In late October, Google announced that, in order to make search more secure for their users, they were “enhancing our default search experience…when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page.” Basically, Google is no longer passing data about users’ search behavior (like what keywords they used) over the site they clicked on from the SERP.
So what does this mean for website owners? Google spelled it out in the same blog post
What does this mean for sites that receive clicks from Google search results? When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query. They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools.
Understandably, the SEO community was more than a little nervous after this announcement. Being able to identify which keywords a person searched for before they arrived at a website is one of the most important pieces of information we have to make educated SEO recommendations for our clients. Website owners who manage their own SEO rely on this information as well. Targeting the right keywords is one of the fundamental musts of any SEO campaign. If we can’t see what search queries people are using to find our site, then we don’t know if we are targeting the right keywords! I don’t like to blindly pick and choose what keywords I think are best for a site without having the data to back it up.
Matt Cutts, the director of web spam at Google, announced that Google estimates this change would impact less than 10% of searches being conducted on a daily basis, but I’ve heard grumblings among the search community that it might be much more. As for my own site, I noticed a significant jump in the number of “Not Provided” organic search visits. While it isn’t yet a percentage I feel I should be worrying about, if the trend continues I feel that I won’t be able to trust Google Analytics for vital SEO data!
One of the reasons Google’s new and improved encrypted data is making many site owners nervous is because, even though Google is making the search experience more secure for users, they are also focusing on increasing the number of people with Google accounts. I have a Gmail account that I am almost constantly logged into on my home computer. That means most of my search behavior is being hidden 24-7 from the sites I visit! Droid phones (which now have over half of the Smartphone market share) require a Google account in order to be activated, meaning data from mobile devices (which I suspect will become an increasingly important market for SEO) is being limited as well.
One of the more frustrating aspects of encrypted search is that it doesn’t affect PPC data, only organic search. Search data is still being provided for Google advertisers, even if someone that clicks on the ad is logged in to their Google account. It makes you wonder if Google is trying to kill two birds with one stone with encrypted search—they make searching more secure for the users (quelling privacy concerns) AND they get advertisers to spend more on their PPC campaigns just to get more accurate data that can be used in their SEO campaigns.