Google’s Encrypted Search Meets the Myopic SEO
If there was a ever a group of people that can have blinders on when it comes to how the rest of the world views the online space it’s the SEO crowd. Now the SEO world has been given a new thing to fret over and it should be fodder for hand wringing blog posts from now until whenever.
Google has announced that over the near future they will be rolling out encrypted search results which will limit the tracking of search traffic in a way that makes the numbers crowd nervous. Here is some information about why this is happening from the Google blog.
As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users. Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to https://www.google.com (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page.
This encryption will result in limited ability to track a logged in users’ search patterns relating to keywords used for search. Search Engine Land’s Danny Sullivan points out the new plight of the online marketer and SEO in particular
Even though SEO traffic in general can still be tracked, those who are doing conversion analysis down to the keyword level will begin to lose out. You wouldn’t be able to tell, for instance, where someone coming to your site after finding it for a search for “blue widgets” actually entered, nor the other pages they viewed.
The Google Analytics blog states:
When a signed in user visits your site from an organic Google search, all web analytics services, including Google Analytics, will continue to recognize the visit as Google “organic” search, but will no longer report the query terms that the user searched on to reach your site. Keep in mind that the change will affect only a minority of your traffic. You will continue to see aggregate query data with no change, including visits from users who aren’t signed in and visits from Google “cpc”.
We are still measuring all SEO traffic. You will still be able to see your conversion rates, segmentations, and more.
To help you better identify the signed in user organic search visits, we created the token “(not provided)” within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting. You will continue to see referrals without any change; only the queries for signed in user visits will be affected. Note that “cpc” paid search data is not affected.
I highly recommend that you read Danny Sullivan’s typically exhaustive take on the impact of this move by Google. It’s an interesting read (albeit in his usual lengthy fashion) because this move is being hailed as progress by privacy advocates even though the paid search part of Google’s world (you know, the money part) will not be impacted. Don’t think for a second that a move like this isn’t intended to get some brownie points from the folks in Washington, DC when it comes to how good of a corporate citizen Google is being on its own in a world where online privacy is as political a hot button as there is to push.
What I find most interesting is that Matt Cutts, Google’s SEO industry goodwill ambassador, told Sullivan that when this change is fully rolled out it will only impact a percentage of Google searches that are in the single digits. After all, you have to logged into a Google account AND you have to originate the search from Google.com. I can see those numbers making sense but apparently Sullivan was getting different feedback from the newly paranoid SEO community.
The change will only happen on Google.com, and only for those who are already signed-in at Google with a secure connection. How many people do this? Google software engineer Matt Cutts, who’s been involved with the privacy changes, wouldn’t give an exact figure but told me he estimated even at full roll-out, this would still be in the single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on Google.com.
Postscript: I keep seeing people question this percentage, since I posted this article, not believing it will be that low. I have double-checked with Cutts on it, and he stands by it. Whether people choose to believe his estimate is another thing, of course.
Here’s where the myopic SEO comes into play. It makes sense to me that this percentage of users would be low given the parameters that this new policy is applied. Then why do many feel that this number is too low? Well, that kind of thinking comes from a common malady in the SEO space which is the mistaken line of thinking that what SEO’s do and how they use the Internet even remotely mirrors the average users same patterns. The fact is, while the SEO community from the inside looking out can seem big it’s not in the big picture (looking at sheer numbers). The rest of the world doesn’t know about SEO and being logged into accounts and the impact it has on their search. They won’t even see that a search occurring in this right environment will be encrypted. They won’t have a clue.
It’s this very cluelessness that makes what Google is trying to do as much of a token gesture than anything else. If they were really concerned about the privacy of searchers they would encrypt everything and limit tracking almost completely. Instead they are rolling out a change that will impact few if any. And what about mobile searches? If mobile is the wave of the search future will that be impacted by this move?
SEO’s and the Internet marketing world have a ridiculously skewed view of the world at times. The ability for people in the online space to extrapolate their online behaviors to the rest of the world who have no idea that the letters SEO when used together mean anything at all is mind boggling sometimes. I think some people need to get out from behind their screens and take a walk or something to get an idea of what the vast, vast majority of the world does online. In fact, the younger the SEO the even less aware they are of the large numbers of older users that are using search that never come close to being technical or aware that they can have a Google account etc.(and this will hold true the next 30 or so years so figure it out).
In the end, this change will make a difference to the SEO’s work but as with all things in this space, change is more normal than just about anything. There are always workarounds that are found and developed. Do you really think Google wants people to not do SEO? No way because that keeps companies paranoid enough about their search positions for their online presence and also keeps them paying for pay per click advertising to ensure they are “being found” when the organic side of their strategy isn’t getting it done.
My suggestion to the SEO community is to get out of the office more. A huge part of the world doesn’t see things like you do and we should all be grateful for that fact. Many just use search as the utility it is. There is no science or technique, just need. They come to Google to get information then they live their lives. They don’t know the ins and outs of the engines, don’t care and likely never will. They just want to get some information. I for one am very comfortable with that group being over 90% of the search public. It makes sense to me.
What are your thoughts?