Last week, Google announced that it was changing its service to an encrypted one for those who actively use their Google account when using the dot com search engine. There will be no change in the user experience, except that searches will be more secure. However, as Google doesn’t ever pass on search information, one can arguably maintain that there is no real or beneficial change for the user. So why have they decided to change to an htpps:// site?
There will be a significant change for businesses that are interested in their search traffic and use any type of web analytics tool, such as Google Analytics, CoreMetrics, or Omniture. There will be no search query data for encrypted searches. In simple terms, website owners will not be able to see what the search user typed in to Google to get the results and what led them to click through to their site. They will only know that the visitor came from Google. This level of keyword information will still be available if searchers click on a paid search listing, which you may know as the pay per click (PPC) advertisements at the very top of the search engine results page (SERP), or if the user isn’t signed in to a Google account.
It’s not all bad then? Well, having half of the analytics story is almost as bad as having none of it as it will prevent businesses from fully understanding the keywords or keyphrases that deliver traffic. For example, by looking at a page’s bounce rate alongside the search query term it can help site owners understand a visitor’s search intent, or help them make informed decisions about improving their landing pages. Google will effectively be taking away the tools with which businesses can monitor and improve their SEO strategies to suit their target audiences. Furthermore, as Google+ continues to grow, it is highly likely that over time even higher numbers of people will be signed in to an account, leaving less and less query data available – unless you opt for PPC ads. Now could this be why Google has made this decision? Revenue?
People from SEO agencies and SEO software providers are not at all happy about the change as so far it appears to be primarily commercially motivated; if the data isn’t available to anyone, other ad networks can’t use it. It changes the optimisation game as much as any big algorithm update but the difference is that updates are genuinely implemented to improve the user experience. Without understanding how people are finding your website through search engines it’s difficult to understand how a query is being converted into a sale and without this it is going to be more of a challenge to improve your marketing and communications plans. Nevertheless, as site owners we are to a greater and lesser extent at the mercy of the Big G, and undoubtedly Internet marketeers will have to find new ways of working with what’s available.
To understand whether you should be freaking out just yet, you can see how it is affecting your own analytics by measuring how much data you are losing. The encryption has only been rolled out on Google.com so far but I can’t imagine the local sites such as co.uk won’t be far behind, so it’s worthwhile to monitor the data changes from now on. Compare the total visits to the visits from the keyword ‘not provided’ and also work out the percentage of this lost information. Google has said it expects less than 10 percent of search query data to be lost with the encryption but each industry will surely be affected differently. If you’re only losing a couple of percent you will have more confidence in using it alongside data from other search engines, such as Bing, but without tracking what you’re missing on a regular basis you won’t know what data you do have.
It’s clearly an uncertain time and the full picture will only be revealed over time. Keep an eye on this issue via one of a few trusted SEO blogs, as they will be almost certainly be testing, experimenting and coming to some sound solutions on our behalf. The advice from the SEOmoz team is to let Google know how you feel about their decision and how it has affected you and your business. My additional advice is to show your discontent in a more real-world way: make sure you sign out before searching; but then again, Google isn’t the only search engine, is it?