Don’t Be Creepy: Make Visitor Privacy Transparent

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There are a lot of discussions about paradigm shifts in the search and digital marketing industry: the growth of mobile, the incorporation of social signals into search results, the use of predictive algorithms to determine what you’re going to buy next. But rarely do I see discussions in the industry about how concerns about privacy could potentially impact what we do every day.

In reality, it’s already starting to impact our work. For anyone who logged into their Google Analytics account at the end of October or beginning of November it became keenly clear that Google’s announcement on making search more secure was going to change a lot. Now, whenever someone is logged into any Google product, you are no longer going to see what terms drove them to your site. This change proved especially problematic because it came at a time when Google was pushing Google+ hard, meaning millions of new people were signing up for Google accounts. Some Google Analytics accounts have seen as much as 25% of their incoming search data disappear. Webmaster tools can help a bit here, but it’s not a replacement.

Now, the more skeptical among us speculate that Google is simply buttering marketers up to pay $150,000 for an “enterprise” version of Google Analytics to get that data back, which very well may be the case. The larger thrust of Google’s move though is likely to head off concerns about online privacy, and legislation that would potentially restrict all of their data collection severely.

In a time when Google and other big online players are cogently aware that regulators and consumers are looking at them carefully, news about Target’s data collection is part of the national discussion, and European officials are considering strict limits on online advertising, what are we, as website owners and marketers supposed to do?

What can you do today?

First, if you don’t have a privacy policy for your website, write one. If you’re not sure how to write one, check out any big site on the web and you’ll see they have it on the bottom of the page. In an ideal world you would have a lawyer help you write this document, but don’t let that stop you if you don’t have the money to pay one. Don’t hide anything here, if you are running remarketing campaigns, be sure to say that (Google’s remarketing network, as most do, requires that you include certain provisions). Few site visitors may ever read this document, especially in full, but for those who do they will appreciate it.

Second, if you collect any personal or sensitive information (address, credit card, email, etc.) be sure to tell visitors that you will not sell their information (or if you must sell it tell them it’s only with their consent). People are more comfortable giving their information online than they were 10 years ago, but it’s still a scary proposition for many. Think of telling users that you won’t sell their information as a way to reduce conversion friction, making it more likely that a visitor will purchase your product, or fill out a lead form.

Finally, give users the option to opt-out, and don’t make it exceedingly difficult to do so. Although this may lead to fewer sales or leads in the short term, in the long term it will help to build trust and loyalty. Website visitors are completely in the right to not want to be micro-targeted with ads, which means you simply need to do a better job online with your site and social media content to close the sale.

Online privacy concerns can and should not be ignored by our industry any longer. The public sentiment towards being watched online all the time is beginning to turn, so it’s important for us as legitimate marketers and site owners to be as transparent with our activities as possible to help gain the trust of our online audience.

About the Author

Ben Leftwich is an Account Executive with Anvil Media, Inc., a leading search engine marketing company. Ben helps Anvil’s clients increase ROI through social media marketing, PPC management, and search engine optimization.

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  1. Customers want to feel safe using your site, especially if you offer an e-commerce component to the site. Checkout should be secure and include a privacy policy that is easy to find. This information will help to improve conversion rates and build trust with website visitors.