Last week, Google announced on its blog that it was making some changes that will affect the availability of search engine data. Google claims that these changes are being made in an effort to make search more secure.
What is Changing?
Essentially, users who are signed into a Google service on their browser will be redirected to the secure version of Google search (https://www.google.com). Searches made from this secure version of Google are encrypted, so the keyword terms that users type in their search are “protected” – sort of.*
How Do I Know If I’m Signed In?
If you see something like this in the upper right hand of your browser, you are currently signed in to a Google service and your searches will be encrypted.
How Often Do People Really Sign In Before Doing A Search?
At first thought, it might seem like the number of people who sign in to Google immediately after opening a browser to do a search is probably low. And it probably is. However, a lot of people will decide to make a search after visiting Gmail. Unless they manually log out of Gmail, they will still be logged in when they perform their search.
The same thing applies with any of Google’s other dozens of free services. And we hear they are quite popular. Although, it’s worth mentioning that Google estimates that only 10% of all searches will now be encrypted.
So What’s the Big Deal?
By encrypting these searches, website owners will lose valuable information about the people who visit their sites. Particularly, they will lose information about what search terms people used to find them on the web. Knowing these search terms is a critical part of organic search engine optimization; it helps website owners learn how to target the right audiences with their website content.
This data is also invaluable for paid search marketers and managers of PPC programs (such as Adwords) because it provides insight into how their campaigns are working.
Starting on 10/18/2011, website owners and internet marketers will see this for every encrypted search:
I wonder what the keywords were for those two visits…
Why Can’t We Get This Info From Somewhere Else?
You see, the only way that website owners and search engine marketers can have access to this information in the first place is because Google provides it: whether you are using Google Analytics, Omniture or another search engine metrics provider. If Google decides not to share data about the people using its search engine, there is nowhere else to get it (unless you commissioned a really large and expensive focus group).
OK, So What Can We Do About It?
Understanding what this means is the first step in understanding what you should do about it. And to do that you need to know exactly how many visits to your site this change is affecting (we will demonstrate with Google Analytics, but you can find similar solutions with Omniture or your preferred analytics packages).
1. Find the # of encrypted visits and divide by the total number of Google visits
Run these numbers from 10/18/2011 to 10/25/2011 (the first week this new change has been in effect). In that week www.webbedmarketing.com missed out on search term data from 2 out of 875 visitors. So less than 1% had encrypted search terms. We found similar results for most of our clients – a far cry from the 10% of visits that Google estimated.
But what if your site is missing out on a significantly higher percentage of search data? Or if the results climb as the update has been out longer and perhaps more people begin performing searches while logged in? With the way Google has been promoting some of its newer service, like Google +, it would not be a surprise to see the number of encrypted searches increase over time.
2. Set up and monitor an internal site search
Almost every website has some sort of internal search engine allowing visitors to try to find what they are looking for once they have arrived on the homepage. But what most people don’t know is that you can track the terms that visitors are searching for in Google Analytics. So if Google is going to hide some search data from you, why not expand your data source by including searches happening on your own site?
Instructions from Google how to set up and monitor a site search.
Unfortunately, this won’t help provide information on the missing data for monitoring paid search campaigns. Hopefully the relatively low percentage of affected data will keep this from being a real issue. But a site search will provide insight for organic SEO.
A good search engine marketer will tell you that an internal site search has always been a great place to mine data for organic SEO. For example, if you review the searches taking place on your website and find an unusually high number of visitors searching for a particular product or service – and you don’t currently offer it – maybe you should consider adding it (and building a keyword rich landing page to go with it, of course).
So there you have it – two simple steps and you’ll be likely never to notice the changes that everyone is making such a big fuss about!
*Wait, What Did You Mean Encrypted Search Terms Would Only Be “Sort Of” Protected?
Well, here’s the thing: Google claims that they are taking these steps in the earnest effort to protect the privacy of its users. But a lot of people just aren’t buying it.
You see, Google is encrypting the search term data from its logged in users. But they are not keeping it hidden from everyone. As a matter of fact, there is one online community who will still have access to this encrypted data: Google Adwords users.
That’s right, those who pay for Google’s Adwords package will NOT be shut out from the encrypted search data. Competing PPC ad platforms, however, will. So while everyone else is seeing (not provided), Google Adwords users will know that these visitors were actually searching for “jelly donuts” or whatever the case may be.