Secured search: a dark history
It was a dark, dismal day (fictionalized weather details to set the mood) on October 18, 2011, when Google announced changes to how it would share user data. In an effort to make search more secure, users searching http://google.com, who were already logged into their Google accounts, were redirected to a secure search query https://google.com. Search query data was encrypted for these logged-in Google users and no longer made available to website managers using web analytics tools. Website managers began seeing a percentage of their keyword data falling under a new ‘(Not Provided)’ category, a reflection of users redirected to the secure search site.
Uneasy website managers were reassured by Google that ‘(Not Provided)’ search data was not expected to exceed 10% of search results, but as time went by and user privacy concerns became more prevalent, the percentage of organic search keyword traffic falling into the ‘(Not Provided)’ category steadily grew. It was the beginning of the end of collecting organic search data at the keyword level. SEO superstars breathlessly waited to see what would happen next.
Secured search: the new reality
In late September 2013, Google announced that ALL searches would be secured. Searchers logged into Google are no longer the only ones redirected to the https:// version of the site. Anyone using Google to search for information is now automatically redirected to the SSL encrypted browser. Estimates suggest that the percentage of ‘(Not Provided)’ data will reach 100% by the end of the year. Marketers and website managers can no longer track organic search traffic in Google at the keyword level. Is the SEO era over?
Never fear! All (SEO best practices) is not lost
In the face of secure search complications, you can still succeed at SEO by leveraging remaining data sources and taking a big-picture approach to site optimization. Combinations of potentially untapped data can be used to assess and improve your search performance.
Let our handy graphic guide you (see below the chart for an explanation of each tool):
SEO Tools Glossary
Google Webmaster tools: provides reports about your pages’ Google visibility. This additional tool can be added to your site, much like Google Analytics. You must first verify ownership of your website. For more information: www.google.com/webmasters/tools.
Google Analytics – Matched Search Query report: shows the search queries that matched your AdWords keyword list. For example, if your AdWords keyword is “car” and the report is set to a “broad match type,” a person who types in “red car” would be returned as a match. This report can only be used if you have an AdWords account linked to your Google Analytics account. Find this report: click on ‘Acquisition’ on the left hand navigation, click on ‘AdWords’, then ‘Matched Search Query.’
Google Analytics – Channels report: provides general data like visits, bounce rate, revenue, etc. on all your traffic sources, including organic traffic. Find this report: click on Acquisition on the left hand navigation and then click on Channels.
Google Analytics – Landing Pages report: shows which pages people first land on when arriving to your site. Use a non-paid search segment to filter out all traffic except the organic search results for your landing pages. This will help you verify that your SEO efforts to optimize specific pages is paying off. Find this report: click on ‘Behavior’ in the left navigation, click ‘site content’, and then ‘landing pages’. Finally, add the non-paid search segment to the report.
Google AdWords – Keyword Planner: will help you identify which keywords you should focus on for SEO. You must have an AdWords account to use the tool. Find this tool: click on ‘Tools and Analysis’ in the AdWords drop-down menu and select ‘Keyword Planner.”
Google Trends: will help you identify fast-rising keywords. Find Google Trends: http://www.google.com/trends/
Internal Search Queries: show the words people type into the search field on your website. Some website platforms have a built in report that shows what people are typing into your site search or you can set up the Search Terms report in Google Analytics. We can help you with Search Terms reports, and you can incorporate these search queries into your SEO strategy.
It’s still all about the data
Google’s secure search updates by no means require throwing in the towel on your SEO efforts! Website managers will use combinations of data to continue to make sound SEO decisions and ensure their site can be easily found by customers online. Performance reporting will change to reflect keyword impressions and include insights from the underutilized data sources listed above. By harnessing existing sources of data and a streak of creativity, website owners will still collect valuable SEO insights to improve website performance.