Oct 01, 2013

Hello Encrypted Search, Goodbye Keyword Data as We Know It

by: in SEO

Last Monday, Google announced that all non-paid search results would be encrypted. This means that all searches made through Google, whether a user is logged in or not, will be encrypted and the “not provided” within Google Analytics will be a significantly larger piece of the pie. Rather than 50-60% of searches showing “not provided” in the key terms section, this is likely to increase to 80-90%, or more, (while Google is encrypting up to 100%, keyword data is still available for Yahoo and Bing via Google Analytics, although that is likely to only be about 10-15% of the data). This change means that data on Google driven keyword traffic will no longer being available. In reviewing (Not Provided) Count, you can see the significant rise in the average percentage since around September 3rd at 51% rising to almost 80% on September 29th.

Google not provided keyword increase

Bummer…I know. However, this has been something that many industry experts have expected for some time (although secretly hoping it wouldn’t happen) after Google implemented encrypted searching for anyone logged into a Google account in 2011, which prevented search data from being passed through to a website analytics program (including Google Analytics). Enter the original rise of “not provided” and the fall of the amount of data available to indicate search terms resulting in an organic visit.

But what does this change mean for companies? It depends…it depends on the magnitude a company relies on this specific keyword data to make digital marketing strategy decisions around opportunities and measure SEO program success. Many online strategies are developed (or at least started) based upon the information available through the keyword data in Google Analytics. Understanding what searchers are already searching to find a company or brand’s content and website is significant in being able to aggressively focus an SEO strategy. Outside of developing strategies and identifying opportunities, this change will also impact some measures of success such as viewing which keywords are driving organic search clicks. However, even with such a significant change in available data, there are some other tools that will provide comparable data to help showcase opportunities and measure success of an SEO program. Those include:

  • Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) data within Google Analytics. GWT allows you to continue to see some keyword level data including impressions, clicks, average position in Google and CTR.
  • Leverage paid search keyword data. Because Google’s encryption is only specific to organic search data, paid search activity will sill show keyword-level data. Specifically, review non-branded campaigns to gain insight into what keywords are driving paid traffic.
  • Rely on other data to measure the success of an SEO program. Valuable data available at a page-level includes traffic to the page, bounce rate, time on page, conversion path and keywords the page ranks for (and what position).
  • Leverage other sources of keyword date. Sources like Google Trends, AdWords, Ubersuggest and SEM Rush can provide data related to the popularity of keywords related to your brand, company, products or services. Using these tools can help

As with all Google changes (algorithm or otherwise), this update will impact how digital marketing campaigns are developed, executed, optimized and measured. Looking beyond the immediate affects will allow brands and companies to take a more holistic approach to digital marketing performance and force the future of SEO into an integrated approach. 


Read more about the security update to search results:

Has Google Gone 100% NOT PROVIDED & Secure Search, Search Engine Journal

No Data for You: SEO Experts Offer Opinions on Google’s Move to Withhold Even More Search Term Data, Marketing Land

Here Comes “100% Not Provided,” As Google Begins Encrypting All Non-Paid Searches, Marketing Land

The Impact on Encrypted Google Searches on Online Marketing, Search Engine Journal