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Google Encrypt Search – How it Affects SEO

Google Makes Search Secret

On October 18th, Google announced that they were going to start using SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) Encryption – most easily recognized by the “s” which is added to the “http” at the start of the URL and often a “padlock” symbol indicating that you are accessing a secure server – to serve their search results to logged in users.  This change will impact several different areas within the search arena, most notably, as brands look to extract data from their website analytics to help them make smart SEO decisions.

What the change means for brands

With this change from Google, a brand will no longer have visibility into the keyword phrase that generated any given click through.  This is very valuable information for SEOs and online marketers alike, as it is used to inform the website owner which keywords are driving successful interactions with their clients, rather than just driving traffic.  Google is not planning on restricting this data on the paid search side – and most online marketers should be tracking these clicks with a third party tool which would deliver this information anyway – but this will allow Google to show it’s paying customers that the product they are paying for is working – or not working – for them and optimize accordingly.  While Google mention that websites will still be able to get “an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries” from the Google Webmaster Tools, this does not allow them to focus their efforts on those terms within the top 1,000 that actually drive positive customer interaction.

Logged in?

At this stage, this change only applies to “logged in” users – those with a Google account that they are logged into while they search – but as Google cite the need to protect users because of their increased result-personalization as the reason for this change, it seems that it may only be a matter of time before this change becomes the default for all Google searches.  For now, this dilemma is not going to alter tracking for most of Google’s searches.  In Danny Sullivan’s article on the release, he reports that the number of users who are logged in when searching is in the “single-digit percentages”.  Assuming this is true, this change is currently affecting less than 10% of users, and as such, the remaining 90+% of data is more than enough to monitor and optimize your campaigns. In the shorter term, assuming that the number of permanently logged in users is set to rise with the growth of Google Plus the number of users that are permanently logged in to Google is surely on the rise.

Also of note, Google has not yet rolled out this encryption on their mobile platform, Android, which is not currently serving results using SSL technology, although users are permanently logged in.  As there are few things with more personal data about you than your mobile device, if Google are truly doing this to protect their users privacy, then implementation on Android would surely be the logical next step.

What should I do?

Depending on the results that brands are seeing in their analytics, there may be a case to adjust figures by up to 10% when trying to account for any drop in conversion across specific keywords.  Brands running paid search will still have visibility from their paid campaigns, which should also help increase confidence around the accuracy of data regarding the success of specific keyword phrases.  These two sources should have more than enough data showing which keyword phrases are working for a brand to allow meaningful campaign optimization.  Brands engaging in organic search with Catalyst Online or any of the GroupM agencies will be closely monitored and their data will be compared to the aggregate data to allow us to provide further direction based on the findings over the coming months.

By Stephen Hall @SearchBloke

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2 Responses to Google Encrypt Search – How it Affects SEO

  1. Ryan Fortin says:

    This is a huge bummer for SEOs all over the world. I agree that in the short term it will not be much of an issue but in the long run this could be very bad for SEO. Google usually sets the bar for the search industry so I wouldnt be surprised to see Bing and Yahoo follow suit in the next few years with SSL on by default. One thing is for sure and that is organic search will never stop changing.

  2. Marios Alexandrou says:

    While the potential for losing some valuable data is there, for the time being I’m see just a tiny percentage (single digits) of users to multiple sites coming in without the keyword data. I didn’t believe Google when they reported the number would be this low, but they were right (so far)!

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