Warning: This isn’t one of those happy news updates that opens up new doors for your marketing — like Facebook announcing embedded posts. Nope — this is one that’s going to actually close some doors for you. And like Peter Griffin says, it’s really going to grind your gears. Yesterday, Search Engine Land reported that Google has made a change aimed at encrypting all search activity — except for clicks on ads.
When approached by Search Engine Land, Google reportedly confirmed the switch, saying the following:
“We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”
This means marketers won’t even be able to get keyword data for searches conducted by users who aren’t even signed in. (Cue marketers everywhere raising their fists in fits of rage.)
Why, Google … Why?!
So Google says, the reason for the switch is to provide “extra protection” for searchers. Search Engine Land, however, suspects that Google may also be attempting to block NSA spying activity — since Google was accused of giving the National Security Agency access to its search data back in June (which it has strongly denied). We also can’t help but think that, because Google is encrypting search activity for everything but ad clicks, this is a move to get more people using Google AdWords.
What All This Means
Okay … so what does all this mean to you, the marketer? First, here’s a quick recap of how we got here …
You may recall that back in October 2011, Google (citing the reason of privacy), announced it would start encrypting search results for logged-in Google users (including any Google-owned product like YouTube, Google+, Gmail, etc.). This meant that marketers were no longer able to identify which keywords a person who was logged into Google.com searched for before they arrived at your website — even if they were using a web or marketing analytics platform like HubSpot. And without these keyword insights, marketers would have a much tougher time knowing which keywords to target to achieve greater visibility in search. No bueno.
While Google initially said this would impact less than 10% of all searches conducted, we quickly noticed that percentage rise. In November 2011, we analyzed the keywords of HubSpot’s customers to find that more than 11% of organic search traffic was being affected, and by January of this year, we’d found that for the HubSpot website specifically, about 55% of the organic search we got each month was encrypted (and we’d seen that percentage steadily rising by about 4 percentage points each month). Things appeared to be getting more serious.
And other webmasters have been reporting a similar lack of insight. Not Provided Count, which tracks 60 sites to chart the rise of the keyword “(not provided),” has been reporting on the effects of encrypted keywords over time. In the chart below, you’ll notice a spike starting around the week of September 4. Today, the chart indicates that nearly 74% of search terms are being encrypted.
Just like we predicted earlier this year, with Google encrypting all keyword data, this means marketers will not just lose some of their Google keyword insights — they’ll lose all of them. While there are still a lot of unanswered questions that Google has yet to address (for instance, when will we lose all this data?), there’s still a lot of cause for concern for marketers. How will we know how searchers are finding our websites? How will this affect our content strategies?
So What’s a Marketer to Do?
Truthfully, it’s hard to say. In terms of preventing Google from making this change, there’s likely nothing you can do. We asked a few SEO experts to weigh in on the situation:
Aaron Aders, Co-Founder, digitalrelevance:
Larry Kim, Founder & CTO, WordStream:
Andy Pitre, HubSpot Analytics Product Manager:
What You Can Do
It is still possible to tell how much traffic your website is getting from organic search. Although you might not know the exact keywords, you can still correlate the work you do to optimize your site and create content to increases or decreases in organic search.
Other search engines like Bing and Yahoo continue to pass along keyword data. According to comScore, at present, Google.com has about 67% of search market share, Bing has 18%, and Yahoo has 11%. Although this will not provide the full picture, analytics tools like HubSpot can continue to show keywords for the 33% of searches that come from search engines like Bing, Yahoo, AOL, Ask.com, etc. This data will give marketers at least some indication of which keywords are the most useful.
- If you use Google AdWords for pay-per-click marketing, connect your company’s AdWords account to your Google Analytics account and use that data for keyword research, as Larry Kim of Wordstream suggests.
Rank will continue to play a role in helping measure the results of search engine optimization and content creation.
Information for HubSpot Customers
First of all, it’s important to note that Google’s decision to encrypt keywords for all searches not only affects the data found in HubSpot; it affects all web analytics tools, including Google Analytics. In other words, it will no longer be possible for any analytics system to known what keyword visitors searched for before visiting a website from Google.com. Google is now only sharing search terms with its advertisers.
For HubSpot customers, this will impact your analytics in two ways:
- In the Sources Report: When you drill into “Organic Search,” all visits, contacts, and customers from Google will now be bucketed into “Unknown keywords.” For most companies, the lion’s share of organic traffic will likely fall into this category.
In the Keywords Report: The “Visits” and “Contacts” columns will no longer reflect traffic from Google Searches, although they will still show traffic from other search engines like Bing. Other metrics like difficulty, rank, and monthly search volume are not affected.
Remember, HubSpot will continue to show keywords for the 33% of searches that come from search engines like Bing and Yahoo.
What do you think of Google’s changes? How else can you use search data (sans keywords) to improve your marketing?