Google encrypted search – is this the end of SEO as we know it?

Posted: Thursday 26th September 2013 in Owned and earned media, Thought Leadership.
Google encrypted search

Organic keyword search data will now be encrypted, due to recent changes from Google

Written by Mark Preston
SEO Project Lead

What’s happened?

– Organic keyword search data will now be encrypted for all users of Google

– This doesn’t impact paid keyword search data on the AdWords platform

What does it mean?

– SEO marketers will have significantly less keyword data to help shape their SEO strategies

Our response

– Summit’s proprietary tools combined with our breadth of experience in online marketing means we’re well placed to mitigate some of the loss of data


The change we all suspected was coming

Following persistent speculation Google has now publically announced its intention to encrypt keyword data for all users of its search service, even those who are not logged into a Google account. Although paid keyword search data will still be accessible via the AdWords platform, keyword level information will no longer be made available from users clicking on organic results within Google search listings.

What is encrypted search?

Encryption makes the information a user searches for private. In online search this means that the words users enter into a search engine cannot be tracked by third parties. This includes marketers who use the data to optimise their web content towards the user.

What’s the driver behind Google’s decision?

Since 2008 Google has provided encrypted connections for users across a number of its products ranging from Gmail to Google Docs. This was followed in 2010 by the launch of an optional encrypted search service available on a separate URL ( Google cited the need to offer users a more secure and private browsing experience as the motivation for this elective encryption feature.

A year later in October 2011 it was then announced by Google that searches performed by any user logged into a Google account would, by default, be redirected to the encrypted version of its website. The result for publishers and marketers was that keyword search data for this proportion of logged-in traffic would no longer be visible when users clicked on their organic search listings. Keyword data for this user set would instead be represented as a cumulative ‘not provided’ group.

Since 2011 Summit have seen the ratio of encrypted search data steadily rising across a number of our retail clients, from less than 1% of all organic traffic to up to 40%. In the last week this figure has peaked at over 60%, a figure only expected to grow in the coming days and weeks. In early August Summit Head of Direct Response, David Trolle, discussed the challenges that encrypted search presents to marketers as part of Summit’s Retail Buzz video series. You can hear Dave’s opinions on encrypted search here.

Is this the end of SEO as we know it?

Yes and no. Firstly, this update has undoubtedly made it more difficult for marketers to glean the same level of insight from the search data they are able to collect. Although keyword level data will still be available for other search engines such as Bing, Google’s current monopoly, particularly in the UK, means that a large proportion of keyword data will now be unavailable to marketers. The challenge that is now present is how to work with the remaining available search data to accurately monitor, measure and improve natural search campaigns. The need to integrate and synergise SEO with other marketing channels in order to maximise our understanding of search performance no longer becomes a ‘nice to have’ but a must have.

How are we managing the change?

We’re well placed to manage the changes to the information we can collect thanks to our propriety tracking system, Stingray. With it we’re able to accumulate in-depth data that helps us create an encompassing view of online consumer behaviour and trends. We are working closely with our dedicated insights and usability teams to determine usage models within this data to supplement the intelligence lost by encrypted search. Our services reach the full breadth of online marketing so we are able to exploit our extensive multi-channel expertise, particularly in PPC, to support our understanding of SEO and organic performance, placed within an overarching marketing context.

What action can you take?

We recommend monitoring search performance at a page level as an alternative to keyword data which, in the short term, will be the most accurate way of interpreting organic traffic trends. Plotting keyword rankings against site landing pages will still provide insight into the type of traffic that is navigating to a website.

Watch our video here:

Got a burning question about the changes?

If you’ve got a question about the changes in Google search data we’d be more than happy to answer it. Email [email protected] If you’d like to know more about our online marketing services you can call Sven Olsen on 0203 428 5303.

You can find more information on the Google changes here