On Tuesday October 18th, Google announced on their official blog that over the next few weeks visitors to Google.com who are signed in to their Google account will be redirected to a secure version of the search engine (SSL Search) as found here:
Amy Chang from the Google Analytics blog said:
“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users…”
“…This is especially important when you’re using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet café.”
What Does This Mean For Website Owners?
Currently when a user visits your website through the organic search results the search query used to find your website is recorded in your analytics package. This data is often used to identify the phrases that contribute to sales or goal conversions on your website which can then be used in marketing activities to grow sales further – this is especially true in regards to SEO where the focus is improving rankings on these keywords. It’s also useful in identifying pages on your website that attract visitors with certain search queries but causes them to bounce.
For example a visitor may arrive using a query that is perfectly related to the content of the page but if the term or a variation of it is not immediately obvious on screen it may cause people to bounce, despite it being precisely hat they were looking for.
With the new changes starting to take affect this data will no longer be available where a visitor meets the criteria above. Instead this data will be grouped under “(not provided)” within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting.
Currently the changes only affect a small number of Google users that search through Google.com rather than regional versions such as Google.co.uk however it is likely to be rolled out to all signed in users in the coming weeks.
How much of my analytics data will be affected by this?
The percentage of your visitors data that will be affected by this change in the short term will depend on the percentage of your visitors that arrive through Google.com, however even when completely rolled out Google estimate less than 10% of that traffic will be affected, even when .co.uk users are redirected to the secure search.
Will this change be rolled out to non-logged in users?
While Google has not said as much there is speculation that this will be the case as it was with personalised search results that moved from being exclusively for logged in users to all users in December 2009.
Should the changes be rolled out to all Google users it will result in the search query data currently available becoming completely unavailable for visitors arriving through organic search.
Will Bing, Yahoo! & Ask organic data still be available?
Yes, this change only affects traffic arriving from Google properties; however it’s important to keep in mind that Google’s UK share of the search market was 90.78% in October 2011 compared to 3.7% for Bing and 2.5% for Yahoo! so data is likely to be sparse and not necessarily reflective of the search queries that convert from Google.
Is there an alternative source for this data?
While there is not another source for the data in its current format you will be able to access the search query data that is supplied by Google Webmaster Tools through your Google Analytics account. At present this data is only held for 30 days and is not associated with ecommerce of goals data.
Will this affect data collected from AdWords?
No, only organic search data will be affected. All keyword data that is currently available for Adwords will remain available.
Which analytics packages will be affected by this?
All analytics packages will be affected by these changes, including but not limited to:
Will this change the way SEO is carried out?
If secure search is rolled out to all Google users as discussed above, it would mean a change in the way SEO is carried out as the data available to help with developing effective strategies will become limited.
Data gleaned from Google AdWords will become increasingly important in this scenario and the quality of a website, both in terms of content & usability will become even more important than before. While such a scenario would pose problems for website owners looking to carry out SEO, it simply poses new problems to be solved and almost certainly they will be solved with the kind of well rounded, forward thinking and holistic strategies that that practicing SEOs who adapt will be able to provide.
However it’s important to note that this is speculative at the moment and while it’s important to think ahead, it is equally important not to get carried away worrying about what might be. For now you should keep practicing SEO as you always have but keep monitoring the announcements that Google makes and be prepared to change as required.
What Can I Do To Prepare?
Retroactively analyse your data
While it’s still available it’s important to go back and look at historic analytics data which will give you an idea of the keywords that drive sales and those which could with improvements in rankings, something many of you are no doubt doing anyway.
If you’re a retailer you should be especially interested in the seasonality of these keywords so you can co-ordinate your marketing with this.
Learn from AdWords
As previously discussed this data will still be available for AdWords traffic so make use of this data wherever possible to guide you on making marketing decisions. Keep in mind that the paid search keywords shown in Google Analytics are the keywords set in the campaign and not the actual search query used by the user. That data is available from within your AdWords account.
Integrate social sharing ability to your website
Google has made no secret about its desire to move away from the link trust model it currently uses to rank web pages for search terms as it is open to manipulation. Over the last year or so new ranking factors have been introduced that look at how popular a page is on Twitter, Facebook & Google+ and this is set to become an ever more influential in time. If the keyword data available is going to be reduced it makes sense to get any head start you can and having a strong social presence is important.
Make Google+, Facebook & Twitter most prominent, and if desired include social bookmarking sites but hide them to avoid clutter.