Last week Google announced that SSL search would be turned on by default for users that were signed in to Google. This means that keyword data from these searches will no longer be available to site administrators. Those searches will just show as Google organic traffic. Those of us in the SEO game should have seen the writing on the wall back in 2010 when Google introduced encrypted search. But alas, multiple Panda updates and leaked quality guidelines have distracted us from the real big changes coming down the pike. There is no doubt in my mind that this is a big deal and just one more step on the way to having true search personalization and forcing advertisers to rely on paid search rather than the unpredictable organic results.
How the Change Impacts Analytics
First, no more keyword data from signed in users. Instead, these search queries will be tagged as (not provided). You will still be able to see an aggregate list of the top 1,000 queries via Webmaster tools but no individual keyword data. Users can also navigate to https://www.google.com and have their searches encrypted without logging in.
Conversion information will still track at the Source/Medium level so they will show as google/organic but you will no longer know what keyword query resulted in a conversion. This is a big deal, especially if you are not an Adwords advertiser since CPC information will still track on the keyword level. Is this a ploy by Google to force more advertisers into Adwords? Maybe, but I think it is just the beginning of a new spam reduction strategy.
Bait and Switch?
So Google announces that they are protecting users privacy by restricting the information passed to other websites, how altruistic of them. I think that they are just encouraging more users to stay logged into Google services like Plus or Gmail where advertising can be easily targeted. Google continues to move toward a more intent or interest based search model where search results are determined by user behavior rather than signals that can be easily manipulated like backlinks. This is not necessarily a bad thing but I wish they would be upfront about it instead of trying sell it as privacy protection when it is anything but.
So What Should You Do?
When in doubt, scream and shout. After that, be sure you make use of the annotate function in Google Analytics and note that October 18th was the date your keyword data started to disappear. Remember that you still have Bing data to work with although in my experience getting accurate data from Bing has been more than a little problematic. If you can’t or won’t advertise on certain terms but still need an idea of the volume, the Adwords keyword tool is OK although remember that it only shows Adwords information. Other than that, I guess we just hope that people start using meta search engines again. Dogpile anyone?