Hello Google HTTPS Search, Goodbye Keyword Data

You may remember that a few days ago we shared the initial story that Google had made the, not unexpected but definitely unwanted, move to 100% secure search. This has resulted in keyword data, what many SEOs considered to be a key part of their search campaigns, being cut of entirely. Although the changes are currently still being rolled out (we are lucky enough to be seeing only half ‘not provided’ at this time 26 September 2013) many SEOs have reported that their keyword data has gone entirely dark with Google Analytics returning 100% of results as ‘not provided.’

How Does Google HTTPS Search Work?

By filtering all search traffic through HTTPS Google can prevent keyword data from being passed through to the websites that people reach from the search engine. With no keyword information being passed to webmasters sites it doesn’t make it through to their analytics programs. Cat search for Google HTTPS search

Why Have Google Done It?

They claim searcher security but that has been met with a huge amount of cynicism in the SEO community. Let’s not forget that Google HTTPS search was introduced in 2010 on a separate URL. In 2011 it was extended to all signed-in searchers and then further pushed to the Google Chrome Omnibox (the address bar to you and me) and even default searching in Firefox earlier this year. In a statement that Google gave to Search Engine Watch they claim that they are “now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”

So let’s look at the ‘searcher security’ argument. You’ve probably heard about the whole PRISM debacle by now (unless you’ve been living under a rock in the middle of the Arctic with ear plugs in) but why not humour us and let us explain. When Edward Snowden blew the proverbial whistle on the US Government’s PRISM project in June Google was accused of handing direct access to peoples search data over to the program. Although they have strongly denied ever cooperating with any government body Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian columnist who helped Snowden broadcast the information, was quoted as saying that analysts had the ability to listen “to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered, and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or that IP address do in the future.”

nsa logo for google HTTPS search articleSo in response to these accusations, Google HTTPS search has been introduced to increase and reinforce customer privacy. Makes sense right? Well, kind of. The searcher security argument is good in practice but falls apart slightly when you take into account that search terms are still visible to AdWords users…

Secure Search = Big Bucks For Google

It seems that secure search isn’t entirely secure after all. Keyword information is still available in Webmaster Tools but only going as far back as 90 days (slightly frustrating when you want to track keyword trends over any length of time) and only for the top 2000 per day. Guess where you can find properly indexed keyword information, on as many keywords as you want, for as long as you want? That’s right, the AdWords platform.

So Google have just monopolised their own keyword information with access to any extensive amounts being withheld for the exclusive use of paying ad clients only. Hmmm, something smells a bit fishy if you ask us. When you take into account the fact that ad search traffic has never been encrypted something downright stinks. Advertisers are told exactly what terms people searched for to reach their add, non-advertisers aren’t told anything about any keywords that were used to reach their site.

What Can You Do About Google HTTPS Search?

fistfull of dollars for google https search articleSo you want some keyword data but, unsurprisingly, you don’t want to pay through the nose to be able to access it. So what can you do? Well, as we previously mentioned Webmaster Tools does still contain some keyword data but nothing that is as extensive as what was available in analytics.

Of course you can also use keyword information that is being returned in other search engines such as Bing for example. Although it may not be as all encompassing as Google keyword information it is free and undoubtedly valuable. Short of these tips there is little we think you can do. It feels like Google has given the little guy a slap in the face with one hand whilst greedily grabbing for big businesses big bucks with the other.

Written by Ryan Hill

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