SSL Encrypted search on Google.com

On 18th October 2011 Google announced a change in the way a user's internet browser passes referring information, when carrying out searches on Google.com and logged into a Google account.

This is part of an ongoing commitment to provide more privacy for Google users.

Historically a user performing a search on google.com when logged into a Google account and clicking on an organic search result, the referring keyword (the keyword or phrase used in the search query) would be passed via the users browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome and so on) to analytics software.

From now on any users logged into their Google account on Google.com performing a search and clicking through an organic result will no longer pass the referring keyword or phrase to analytics software, as it is now encrypted using SSL technology.

This change is set to roll out across Google domains over a period of years, but currently only affects users on Google.com and when logged into their Google account. This accounts for only 10% of all the searches carried on out Google.com.

Data from a user on Google.com, or other Google domain (Google.co.uk, and so on) who may or not be logged into an account will not be affected by this change.

What is SSL?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer, it is a protocol that allows secure communication over the internet, it is this technology that will prevent keyword data being transferred from Google.com logged in searchers to analytics software.

Effect on reporting

Currently the data passed from these users can be recorded in analytics software such as Google analytics, under referring keywords within the organic traffic source.

Effective from 18th October analytics software will still be able to see that an organic visit was received from the search result by that user but the keyword is not recorded and is reported as "not provided".

This does not currently affect data from all other search users only those logged into a Google account and using Google.com. Data from Yahoo, Bing and other search engines will continue to report at keyword level as usual.

A small amount of keyword data will no longer be passed into analytics, when reporting at keyword level a small drop in organic traffic from Google.com is likely to be seen, but similarly an increase in the traffic from "not provided" will be seen. Analysis of this "not provided" data set will be possible.

Overall levels of organic traffic will continue to report as usual and will not be affected.

What this does allow to be seen now is the split between visits to site from logged in Google account users and non logged in Google account users, which could be valuable in the future.

What other actions are being taken to combat this?

As many of our clients have Google Webmaster tools accounts set up, Equi=Media remain able to monitor keyword data from Google searches at a raw data level and at present believe this data to be unaffected by the change as no data from onsite activity is recorded here.

Webmaster tools collects the following data:

  • The keyword or phrase used in the search.
  • How many impressions your website had in the search result for that term.
  • The average position on the search results page where your organic impression will appear.
  • How many clicks to site that organic impression had.
  • Compares this data to previous timescales and report on positive and negative changes in levels of impressions, average position and click through rate (CTR)

This will allow Equi=Media to continue to report on CTR levels for specific keywords form Google search results.

Conclusion

This change will inevitably roll out globally over time, especially as new privacy laws regarding internet usage are adapting and Google will be attempting to abide by those laws.

However if this change is to remain only applicable to logged in Google Account search queries the impact upon keyword level reporting and analysis will not be impacted upon significantly.

Equi=Media will remain equipped to manage organic search strategies, motoring, report, evaluate and optimise for our clients.

Natalie

Natalie

Natalie is a Website Optimisation Specialist. She has a Google Analytics individual qualification and has been part of the equimedia team since 2007. She has a passion for Reptiles, Arts & Crafts and fundraising for charity. Read more about Natalie

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