Google To Start Blocking Keyword Referrer

By October 20, 2011 Google News, PPC, SEO No Comments

The big news in search this week is that Google announced it will start blocking keyword referrer for natural search where people are logged in to their Google account, by making SSL (a secure encryption protocol called Secure Sockets Layer) active by default for those logged in. Note, that this keyword restriction won’t apply for visits through Pay Per Click ads. SSL is an extra layer of security, and if it is active on your Google account, you will see the URL change from http to https, and maybe the little padlock icon on your browser.

The Concern

For SEO, this raises the concern of not being able to identify which keywords people are arriving to your site using.  Analytics data will still show that people are coming from Google search, but not what that search was. This will affect all analytics packages, including Google Analytics.

In your analytics keyword report, you will now see “not provided” instead of a search term, for all logged in users of natural search. You will still see search terms for those people not logged in, and PPC referred traffic.

Matt Cutts, the Google engineer, seems to be saying that this will impact less than 10% of all Google searchers on Google.com. (All I have to say to this, as an SEO, is thank gosh Google Plus has not yet been fantastically successful!)

Although there will still be a huge amount of data available on keyword referral, this trend for increased privacy is not going to go away, and it is likely that sometime in the future there will be a situation where analytics data will be significantly restricted compared to what it is now. No, it won’t be the death of Search marketing, you will still want to be able to promote your site to your customers right? But we are getting a lot more information now than we might in the future – this is the Wild West, the frontier land, and soon the rules and regulations will catch up to us.

See Keyword Referrers in Webmaster Tools

Over the last few weeks, there has been an increased integration between Google WMT and Google Analytics, perhaps compensation because they knew this bomb was coming. You will still be able to see the top 1,000 terms you were shown for, and were clicked on, in WMT (but only for the last 30 days), including those blocked by SSL. It will be interesting to compare the KW data still available in Analytics with this overall KW data to see differences.

While the KW data in WMT is useful, it isn’t a replacement for KW data in analytics, because first of all it only goes back 30 days, and secondly, you can’t see what people did once they arrived – is that keyword good for conversion or did everyone from that term leave the site in a hurry?

Keyword Referrers Still Available in PPC

If you are logged in to your Google account, your search term will still be traced if you click on a PPC ad.

I guess it might technically not be very ‘evil’, but the fact that they are going to ignore their new security rules for their paid customers is making people at least question how ‘nice’ Google is. It is hypocritical to introduce this new security feature for only a section of the audience, to try to appease privacy concerns, but ignore the privacy of users who click on the ads. Basically, Google are saying that privacy is important enough to introduce this change, but not important enough when compared to advertising dollars.

Of course, from a business perspective you can understand why they did it – but, if the logged in users are less than 10% of the searchers, surely this means there is still enough data to measure performance on from those 90%? As an advisor to Google Adwords advertisers, of course I want as much information as possible for my clients – but I still think the rule should be the same regardless of whether you clicked on an ad or a free listing, because privacy is equally important in either case. (Actually Google thought that free clicks might be related to more personal/private searches, but I think this is clutching at straws).

Strangely, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said only this about the disparity in paid and free clicks privacy

“There is one small caveat that users should be aware of with the new encrypted-when-logged-in Google. If you click on an advertisement, and the advertiser’s website is HTTP rather than HTTPS, Google will send the search terms for that specific query to the advertiser over HTTP.”

I expected more of an outcry.

So that’s the new Google change. We aren’t going to go from our current analytics information to zero – but we are slowly headed towards a world where we will have a lot less data. Like any business or technology, evolution happens, and we will have to deal with it as it comes.

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