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October 2, 2013

Adjusting Your Strategies to Google’s Encrypted Searches

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Photo Credit: Esparta via flickr

When Google completely cut off keyword data at the end of September, it may have seemed out of the blue, but the first encrypted searches appeared as far back as 2011 and many believe that the events prompting this change date back even further.

Regardless of the causes, Google has delivered another major blow to marketers following the recent implementation of the new Gmail tabs.

On Sept. 24th, Rand Fishkin of Moz said in his special Whiteboard Tuesday that he believed about 75% of Google’s searches were encrypted and predicted that 100% of keywords would soon be hidden. For marketers this change means new challenges as they try to determine how to navigate keyword research without referral data.

While it’s scary to think about how to work around this major change, let’s break it down to see how you can rise above encrypted searches and maybe even use the change to your advantage.

What Are Encrypted Google Searches?

Encrypted searches use HTTPS, meaning keyword data won’t be revealed to site owners. These types of searches won’t allow Internet marketers and site owners to track users’ keyword searches anymore; web analytics software was previously used to break down users and their keywords searches, but this tactic will no longer be possible.

The reality is that even if you can still see some keyword data, eventually 100% of your referrals will probably result in the keyword not being provided. Keyword data will be gone. Google has removed the ability to view what a user searched for before visiting your site.

Why Keyword Referral Data Is Important

A lot of marketers use this keyword data for tasks that not only improve their own page ranking, but to better the web as a whole. Keyword data can help our ranking efforts and our ability to effectively serve our customers. If you notice a keyword is getting a lot of search traffic, but the page still has a low rank, you realize you’ll have to brainstorm ways to make the page rank higher. And if a search term is sending a lot of people to a specific page, but your conversion rate is low, you know you need to improve the page.

Keyword data is also important when examining how users view our brand and content. Looking at users’ searches allowed us to get inside our customers’ minds in regards to specific products or content; however, this task just became more complex without keyword data.

As for marketing opportunities, keyword data was previously a goldmine. We could figure out ways to optimize for keyword phrases that didn’t have a high rank. There were ways to confront and improve low-ranking keyword phrases – now we’ll have to find another way.

Adjust Your Strategies

This change is undoubtedly going to make our job as marketers more difficult, but don’t get angry about it; instead, look for ways to adjust your strategies. A lot of brainstorming and conversations need to happen in order to figure out where to go from here, but here are a few basic ideas to get you started:

  • Start looking at page level data. When you can’t see the keyword data anymore, how are you supposed to improve a page’s ranking? Try using the connection of various sources of data, as the Moz blog explains. Which pages on your site are getting search visits? Start looking at page-level data instead of keyword-level data.
  • Organize your search terms into categories. You can track your rankings based on multiple different categories to see which one is improving your ranking. For instance, organize your terms by head terms, long-tail, branded phrases, non-branded terms and more. Then you can examine the pages with search traffic from each category to see how successful they are.
  • Use other sources to analyze perceptions of your brand. You could try keyword suggestion sources like SEMRush or Google Suggest to view the keyword expansions associated with your brand and content. Another easy tactic is looking at what people are typing in your internal site search bar, giving you insight into how customers view your brand.
  • Target specific keywords with AdWords campaigns. Unfortunately, this may be what Google is aiming at by using encrypted searches. Running Adwords campaigns may be expensive, but they will allow you to view expansion opportunities, see where you’re missing organic traffic and possibly bid on certain keywords.

Use This Change to Your Advantage

It’ll take time for Internet marketers to adjust to this change and find ways around the lack of keyword data from Google. Bing will still send keyword data, even though it’s not as widely-used as Google. It’s important to remain optimistic and use this change to your advantage.

If you have clients for whom you do SEO, use this as an opportunity to start conversations with them. They may be uneasy and confused, so they’ll be looking to you for solutions. This is a great time to step up your efforts and use your knowledge to continue pleasing your clients.

Take this as an opportunity to start reading and learning more. There’s never been a better time to refresh your practices and learn from the industry around you. Every marketer will be dealing with this problem, so you’re not alone. Stay current with conversations and learn from others in your niche.

Encrypted Google searches definitely change the way Internet marketers will perform their job. What are your ideas on how to circumvent the loss of keyword data? Have you found any useful workaround articles? Please share in the comments!


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Adrienne Erin is an internet marketing writer and blogger who has written for MarketingProfs, Content Marketing Institute, and InboundMarketingInc.com.

26 Responses to “Adjusting Your Strategies to Google’s Encrypted Searches

    avatar Brian says:

    I think you’re right when you say Google is after the dollars.
    Personally I’ve had about enough of them and the many other USA ‘services’ like them.
    Unfortunately there are now too many USA monopolies that are doing great financial damage to the internet…..far too greedy and getting worse. Even USA IRS is trying to claw tax from foreign purchasers of USA supplies. Sure stops me using such names as Amazon and Ebay.

    avatar Dannette says:

    Why do they keep changing this and keep changing that,good grief let well enough alone! They sure are making it harder on the little guy for sure.

    avatar Pat says:

    I agree with you. I worked hard and was getting my website on page 1 and 2 for a couple keywords. Now I am buried and have no data to help me know what my customers are looking for.

    Hi,
    I like your positive way of looking at this major change. I also think there will always be ways around such as the suggested searches which to me were more precise than the analytics reports.

    Using other (paid) tools will also help, although they gather data from paid search queries and show very different results.

    This is another step making the need for professional SEO’s greater, so it is good news.

    avatar Pawel says:

    The only thing Google is interested in is $$$. That is the real reason for all of this: encrypted searches, unnatural links warning, etc., etc.

    avatar Dennis says:

    I have been doing Adwords and SEO since Google began. I remember another colleague saying “don’t do Google Analytics, you’re giving them too much information”. He was right. Google has become a 10,000 Ton Gorilla. What used to be reasonable pay-per-click fees are now based on how deep your clients pocket is… ugh! I believe the only way to change this is to create a advertiser cooperative search engine with flat fee rates that is marketed as the underground underdog compared to Google. It needs human sentiment to work. But I have been considering this for sometime and I think the time for this start-up… is now.

    avatar Troy Johnson says:

    The problem with alternate ad networks is many sites don’t have the traffic to compete effectively. Besides Google can flip a switch and kill the traffic of any real competition. But if you get something going add me to your email list.

    With our markets in local search we have never had access to real keyword data anyway and always had to extrapolate based on national searches, so using Bing keyword data can do the same thing for those in need of specifics.

    avatar Ferry says:

    Placement and search the right keywords that fit our brand and online sales as well as in the content we create a website will be a great influence on memebrikan visit our website

    avatar BlokeToys says:

    What a shock! Google again beats us over the head with a change like this and we’re supposed to be surprised?

    Google long ago became a global Mafia, I just wish people had woken up to all of this before they were handed so much power.

    Screw Google, use others. Promote the use of other SE through your businesses when you can. Spread the word and make it clear to your site users why you support other SE’s and reject Google.

    Google only got to where it is because the webmaster world embraced them (thanks to all the tools and capabilities they are now snatching away). We can do the same to remove them from the top spot and replace them with a diverse collection of truly competitive SE’s.

    avatar Pat says:

    I agree- I have worked hard to please google,but they just want more and more money. They do not want small or start businesses to make it.

    It is very annoying, but we did see this coming. It would be great to set up a competitor to Google but is that realistic?

    The European Commission are looking at this. Maybe that will help bring about some fairness?

    In the meantime it is our job to find alternatives. As Bernard says it increases the need for professional SEO services.

    Thanks for the article and some great suggestions.

    avatar ostiore says:

    Thanks Adrienne Erin!

    avatar Peter says:

    This is proof that Google is shying away from websites that have been optimized too much. Sure they are after the money but they are also saying they prefer natural looking sites without any tinkering. So SEO professionals be very careful how you instruct your clients. Less SEO appears to be more

    avatar Pat says:

    Of-course it is about the $$$. How many little businesses will this kill?

    SiteProNews should set up a series of in-depth articles (in-style of “Begginers Guide” or so…) that could feature all alternative ways of gathering information about incoming traffic.

    avatar Ion Saliu says:

    Axiomatic Colleagues of Mine:

    I just said in a comment to a previous article here:

    “The worst part of SEO: It attracted Google’s anger. People paid for SEO, instead of paying to Google (especially in AdWords advertising). Every big company wants all the money for itself. Spreading the wealth around is not acceptable to the big Internet agents. Paying for SEO takes money away from Dracgoogla. And thus the Ugly Penguin came to life. It punishes every webmaster that employs good SEO practices. Dracgoogla assumes that the SEO was paid for.“

    Forget about Dracgoogla altogether! Bing has a Webmaster Central which provides good keyword research tool. The percentages are the same regardless of search engine. Granted, Google gets (at this time!) many more searches than Bing. I know, for example, that a keyword like ‘lottery’ is many more times searched than ‘mega millions’. Lottery hits over 10 million searches a month in Google, and 2.5 million searches in Bing.

    Keep in mind also, even free web stats services show accurately what search queries brought visitors to your site. Even Google Webmaster Tools shows such queries for your site.

    Ion Saliu
    http://saliu.com/google-penguin-update.html
    “A good man is an axiomatic man; an axiomatic man is a happy man. Be axiomatic!”

    avatar Josiah B. says:

    Do you guys honestly buy the idea that this secrecy is for the better of the internet? Stop being naive, this is about monopoly for big business period. Absolute power absolutely corrupts. This is not for the better and we need to take them down of of their high horse. We should never allow one company to ever get this kind of control and power because this type of stuff always happens. This is just another form of insiders gaming the marketplace to suit their pocket books. Small businesses made America great not mega corporations like Google. Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. This is another big stomp on the little guys and we need to stop them collectively. The power has always been with the people and we need to start exercising our power and answering companies who behave like this by pulling our dollars away from them. We need the Glass stegal act law back in place period. These mega companies need to be held accountable for damages they cause or indirectly cause to businesses worldwide. Why should any company be allowed to devastate incomes worldwide for their own personal gains?

    If you look and the results for real estate websites, as that is my specialty, you will see results in Google local for agents that have an office matching that town.
    The problem is agents in rural (NH and VT) serve multiple towns.
    Most of the results for web searches are national sites. realtor.com trullia etc.
    About 10 years ago this was the search results that yahoo and msn offered.
    This reminds me of why we all embraced Google in the first place.
    They found the little sites and promoted them first, as all sales are local.
    Now Google is crap for real estate searches, and have demoted some of the best sites, including some of mine.
    The irony is the sites are top of the results in Bing and yahoo.

    So lets band together and send Google a message, start recommending Bing and yahoo and lets see what happens when Google feels the loss of their users as they have stripped from us.

    who knows what information Google is capturing to use without our knowledge.
    Is Google now to big to fail? No one would have predicted that Yahoo would lose their market share so quickly. I can happen to them.

    IT IS all about the money, and Google wants more.

    Clif McNaughton
    Business Services Consultants

    avatar Pat says:

    I agree. I have a link to google search on my website. It is being deleted.I am going to promote Yahoo, Bing and others.

    avatar Tim says:

    The best thing everyone can do is stop supporting a near-monopoly. Bing is producing better results for most searches now anyway as you actually get some content sites on the first page instead of just big brands that are spending a fortune on Adwords. Use Bing for all your personal searches and the data they’re still providing will get more and more relevant.

    avatar ganoderma says:

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    It was coming, when the keyword data from ahrefs.com / Raven Tools and other leading marketing tools website was pulled. Keyword data should be the be all and end all metric, if like me you`ve worked on thousands of websites, over the years you should know in your head what keywords and phrases you clients will use, study their website and competitors websites, you will find all the keyword data you need from them.

    And there`s the good old faithful SEMRush website for keyword suggestions and tracking, Mint Analytics suite is also a another good tool.

    avatar Techmybook says:

    This is something scary. How one can improve page rank without keyword analysis ?

    This is proof that Google is shying away from websites that have been optimized too much. Sure they are after the money but they are also saying they prefer natural looking sites without any tinkering. So SEO professionals be very careful how you instruct your clients. Less SEO appears to be more.

    So…. we have to look at visitor behavior the same way we did before Google dominated search?

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