In late 2011, Google announced that it would be encrypting the search sessions of users signed into Google.com and showing the search term as (not provided). This search query data is normally available in Analytics, and up until then was available for 100% of visits, allowing visibility into which terms or phrases are being used to reach your site.
Initially, it was predicted that this encryption change would only impact 10% of searches, but over time this number has increased dramatically, with a large volume of search term data lost to (not provided). This proved to be a problem for those interested in finding out how users were searching for their site, but some keyword data was still available and continued to allow for deeper insights into organic traffic.
Recently, all of this has changed. This change was a long time coming, it was just a matter of when and how fast Google would roll it out.
The site (Not Provided) Count tracks 60 popular sites across a variety of industries with differing monthly traffic volumes. On August 24th, for these 60 sites, 47.19% of the keyword data was being tracked as (not provided). As of October 16, that number has increased to 81.86% and will continue to rise.
But this is where it gets interesting: While Google has not officially announced it, all search queries being run through the engine are now handled securely. It won’t matter if you are logged into Google services or not, you will still be directed towards using the secure, https version of the site. Google has even put a redirect into place preventing access to the original non-secure version of the search engine.
What does this mean?
It means that over the next few weeks and months, you can expect all incoming data to be bundled into (not provided) as encrypted searches do not pass keyword data. Ultimately, (not provided) will eventually account for 100% of keyword data and you will lose visibility into the keywords customers are using to find your website through organic search.
What can you do?
While this will present some challenges in the way you will identify and segment the intent of visitors to your site, it does not change the way you can target your audience. Through keyword volume and trending tools, you can still make determinations on the popularity of terms so they can be aligned properly to your products/services.
This is made even easier if you are also running paid search campaigns through Google AdWords. All keyword search query data is still available through AdWords; this is very useful in gaining insight into the searches visitors are still using. It will also allow you to find new terms and understand what visitors are thinking when they search for your products.
The direction Google has chosen (100% not provided) will provide an interesting space to work in, but your role as a marketer or business owner hasn’t changed. The goal remains to extend the reach of your business and put it in front of customers, so you can not only increase the traffic to your site, but also connect with your customers at the right place and time. A loss of visibility into organic search query data does not change this goal, but rather places the emphasis on marketing rather than chasing your metaphorical tail (keywords).
Now is the time to engage with your customers on what they need rather than worrying about the keyword they are using. By engaging with the customer and building that relationship, you create value in your product or service far beyond the initial transaction. This will help create a life-long customer and can also help expand your reach through other social channels.
Need some help getting started? We have a large variety of marketing tools that will help you engage and connect with your customers. All of them are easy to use, and you can get started as soon as you’d like.