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Google Secure Search Changes: Get Ready for Tougher Analytics Reporting

Google Secure Search

Google has moved to secure all user search queries from its search engine – removing all keyword data from web analytics suites like Google Analytics and HubSpot. This means your company will have a harder time measuring the progress of your inbound marketing campaign. This post will explain Google’s action, what it means for your company and what you and your agency might be able to do about it.

What Happened and Why It Might Have Happened

On Monday, September 23, prominent SEO publication Search Engine Land reported that Google had “flipped on encryption for people who aren’t even signed-in.” They got this information directly from Google, although Google hasn’t made an official public announcement. Many other search engine publications have since confirmed the Search Engine Land report.

Google Search uses SSL, or “Secure Sockets Layer,” to prevent third parties like public Wi-fi hotspots and Internet Service Providers from accessing information about an individual’s search behavior. As a residual effect, this SSL encryption hinders web analytics suites from reporting on what keywords people use to access websites.

Knowledgeable observers have speculated that this move by Google could have to do with one or both of the following:

  • Resistance to the National Security Administration’s (NSA’s) request for search data
  • An attempt to boost Google’s AdWords advertising sales

Google’s ad revenue has been a pain point in recent months and the NSA flap has just been the latest in an ongoing debate about online privacy. It’s worth noting that Google’s encryption move does not include clicks on Google advertisements.

The History of Google Secure Search

Secure search has been a part of the online privacy debate of recent years. Marketers want to understand what keywords people are using to visit their website, while individual users often don’t want to feel like they’re being tracked, especially if they’re using keywords that might appear controversial or embarassing. Smaller search engines like DuckDuckGo have attacked Google on the issue of user privacy.

In 2011, Google began encrypting searches for users who are logged into their Google account by default. Google described the move as a way of protecting the increasingly personalized search results that it delivers.

What Inbound Marketers Can Do About the Change

Although this is a big change for marketers, it's not the end of the world and there are some actions you can take to continue measuring the results of marketing campaigns even without Google's keyword data. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Use keyword data reported in analytics by other search engines including Bing, Yahoo, DuckDuckGo and others that hold a collective 30% of U.S. search engine market share.
  • The focus on rankings are going to be a bigger part of reporting and measuring on campaigns. Software like BrightEdge and Zoomrank are good examples of software that can report rankings on a page by page basis.
  • Click-through rate studies and rankings data can be paired to form an educated guess about the organic keywords that are driving traffic to your site.
  • Google Webmaster Tools can be used to see a limited amount of keyword data. However, the amount of this data is expected to increase according to Google.

Element Three will continue to monitor the situation and look for ways to improve how businesses and their marketing agencies measure and report on their inbound marketing. What are your thoughts about Google's recent move? Do you think it will significantly hinder your ability to report on campaigns, and how do you plan to react to this change?

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Element Three is a modern marketing agency for discernable brands. We build trusting, long-term relationships with clients whose destination is market leadership, fusing traditional, digital and inbound tactics to tell bold stories audiences can’t resist. We don’t rely on single tactics, stay loyal to any one medium, or favor one discipline over another. Instead, we go beyond the tried to find the truth about your customers. Using research and participation to deliver seamless brand experiences.