Google Encryption to Increase ‘Not Provided’ Keywords in UK

Mar. 09, 2012 | by Luke Smith

In October 2011, Google made an announcement regarding a change to encrypted search queries within Google.com. This involves an SSL encryption protocol which is automatically applied to all users logged in to Google (Gmail, Google+ etc.) and also searches made directly via https://www.google.com (notice the ‘s’ in the URL).

While the secure protocol was not a new feature in Google, the latest update meant that all searches via the secure server would no longer pass keyword referral data. While Google’s announcement initially suggested this was to protect users’ privacy, the SEO community speculated whether Google’s intent was otherwise.

What was particularly suspicious about the update was that the secure keyword data would remain available for paid search referrals, suggesting that Google were intending to encourage paid search, rather than protect users’ privacy. While other sources suggested that privacy was a genuine concern, with the Google+ API allowing webmasters to track search queries down specifically to any individual.

How does it affect us?

Since the update, analytics packages have returned encrypted keyword data as ‘not provided’, while other keywords appear to dip in visits. With the update only implemented on Google.com, US sites have taken the biggest hit, while UK sites have been affected on smaller scale until now…

On 5th March 2012, Google announced that this feature will be pushed out across their localised domains as well, affecting referrals from Google UK as well as Google.com. The announcement states that this will be introduced “over the next few weeks”; therefore UK sites should see an impact by the end of March.

UK webmasters should expect to see a further increase in traffic filed under the keyword ‘not provided’, which Google’s Matt Cuttsestimated even at full roll-out, this would still be in the single-digit percentages. Although, external research into the impact on US sites shows the average figures to be closer to 11%.

What to do?

With secure keyword referrals returning ‘not provided’, all websites will lose a fraction of keyword data, which is unavoidable. However, there are various ways to make use of the data such as sorting visits by landing page, to determine what keywords may have contributed towards the unknown data. This is particularly useful for websites where individual landing pages correlate closely with specific keywords. In cases where more than 20% of data is being lost and it is having a significantly negative impact, iCrossing suggests that further actions should be taken to make the most of the lost keyword data.

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    Comments (5)

    • Jennifer Wong

      Hi Luke,

      We recently conducted a study and found that Google’s “Not Provided” Keywords have increased by 171% over the last 12 months.

      Here's the full study - http://www.optify.net/press-releases/optify-study-googles-not-provided-rises-to-almost-40-of-organic-traffic-for-b2b-sites

      Some key takeaways were:
      - Google “not provided” now accounts for almost 40 percent of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171 percent since originally introduced a year ago.
      - 64 percent of companies analyzed in the study see 30 to 50 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.
      - 81 percent of the companies analyzed in the study see over 30 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.
      - Recognized referring keywords from organic search declined by 49 percent.

      Thought you might be interested in the new data!

      Jennifer
      @JenerationyDec 11, 2012 08:22 pm

    • ustad

      Thanks Luke.Mar 9, 2012 05:14 pm

    • Luke Smith

      Hi Ustad. There's a couple of links in the last paragraph - a couple of really great examples of ways to unpick the lost data and make use of it. As Mike just mentioned, it has been suggested before that migrating your site to SSL should allow the keyword data to pass; http://searchengineland.com/google-puts-a-price-on-privacy-98029 but we are yet to see any proof that this is actually true. SEOptimise also posted an article in November which supports our belief that this is in fact, not true: http://www.seoptimise.com/blog/2011/11/why-is-not-provided-my-most-popular-keyword-in-google-analytics-and-how-can-i-fix-it.html Thanks for your comment.Mar 9, 2012 11:57 am

    • Mike Fawcett

      Nice post Luke! It's maybe worth mentioning that some people have suggested the number of '(keyword not provided)' instances might be reduced by hosting your site on a secure server. However, we've checked it out and this doesn't appear to be the case.Mar 9, 2012 11:26 am

    • ustad

      Good post - just wondered what further actions are recommended if 20% of data is being lost....?Mar 9, 2012 11:26 am

     
    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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