We’re all safe.

On the 24th of September 2013, Google quietly announced that all searches here forth would now use a secure connection. Essentially, if now go to ‘http://www.google.com’ in your browser you will be forcibly redirected to ‘https://www.google.com’ –  the ‘https’ in the URL means that your connection to Google is encrypted and that the data engaged cannot be intercepted.

The day many SEO professionals hoped would never come.

Although this doesn’t sound like too much of an issue, for search marketers this certainly shakes things up. Here is why; when potential customers search using a secured connection Google will no longer be obliged to communicate the search query of your potential customer used to your analytics software.

Instead, Google will hide referral data from secure users and group it under the label ‘(Not provided)’ – thus removing the insight SEOs relied on in order to provide content direction, insight around consumer needs & detailed reporting.

I.e. ‘Cheap Flights to Sydney = 34 clicks’ will become ‘(Not Provided) = 34 clicks’

A long time coming…

Secure search was originally released back in October 2011, where Google began encrypting searches for anyone who was logged into Google (~30-40% of users). The reason given then was purely privacy.

Since 2011, the percentage of ‘(Not provided)’ data has steadily increased. The chart below shows how  ‘(Not provided)’ data has increased to 75% of keyword data and will hit 100% by 11th of December 2013!

100 percent not provided keyword data

Industry Impact:
Working with the light off?

It’s certainly a lot duller than before. However the impact of this change means that SEOs are unable to pinpoint where traffic is coming from which therefore hinders the security behind our intelligence. This means it is more difficult to see if the work we are doing is driving the outcomes we are striving for.

Over recent years, Google has attempted to cure our thirst for organic data by introducing new tools. The Google Webmaster Tool suite, a system designed for webmasters – not marketers, provides broad unfiltered organic data but with 3 exceptions:

  1. All data is rounded up or down logarithmically to the nearest 100, 1000, or 10,000
  2. User demographic data, such as landing page, time on site or bounce rate is not available
  3. Data is only available for the past 90 days

A Controversial Twist…The ‘Paid’ Loophole.

Strangely, despite the privacy lead initiative, keyword data from Paid Search (Adwords) at a user level is still 100% accessible, regardless of any users who are logged in or are using a secured connection – to which Google is often criticised for doing so.

Furthermore, Google have also recently released an integrated organic search performance data inside the AdWords interface. The intent behind this initiative is to drive better understanding between paid and organic search, and the overall synergy they drive when working together.

At this point in time, it is widely speculated that marketers will be able to receive almost the same level of organic keyword data they had in 2011 as long as they have an active Google Adwords account.

Closing Thoughts.

The process of SEO continues to get more complicated for marketers – especially those who aren’t engaged in paid media activity. This impact of this change is simply that the level of insight behind ‘customer intent’ will be reduced.

From my perspective, Google is sending out a clear message here: To succeed in SEO moving forwards, we must integrate with wider media better in order to understand our target audiences. That way we will still be able to leverage insights around consumer behaviour, their content needs whilst still driving search efficiencies.

Update:
If you haven’t seen it already, check out Rand Fiskins whiteboard Tuesday on what SEOs should do in a post 100% (Not provided) world.