Performics POV: Google Secure Search & Not Provided

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Performics POV: Google Secure Search & Not Provided


Posted by Ivey Liang, Analyst, SEO Google increased use of secure search to protect user privacy in October 2011. When users log into their Google account, Google strips the specific search terms that they used before they click on a search result and come to a site. Marketers lost direct access to search data that they relied on to understand customers’ wants and needs. Search queries that come through Google secure search are lumped into a bucket called “not provided” in Google Analytics. As Google secure search is applied in a broader scope, organic search has been affected to a much larger extent. As a result, the percentage of “not provided” becomes higher and higher. To get a more accurate picture of searcher insights, it is recommended to use Google Webmaster Tools data, paid search data in AdWords, and data from other search engines such as Bing and Yahoo! as alternate solutions. It is also suggested to use Google Analytics “not provided” data in new ways to dig out more search intent insights. What is Google Secure Search and “Not Provided” in Google Analytics? In October 2011, Google released an update to increase use of an encrypted protocol called SSL. It changed Google’s practice regarding harvesting data from users in order to protect user privacy. When users sign in to a Google product, such as Gmail and YouTube, ­­they see https:// appear in their browser rather than the usual http:// in front of the web address, and are routed through Google secure search. Google secure search has an impact on organic search across all the sites. Marketers are no longer able to receive information about each individual search term that users typed under the Google secure search environment. Marketers can still know the visit is coming from Google but not what search terms people use to come to the sites. Web Analytics programs have created a bucket for encrypted search to separate it from regular search. In Google Analytics, it is called “not provided.” In Site Catalyst, encrypted search queries are bucketed under “keyword unavailable.” Using web analytics tools, marketers get to know total traffic and revenue numbers driven by encrypted search terms but could not find out what exact search terms have the largest contribution to traffic and revenue. Also, it is much harder for marketers to know what customers are interested in and whether the site is providing it to them. Percentage of “Not Provided” Keeps Increasing The encrypted search was predicted to have a single-digit impact on sites by Google. After the change was rolled out in November 2011, it was reported that marketers were seeing a higher percentage of “not provided”—up to 14 percent. Later Firefox 14 launched in July 2012, and began using Google secure search by default. The percentage of traffic and revenue obscured by secure search experienced an abrupt increase as the following graph shows. As Chrome 25 was released in February 2013, which also uses Google secure search by default, more search terms will be listed as “not provided.” secure search 1 How to Handle the “Not Provided”? While up to 20% of Google search queries are unavailable in web analytics tools, there are a couple of alternatives that can help marketers find the missing data. The first is using data from Google Webmaster Tools. Because it is only the referral that no longer includes the search term, Google’s query logs still have the aggregate data, and Google makes it available in Google Webmaster Tools. Marketers can see the top 2,000 search terms for their sites for the last 90 days. For large sites, they cannot have all the search data in Google Webmaster tools, but looking through the top 2,000 search queries over time can guarantee marketers a more accurate picture of the trends. Marketers can also use the paid search data. As mentioned earlier, Google still stores all the search data in query logs, and makes it available in AdWords. Taking a look at paid search queries will give you similar audience insights as you can gain from organic search data. Another approach is to set up a custom filter in Google Analytics so marketers can view pages that “not provided” queries landed on. This allows marketers to go beyond lists of search terms and gather some insight into searcher intent. Using data from other search engines could help marketers better understand their customers as well. Even though Google sends most visits to your sites, you can have full access to search data in Bing and Yahoo!, and it still gives you a good sense of what your audience is looking for and if their needs are satisfied.


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