Does GDPR impact SEO strategy negatively? What are the indicators to look out for? What are the SEO best practices for GDPR? Learn about all this here, shares Shane Barker, digital marketing consultant.
The General Data Protection Regulation or GDPROpens a new window is a set of conditions that must be followed by members of the EU (European Union) to maintain data protection and consistency. The GDPR is designed to enforce data privacy, regulate data usage, and minimize data breaches in this hyper-connected world.
Sounds good, right?
For consumers, the GDPR is indeed good news. But internet-wired businesses need to be more stringent in data collection and protection going forward.
Does the GDPR impact your SEO strategy if you are based outside the EU? If so, how can you GDPR-proof your website? What should you avoid to stay on the right side of the law? What are the repercussions of overstepping the boundaries set by the GDPR?
These are the questions I am going to answer in this post. Let us get started.
Under the GDPR, people are entitled to these eight consumer rightsOpens a new window over their personal data:
- Right of access
- Right to be forgotten
- Right to be informed
- Right to rectification
- Right to data portability
- Right to restrict processing
- Rights related to automated data processing
- Right to object
Companies that violate the GDPR are liable to pay fines to the tune of 2% â€“ 4% of their revenue.
Though the GDPR applies only to EU members, all websites that get traffic from the EU are affected. This means if your company handles the personal data of Europeans, you need to comply with the GDPR even if you have no physical presence in the EU.
To determine whether or not you are governed by the GDPR, look for these indicators on your website:
- EU currency
- EU subdomains
- EU news and culture
- EU-related information in your website content
- Translation into EU languages
In short, if you own a net-savvy business, you are most likely on the GDPR radar. You need to align your SEO with GDPR algorithms so that your rankings and traffic do not take a hit due to non-compliance.
How Is Your SEO Strategy Impacted by GDPR?
Presently, there are no drastic changes in Google’s ranking algorithms to cater to GDPR demands. However, many website owners have reported slow page load and fewer form submissions since the GDPR came into force.
I recommend that you monitor your website trafficOpens a new window closely so that you can spot unexplained spikes and dips in time. Here are the main changes you may note:
1. Page load speed increases
Since you will have to use more cookie consent pop-ups to secure permissions from your visitors, your page processing may slow down.
For instance, if you have a 5 KB cookie on your website and 100 requests made to your server per minute, this means an additional 500KB of data to be processed in a minute. Naturally, your page speed is impacted, which in turn hurts your rankings.
Cookie pop-ups are interruptive. More cookies mean a poorer user experienceOpens a new window for your visitors â€” another death blow to your SEO. Frustrated visitors might bounce off your site, which is a red flag for Google.
2. Direct form submissions reduce
Since the GDPR has come into play, automated consent for marketing materials is a no-no. Visitors have to fill out additional forms and tick off checkboxes to provide consent for brands to send them promotional content.
That is why brands are facing a challenge in goal completion and form submission.
It is advisable to restrict your form fields and ask only for relevant personal data from your visitors. Plus, you can introduce active consent requests, so that repeat visitors are not bothered by having to provide their information again and again.
3. Location-based advertising and geofencing is harder
Geotargeting or location-based targeting is a staple with digital advertisers. It is the practice of using your target audience’s location data to send them location-specific ads to boost your click-through rate.
Geofencing is a practice of creating a virtual border around people residing in a particular area so that they do not receive ads and marketing materials. It restricts data portability.
Location data is collected via a target’s IP address, zip code, or mobile device ID captured on public Wi-Fi. Under GDPR, location data comes under personally-identifiable data.
This means that post-GDPR, it will be harder to collect and sell location data since it breaches privacy to some degree. Brands will have to secure clear consent before collecting location data (refer to the image below).
Once permission is granted, data will be collected, protected, and processed under the standards outlined by GDPR. To keep the power to control personal data with rightful owners, they should be given an opt-out option.
One more thing.
As of right now, bid stream data (auctioning ad spots to advertisers who â€œbidâ€ higher) is prohibited under GDPR since it involves exchanging location data without prior consent. Also, personalization will become increasingly challenging.
I know the situation looks bleak, but I can spot a silver lining. Before GDPR came into force, ad exchanges were having a field day, mainly selling inaccurate location data at astronomical prices. Adhering to the GDPR might force ad exchanges to improve their data quality, which helps advertisers in the end.
It is clear that under GDPR, things like retargeting and email targeting will suffer a mighty blow. That is why SEO is poised to become more valuable for driving organic traffic and visibility.
But since most SEO is anchored around keyword data collection and processing, there is a small catch involved. In the SEO world, it is a common practice to collect keyword data, analyze it, and use it for campaign formulation.
While that is not bound to change anytime soon, all collected data needs to be anonymized. Any attempt to de-anonymize data will be deemed a GDPR violation.
What does that mean for SEO professionals? It means that you need to pick your keyword research tools with caution. Tools like Ahrefs and Google Keyword Planner use clickstream data which complies with GDPR’s Recital 26Opens a new window .
How To Create a GDPR-Compliant SEO Strategy
To remain compliant yet maintain your rankings is not as tough as it sounds. You need to focus on the standard SEO best practices, which means optimizing the following areas:
Metadata: Ensure that your meta descriptions are keyword-packed, between 155-160 characters long, and enticing for potential visitors.
URLs: Load your URLs with target keywords so that Google bots and visitors know what your pages are all about. Try to keep them as consistent with your page titles as possible.
Page crawlability: Make sure that there are no crawl errors or issues with your robot.txt files. Moreover, link your images with alt texts,transcribe your videos, and follow technical SEO best practicesOpens a new window .
Page titles: Keep your page titles contextual and keyword-rich. Relevant titles help Google crawlers index pages correctly. Also, breaking text blocks into well-labeled sections allows people to scan your pages faster, which boosts user experience in a big way.
Website security: Strive for the HTTPS/SSL certification since GoogleOpens a new window favors secure websites, especially post-GDPR.
By optimizing your website for the above aspects, you can fulfill GDPR requirements and provide your visitors with a great on-site experience.
Black-Hat SEO Tactics To Avoid After GDPR
Granted, SEO and GDPR may seem to be pulling you in opposite directions at times. You might be tempted to work your way around GDPR by following irresponsible SEO tactics â€” blocking EU traffic, redirecting to compliance pages, and cloaking your pages.
But, my stand on this is very clear. Under no circumstances should you ignore GDPR or try to outsmart search engines unless you want to attract penalties or get blacklisted.
Below, I will explain how each of these clever tricks impacts your page performance on the SERPs.
1. Blocking all EU traffic
Blocking all traffic from the EU can be disastrous for your off-page SEO. You can lose quality backlinks, domain authority, and referring domains in a bid to stay off the GDPR radar.
But that is not all. You will also be alienating non-EU visitors accessing your site from the EU. For instance, if a US-based person tries to reach your website from a European country, they will be blocked from viewing it. This can be counter-productive to your SEO efforts.
2. Redirecting all your traffic to a compliance page
If you plan to redirect your traffic to a GDPR-compliant page instead of your real page, be aware that Google also crawls your pages. Once it senses your intentions, you can lose your EU rankings.
3. Showing Google one page and offering visitors another (Cloaking)
Do not try to trick search engines by showing them a compliant page while showing your visitors another page. Be prepared to take a beating from Google if you try this tactic.
Ready To GDPR-Proof Your Website?
The future of SEO is dynamic. Nobody can accurately and definitively predict what Google expects Webmasters and SEO professionals to implement. While the GDPR does not impact SEO strategy at the moment, it is anybody’s guess how that might change in some time.
To stay on the safe side. It is best to follow SEO best practices, focus on your customers’ data privacy, and provide them with the best UX in the business.