Why You Should Care about Google’s New Keyword Encryption

This week, Search Engine Land reported that Google has made another change to how they share search data. In an effort to provide “extra protection” for searchers, Google is making a move toward encrypting all search activity, except for clicks on ads. This is big news for marketers who rely on search data for campaign optimization, since it will now be impossible to see which Google keywords are driving traffic to your site, content, or landing pages. The exact motive behind the update is still under speculation, but Search Engine Land theorizes that it could be an attempt to avoid spying by the NSA, a ploy to increase ad sales, or a combination of both.

This change builds on Google’s previous modification to search back in October 2011, when the company announced that they would begin encrypting search results for all logged-in Google users. At the time, this meant that marketers could no longer see which keyword searches led visitors to their site (if that visitor was logged into their Google account). With increasing scrutiny on their approach to privacy after a brief controversy with the NSA over search data, and with almost two years of search encryption experimentation under their belt, Google’s recent move to restrict search data even further isn’t all that surprising.

Even if you’re using an analytics platform or a marketing automation tool like Pardot (note: all analytics platforms will be affected the same way by this update, even Google Analytics), you still will not have the insight into Google keywords that you have had in the past. Because Google is now only sharing search data with its advertisers, traffic coming from organic search will be lumped under the “not provided” category when viewing search reports.

Fortunately, you can still get some insight into keyword data through other search providers, like Bing and Yahoo — and while this won’t tell you everything you’d like to know, it will still give you somewhat of an indication of which keywords are being used the most often. You can also connect your pay-per-click Google Adwords account to your Google Analytics account to conduct keyword research.

Details have yet to be announced as to when this change will officially take place for all users, but Google did make the following announcement yesterday evening:

“We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can — we added non-signed-in Chrome omnibox searches earlier this year, and more recently other users who aren’t signed in. We’re going to continue expanding our use of SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users…The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users.”

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5 thoughts on “Why You Should Care about Google’s New Keyword Encryption

    • Thanks for the comment, Will! There are some great takeaways in your article — I especially like your point about relying more on our own (useful) content as we move away from “push” marketing tactics. Thanks for sharing!

  • Jenna,
    Certainly a big development and one that some people will not be happy with. The thing is you just have to understand different metrics now in order to get answers. No keyword data available, but research traffic to your landing pages. You will know what a specific page is targeting so you will understand if you are attracting that associated traffic. Also Google webmaster tools will still transparency on keywords and top pages, so refer to that. Marketers have to adapt and evolved to suit the landscape.

    • Thanks for the comment, Daryl. You make several great points. Marketers will just have to continue to adapt the same way that they always have, and will have to use alternative methods to get the insights they’re looking for (I like the ideas you mentioned in your comment about researching traffic to landing pages and consulting Google webmaster tools). Thanks for sharing with our audience!

  • Interesting info Jenna. I guess the first question that comes to mind is what Google would plan to do with their analytics platform. It seems like more and more, website localization is becoming the norm so submitting to location specific directories like Google and Bing Places would assist in superseding an enterprise level need for an analytics platform in regards to the small business consumer.

    From this standpoint, how do you think Google stands to benefit on their enterprise level analytics platform as I’m sure they don’t plan on leaving Universal Analytics left out of the mix?

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