Months ago, while planning the topics I'd cover in this newsletter through the conclusion of 2011, I had in mind to write something about search. It had been a while—almost two years at that point—since I last wrote anything about search specifically, though I had covered all sorts of things related to search many times since then, like search engine optimization and measurement. So, as is my habit, I created a text document called "search article" and began adding notes as ideas or reference material came up.
As I reviewed those notes, I realized something. Most of them were really about measurement. That's when it hit me: Search as a topic is interesting—there's certainly academic value in exploring how search engines work and how we use them—but for all practical purposes, there's very little perceptual difference between search and measurement. After all, we're not that interested in what people are searching for in general; we're interested in what queries people use when they are searching for the kinds of products and services we offer, and especially in how they get from their search to our websites. In other words, what we're really looking to understand is the feedback loop that exists between search engines and websites, and the key to doing that is in measurement.
In the past year, however, there has been at least one major change to how Google participates in that feedback loop—one you've probably noticed and have urgent questions about. I'm going to get to that. In fact, discussing that single change will be the bulk of this article. But before I get there, let me offer a prediction for the coming year that is, for better or worse, largely the result of decisions Google made in the last few months: 2012 will be the year that many of us start paying for analytics. Whether for specific web analytics applications, API integration, or AdWords, we are going to start discovering that consistent, reliable access to data and analysis is well worth budgeting for.
If you haven't already come to that conclusion yourself, let me try to convince you...