Google to encrypt all searches as not provided

By Rachel Hand topicIcon SEO

Google secures all searches

Google has confirmed that it has begun encrypting searches for users who are not signed in - a change that could eventually lead to 100 per cent (not provided) keyword data.

(Not provided) began appearing in Analytics organic keyword reports back in October 2011, when Google first announced search encryption - although Matt Cutts estimated it would affect a single digit percentage of search queries.

In the intervening two years, encryption became default for any users signed into their Google account, before extending to searches in the Chrome and Firefox browser bars. Encryption means that the keyword the user typed in to find a site will not be passed on to the site's Analytics results, returning (not provided) instead.

This week, a Google spokesperson told Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land:

"We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We're now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in."

Speculation over the reason for the change has so far been divided into two camps: those who think Google is protecting users from NSA data collection, and those who believe the search giant is attempting to drive more businesses to use AdWords, where the keyword data remains completely unencrypted. Google commented, "The motivation here is not to drive the ads side - it's for our search users".

Coping without keyword data

SEO experts have pointed out that many sites have seen (not provided) climb to over 70 per cent already, and many predicted it would hit 100 per cent later this year. Furthermore, the organic landing page report will still be available, which for some websites will be easily interpreted as keywords or groups of keywords, and cross referenced with rankings and volume.

Further techniques being suggested as alternatives for organic keywords include the Search Queries screen in Webmaster Tools, which displays impressions and click through rates for a site's top keywords. Meanwhile, Google AdWords can be used to discover new keyword opportunities and determine the brand/non-brand split. Of course, for countries where the search engine market share is more balanced, other search engines could still provide some useful information.

Daniel Nolan, managing director at theEword, commented: "For SEO agencies, the organic keyword report has never been the crux of a campaign, more a small piece of the jigsaw. It might be more complicated, more time-consuming, and less transparent, but there are plenty of tools and techniques that will help sites cope with the loss of this data, and the industry is sure to adapt very quickly."