Google Encrypts All Organic Searches

Senior Digital Analyst
Published 9/26/13
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Hey, where did my organic keywords go?

They went private. Or more accurately, “Not provided.”

During the past few weeks, Google has been quietly making all search activity private – except for clicks on ads. When asked by Search Engine Land the reason for the abrupt change, Google replied: “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.”

Marketers, SEOs and analysts rely on analysis of keyword searches by site visitors to optimize their sites and make them more visible in search engine results. Not knowing what visitors searched for to reach your site is kind of like driving in a monsoon: It’s pretty hard to see what’s going on – and to figure out ways to improve your site.

This isn't Google’s first foray into encrypted searches, just the most far-reaching. In fall 2011, Google began making searches private for users who were logged in to their Google accounts, i.e. Gmail, Google Plus, etc. When marketers looked at their organic keyword searches in Google Analytics, Site Catalyst or other analytics platforms, what they found was “Not provided” slowly creeping up the list of keywords visitors searched to reach their sites.

There has been speculation among the SEO industry that Google may be doing this to prevent the U.S. National Security Agency from spying on users’ search terms. Others have wondered if Google is doing this to increase ad sales, because the search terms are visible for Google AdWords clients. Whatever the reason, with this latest update, users don’t have to be logged in to their Google account to have their searches kept private.

Before you punch your computer screen and pack up your things and take that trip to Hawaii you’ve been dreaming about, take a breath. 

What does this mean? “Not provided” will likely grow exponentially in analytics reporting. At this point, “Not provided” accounts for 25 to 45 percent of all organic search keywords in our client accounts. This could grow to 80 percent or more.

But, there is hope, SEOs, marketers and analysts!

Before you punch your computer screen and pack up your things and take that trip to Hawaii you’ve been dreaming about, take a breath. At Miles, we can use Google Webmaster tools, the Search Engine Optimization metrics in Google Analytics, BrightEdge, Moz, the Google AdWords Keyword Planner and more to continue to intelligently optimize our sites. It will get a bit more difficult, but it won’t be impossible. Also, keyword data is still provided to Google AdWords clients.

See. It’s only private if it’s free.