Google Encrypts Signed-in Search Data – No More Referral Data For SEOs!

Oct 21, 2011 | 2,714 views | by Navneet Kaushal
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SEOs the world over are crying foul over Google's new move towards secure search. The search engine announced this in the blog post that changed it all. Now, Google has changed the way secure search works for users that are signed in its services. This means that if a signed in to Google user does a search, it will be on a secure socket layer (SSL) and the search term referrer data will not be passed on. But, if you are using Google PPC, then you will get the keyword data for the searches made.

What Is The New 'Secure Search'?

Google says that in order to make search a customized experience, it is essential to protect personalized search results. That is why the users signed in to Google will have their search queries encrypted.

As Google says, “Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to https://www.google.com (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page. This is especially important when you’re using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet cafe. You can also navigate to https://www.google.com directly if you’re signed out or if you don’t have a Google Account.”

With the secure site search, the websites that get the clicks from the users will not know the search terms they were clicked for. This leaves the search experts and webmasters in the dark as they will not know the keywords that are working for them. They will lose valuable data that helps them understand what people come looking for on their site. They will just know that someone came!

Why Is Google Doing This?

Google says that it is following suit with Twitter, Facebook and doing its bit towards the Electronic Frontier Foundation's initiative called HTTPS Everywhere.

Again, signed in users need to protect their privacy from organic webmasters, but not from advertisers? The search fraternity is questioning Google's lopsided view on “privacy”.

What About Google Analytics?

Well, if you were thinking of signing up for the paid Google Analytics, then think again, as it too is blocked from this encryption. You will just know whether the visit was from a paid or organic result, but what was the search term, you won't get to know.

As it says in the official Analytics blog “When a signed in user visits your site from an organic Google search, all web analytics services, including Google Analytics, will continue to recognize the visit as Google “organic” search, but will no longer report the query terms that the user searched on to reach your site. Keep in mind that the change will affect only a minority of your traffic. You will continue to see aggregate query data with no change, including visits from users who aren’t signed in and visits from Google “cpc”.”

Google further said that they have marked the signed in users organic search visits with the token “(not provided)” within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting. The referrals will be there, but the search queries entered will be missing. However, secure site searches that lead to clicks via search ads, will still provide the search.

Where Will The Keywords Be Available?

Google has assured that the search queries can be found at the Google Webmaster Central. So, some solace here for the SEOs as they can get the top 1,000 queries that a site appeared for at Google and was clicked for. This data is available for a 30 day period. The Official blog takes an understanding approach towards the SEOs problem of the highly valuable data being taken away from them, but puts forward its service and data. Webmasters and search experts have the only hope that the 30 day data period be extended to an indefinite period, so that they can analyze their site better. The fact that the Google Webmaster Central data has been integrated in to Google Analytics provides some comfort to the SEOs.

All OK For Google Ads And PPC Though

If you are an advertiser with Google, don't sweat, you will know the search query that led the searcher to your site. Things will be just the same, as it is with unencrypted search. This is because advertisers have the right to know what people are looking for, to better their campaigns.

As Google wrote in its post, “Your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.”

There is a question here, when advertisers get this data from the AdWords system, why are they not blocked in Analytics too? Also don't the users need privacy from advertisers? This is one question that is being speculated everywhere.

The Silver Lining For SEOs

Google's Matt Cutts has been quoted as saying that this change will impact less than 10 percent of searchers. Now as an SEO you can see it as 10% lost or 90% saved. But yes, the keyword referral data is lost to you. But there are ways out- shift to other analytics, and get the keyword data. Good news for Bing maybe?

What do you think of Google's SSL move? Is it a balanced move or there is more into it than looks?

4.thumbnail Google Encrypts Signed in Search Data   No More Referral Data For SEOs!

Navneet Kaushal

Navneet Kaushal is the founder and CEO of PageTraffic, an SEO Agency in India with offices in Chicago, Mumbai and London. A leading search strategist, Navneet helps clients maintain an edge in search engines and the online media. Navneet's expertise has established PageTraffic as one of the most awarded and successful search marketing agencies.
4.thumbnail Google Encrypts Signed in Search Data   No More Referral Data For SEOs!
4.thumbnail Google Encrypts Signed in Search Data   No More Referral Data For SEOs!