instructions and individualized help available almost around the clock. Clients who don't want to pay for help, but who clearly need to do something to protect their online images, could really benefit from this site. However, the privacy masking makes this tool essentially worthless. Now, the tool is only measuring information that comes from search engines other than Google, and as we all know, very few searches happen on sites like Bing and Yahoo. Most people go to Google, and since Google isn't sharing data about those searches, people aren't learning. Some graphics suggest that as much as 87 percent of meaningful data is lost due to this little switch. That's a pretty big loss.

It's easy to argue that we're living in a world where keywords don't really matter. After all, when Google announced the Hummingbird update last week (I wrote about it here), the administrators of the site seemed to suggest that quality of content was much more important than the specific words used. In other words, stuffing an article with specific words is no longer a viable way to counter a reputation attack, as these techniques might not drown out the negative content that's available online. Therefore, it might not matter what keywords are attached to a name, as those words can't be used as part of a comprehensive solution.

However, I believe that keywords can help people to understand what others are saying, meaning that monitoring the words attached to a name is just vital. Snarky words really can hurt a person's reputation, and if those words pass by unnoticed, the attack becomes even more significant and harder to amend. As a writer, I simply must know what words people are using in order to help my clients. I'm a little sad that Google is making that simple task harder to complete.

Monitoring Your Online Reputation in a Keywordless World

Since consumers want enhanced privacy, it's unlikely that Google will change its policies in the near future. It's much more likely, in fact, that the company will promote its efforts to keep information secure, and it's quite possible that Google will gain new customers by keeping data locked up and secure. Hoping, praying and petitioning are all unlikely to work.

In the past, I might have suggested Google Alerts as a reasonable substitute. This low-tech system sends a little ping of information each time a specific search term is used, allowing people direct access to search data in real time. However, a Forbes article from this summer has me spooked, as it suggests that the alerts aren't working as well as they should. The privacy masking might be to blame here, or Google might be focusing on other parts of the business model while neglecting this little tool. New more advanced monitoring solutions are doing a better job at protecting people, but online privacy remains a big issue.

People who are techno savvy can follow the advice of SEO experts like this one, who have all sorts of coding tricks that can be used to subvert the privacy settings of Google and deliver an intense amount of information.

But, fair warning, this kind of coding isn't for the feint of heart. I get lost reading through the instructions, and I took my first computer class when I was 10 years old. Those who have little to no experience with programming might find these instructions difficult, if not impossible, to follow. For now, the best idea for those with low coding skills (don't be ashamed) involves daily searches via Google for your name or the name of your company. Each little search will provide you with the articles that are most popular, and you'll quickly spot trends that could erupt into major problems.

And, of course, you can always hire the team of dedicated experts at InternetReputation.com to help you. In fact, we can provide you with sophisticated reports that detail how your name or your company's name is appearing in online searches, and we can even provide you with trend data that details how your name is changing over time.

If you'd like to know more about this click here for a free online reputation analysis. In no time at all, we can provide you with a detailed report that shows you both your strengths and your weaknesses, with no fee involved.