On September 23, Google flipped a switch making all Google searches secure, even if the searcher is logged in to a Google account.
What does this mean? Well, for the SEOs and analytics junkies this means that all incoming organic keyword data from Google will now be shown as “(not provided)”.
What Is Secure Search?
A lot of people outside the SEO space are unfamiliar with secure search and why it’s a big deal. Now, whenever someone Googles a search term, they’re automatically redirected to the https:// version of Google. This is an SSL encrypted search, commonly seen in ecommerce websites. This is routing original searches to a middle page, which the middle page then redirects to the search results page. Because of this redirect, analytics programs are currently unable to capture the referring keyword data the visitor searched on Google.
Many in the digital marketing space are under the impression this change was due to Google trying to push more businesses to use AdWords (funnily enough, in an attempt to link to AdWords in this article, their secure search implementation is actually causing a 404 error on a direct URL visit).
What Does This Change for SEO?
Before this change, SEOs were able to review analytics to see which keywords were driving the most traffic, engagement, revenue, etc. which would allow the SEOs to optimize those keywords to meet their goals. Now, we’re mostly flying blind and playing a guessing game.
This also allowed SEOs to improve user experience by trying to deliver the most relevant content for their intended search. Now, we’re going to have to use third party tools to track visitor actions, and attempt to correlate any differences in user engagement to poorly tailored content to the visitor.
Providing (Not Provided) Keyword Data Collection Guidelines
- Listen to Avinash, a leading analytics expert. When the first rendition of secure search rolled out he made a great blog post on how to still capture some data from the visitor.
- Use Google Analytics to track internal site search.
- Start tracking the landing pages, not the keywords.
- Create custom search query reports in Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools.
- Use keyword distribution to attribute specific keywords.
- Use the keyword report to your advantage.
- Use advanced segmenting to attribute searches to pages.
Going Forward With Secure Search
Utilizing the above methodologies, we can get a small grasp on the keyword data that is no longer easily available. At this point, it’s a safe assumption to believe Google will not revert these changes and will continue to utilize secure search. Expect to continue to have to use the tactics mentioned in this article for your keyword data and on-site optimization efforts.
Google forcing SEOs to start optimizing for the visitors and their engagement rather than specific keywords is a much needed change from Google, but it certainly makes things more difficult for all.