5 reasons why Google encrypts the Keyword Data & the effects on Online Marketing

google-sslOn Tuesday 18th of October, Google announced that within the next weeks, all the logged-in users that use Google search will automatically be redirected on the SSL version of the website. As they mention on their article “Making Search more secure” this new feature targets on protecting the privacy of the users and on making the search safer. In this article we discuss the effects of this change on SEO, Analytics and Online Marketing in general and we focus on the (real) reason why Google decided to make this important update.

What changed after the SSL implementation?

In the past when a user was signed-in with his Google account he was using the non-encrypted HTTP version of Google.com. When he searched for the query “some keyword” and clicked on one of the results, the webmaster of the selected site was able to find out that the visitor came from Google.com after searching for the particular keywords. As we’ll see later this information is extremely important for the webmasters & Online Marketers.

With the new update the webmaster is still able to see that the visitor comes from Google.com but he is not able to find out which keywords were used in the query. This happens only when the visitor is signed-in with his Google account and it affects only the Organic Traffic and not the Adwords Traffic. This means that if the visitor clicks on the advertisements instead of the organic results, the webmaster will continue having detailed information on the keywords that they were used. In other words, it seems like Google cares a lot about the user privacy unless they make money out of it.

The effects on SEO, Analytics and Online Marketing

The information that is no longer provided by Google (the keywords of the query) is extremely important for the Online Marketers. Without knowing which terms are used by the visitors, webmasters & web professionals are not able to find out how targeted their SEO campaigns are, what is the conversion rate for each keyword, what are the money-making terms, how search engine users find their services etc.

Note that webmasters will continue seeing on their Google Analytics console the detailed keyword data for the non-signed-in users. On the other hand, the search engine traffic that comes from signed-in users will still be visible as Organic Traffic, nevertheless the keyword data will not be available for those visitors (“(Not Provided)” will appear in the Keyword Reports). Google mentioned that at the moment, for most websites the percentage of lost data should not be more than 10%. Nevertheless this percentage is expected to increase over time since Google constantly gives incentives to the users to sign-in (detailed history, personalized results, single sign-on service, unlock features/services and above all Google+ [just kidding :p]).

google-analytics-not-provided

An alternative for getting the most popular keywords that were used by search engine users is the aggregated keyword list that is provided in Google Webmaster Tools. Unfortunately Google Webmaster Tools service is notorious for providing inaccurate and low quality results for keyword data.

Why Google encrypts keyword data?

According to the official announcement Google has released this update in order to protect the privacy of the users. Nevertheless many SEOs & Online Marketing professionals have pointed out that this claim is false. If Google truly cared about the privacy of the users, they would also encrypt the keyword data that come from AdWords. Of course they don’t because they would negatively affect their paid clients.

So if privacy is not their main/only concern, what are the reasons that made them roll out this feature? Here are few hints:

1. Stop other Advertising Agencies from using their data

Several advertising networks that compete with Google Adwords (such as Chitika, Chango etc) use the search referral data to provide highly targeted ads to the visitors. Google does not want any other company (especially competitors) to use those data.

2. Provide better Reports and Insights to Paid users

The Organic Keyword Reports that come from Google Analytics are extremely important data and they are used on decision making and heavily affect the Online Marketing campaigns. All these insights are provided free of charge to the webmasters and to the online marketers. Would not be great (for Google) if those free reports were not as good as the ones that are provided by AdWords?

3. SEO vs PPC

Even though Google has never admitted it, SEO can be seen as a competitive promotional method to PPC Advertising (even though a balanced promotional mix should include both of them). Since SEO is all about understanding your visitors and creating, optimizing and delivering high quality content that meet their needs, studying closely your Analytics Reports and getting all the insights that you can from them is crucial. Without being able to get solid statistics Search Engine Optimization becomes harder. So, would not be great (for Google) if SEO becomes so complicated that more and more companies start relying on Google AdWords?

4. Protect their data

Other third-party companies (Compete, Alexa, etc) use traffic logs and other methods to create reports on how websites are found by users and what are their money-making keywords (Even Bing has been accused of using these data in the past). Google has clearly shown that they don’t like services that use their data in order to provide competitor analysis tools or competitive services.

5. Privacy issues in some countries

Privacy might be important for some countries. If you recall, Google had several conflicts in the past with particular countries over privacy and censorship issues. Encrypting keyword data does make sense in some cases.

Should we describe the above as an anticompetitive move? Is Google trying to drive other competitor advertising networks out of business? Do you believe that the US or EU competition law might cause issues to Google on the near future?

We would love to hear your thoughts on the above. Leave your comments below and don’t forget to share the article if you like it. :)

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  • seo

    Thanks Vassilis for this informative post. I totally agree to your statements.I must admit that Google has decided to be the ONE and ONLY in the web..and this is not good at all, for both the users and Google! Really disappointed to hear this.Bad news for seo-ers…

  • Namita Patel

    This is clearly a monopolistic ploy on the part of Google and seems intended only to encourage marketers to use Adwords (and rely less on organic search.) No doubt savvy SEOs will figure out a formula to adjust organic traffic data to account for the information loss. Follow me on Twitter @namipatel

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  • John

    Its not all about monopolistic approach . More people rely on Google search engines since it has got more clarity over others and it truly underlines the statement .

  • SEO Berkshire

    For me it is all about using the present data hand in hand with potential and forecasted data that is due for the website in the near to distant future

  • Richard

    I agree with Namita. When a company can make a change that hurts many businesses and there’s really no re-course the public can do to stop it, because it’s the only game in town, that’s a monopoly. The only way to get Google to stop this is to stop buying their product (Adwords), but this just hurts my own business as there’s no alternative — this is pretty much the definition of a monopoly.

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  • Timeshare

    This data has been useful for the camapign we are running at the moment and I will keep an eye out on the progress of our new website.

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