GlobalSign Blog

15 Nov 2017

What Does GDPR Mean for SEO?

When it comes into effect in May 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will have a huge impact on businesses throughout the EU, including the UK. If you run a business or are responsible for the digital security of a company, you will probably already be aware of the GDPR. But have you given any consideration for the effects that the regulations may have upon SEO and how this will impact your website?

It is inevitable that GDPR can also have a direct impact on a number of issues relating to SEO that you will need to be prepared for. Whether you work with an SEO agency or do all of your digital marketing in house, it’s vital that you should understand how GDPR will affect your company. Here we look at the critical influencing factors within the GDPR that could alter SEO to see what changes you might need to make.

Implications for Website Goals

One of the most important aspects of SEO relate to the goals that you track on your website. It should be recognized, then, that the GDPR can have an impact on tracked goals that you have set up. For example, one common tracked goal is the newsletter sign-up. Not only will you need to ensure that your tracked goals have clear, active consent requests (which could have a negative effect on sign-up rates), GDPR will also change some of the necessary wording.

Once the regulations come into force you will need to be explicit on what you will do with a customer’s set of data. This means that you will no longer be able to request someone’s email address for a newsletter sign-up in order to send them additional marketing materials, unless this has been made completely clear.

Managing Consent

One of the major issues covered by GDPR is that of consent. Some sites current use a version of the phrase “by using this site you are agreeing to our Cookie Policy” in order to gain consent, however, under the GDPR this will no longer be considered valid and you sites will need to get users to actively agree rather than passively.

There has been some level of controversy surrounding cookie consent popups already, as some websites have seen page loading speeds slowed due to the popup – but as page loading speed is a ranking factor, this has the potential to see your positon in Google slip. In theory all websites need to gain cookie consent so no-one is specifically being penalised by the change, but it does mean that you may need to look more closely at how these popups are affecting your page loading speed.

How Will GDPR Affect Analytics?

It will be necessary for every business to consider how they currently use customer data for any analytics process. For example, Google Analytics provides you with access to user data but this is compliant with GDPR rules due to the fact that the data is anonymized. However, if you currently use a process that de-anonymizes the data, it will not be GDPR compliant.

Look at your own analytics – you may find that internal processes such as sharing personal data with employees across emails or specific information contained in email marketing reports may contravene the rules.

GDPR Compliance as a Ranking Factor

There has not yet been any indication from Google or any other search engine that GDPR compliance will become a ranking factor in their results – but this doesn’t mean that it won’t happen. Google has a history of introducing concepts that initially appear to be optional but end up being a very important factor in how a site is ranked.

As a recent example of this, we only need look at HTTPS. While HTTPS was initially just a preferred factor, the search engine now takes it so seriously that in Chrome, users are warned every time they attempt to log in to a non-HTTPS site. The move towards HTTPS also shows that Google is beginning to favour sites with stronger security and making it a key factor in their algorithm. This indicates that GDPR compliance could rise to become a standard factor that all sites will have to follow in order to avoid penalties.

It may well be the case in the future that consent-driven data collection will make a difference to the way your site is ranked by search engines.

How Will GDPR Affect UX and Usability?

Increasingly Google and other search engines are using user experience (UX) as a ranking factor in their algorithm. And there is no doubt that GDPR will affect the UX of websites – aspects like a more prominent cookie consent pop-up are already doing so. When further changes have to be brought in to comply with GDPR and privacy, there is the potential for this to cause significant headaches.

It is likely that web designers will have to work closely not only with SEO experts but also those with a good understanding of GDPR compliance to ensure that the designs incorporate the necessary features while remaining user-friendly.

One of those features hitting the news lately is SSL. As the general public becomes more security conscious, it is more important than ever for companies to make it clear that their sites are legitimate (i.e. not a phishing or spoofed site) and can be trusted. Enabling SSL on your website triggers prominent security indicators, such as HTTPS and a padlock symbol in the address bar, to show visitors that your site is built over a private connection. The highest level of SSL prominently displays your verified brand name in the address bar as well, further assuring visitors that your site is actually run by your company and not a scam.

Your Next Steps

It may be the case that you feel overwhelmed at how GDPR could impact your business, but there is no reason to panic. SEO is very much an industry that constantly changes and evolves over time – new regulations like the GDPR will likely impact on rankings but it is almost impossible to give specific details until the search engines themselves have adjusted to them. It will be up to you to stay informed of what these changes mean for your website and any alterations you will need to make to stay ahead of the curve.

If you are concerned about how the GDPR will influence your business’ Google rankings, it’s a good idea to speak directly with your SEO manager or agency. Alternatively, if you are a small business and you manage your own SEO, it could be prudent to have some form of consultation on the issue to ensure that you comply with Google’s rules. The good news is that Google and other search engines rarely make extreme changes to their algorithms and usually give websites a grace period in order to get up-to-date with best practice.

About the Author

Mike James is an independent writer, tech specialist and cybersecurity expert based in Brighton, UK. Published in many of the leading online and print magazines, he is a featured writer on Ethical Hacking, Penetration Testing - and how best these technologies can be implemented to businesses of all shapes and sizes. Mike also writes about the odd recipe and exercise regime, when not on the heavy geeky stuff!

Note: This blog article was written by a guest contributor for the purpose of offering a wider variety of content for our readers. The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect those of GlobalSign.

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