Google Encrypts All Searches – Why Should You Care?

Google has been shaking up the world of search in unprecedented ways recently. Hummingbird, Google’s new conversational search algorithm, has been well publicized, and the reasons behind it are clear and sensible. A less publicized but equally impactful change has only been news in search engine circles, and the motivation behind it is not as clear: Google now encrypts all searches.

What does this mean for you, the website owner? In simple terms, it means that the words used for a search that led to a specific website are no longer visible for that siteís webmaster, or anyone keen on collecting data. For years, these terms have been used to analyze the effectiveness of search engine optimization efforts, important tools for marketers and advertisers. However, this has had a tendency to stifle creativity, because more attention has been given to finding the right keywords in the search data, rather than creating compelling content.

So how does this affect SEO for your website? In a nutshell – you no longer have Google Analytics data telling you which keywords are driving traffic.

Why Encrypt Searches?

In 2011, Google said that they were encrypting searches to protect user privacy, but this only applied to users logged into Google. In the two years following this first level of encryption, the percentage of encrypted searches has slowly increased, but this recent switch to 100% encryption is sudden.

Blocking NSA snooping is a possible motivation for this sudden change. Google has received much criticism for alleged cooperation with the NSA and has since been campaigning hard for permission to expose the details about spying requests from the NSA. If this is the reason it could be a genuine attempt to keep the data private, or it could be image maintenance for Google to keep users from fleeing to smaller, but more private search providers.

Boosting Ad sales, both cynical and sensible, this purposed reason could have prompted the change without any influence from the NSA scandal. While search terms are not broadcast, Google is still storing them, and they are still available through Googleís ad system. How much of this data is available, and for how far into the past, is currently in flux but hard numbers should be available soon.

What You Can Do Now

Connect Google Webmaster Tools to Google Analytics – GWT will give you valuable information on key metrics related to search terms such as Impressions, Clicks, and Average Position (of your website) for search terms. This can help guide you in terms of what keywords Google sees as a good match for your website’s content.

Start a Google Adwords campaign – This will allow you to see keyword-level data on which search terms are converting on your website. In order for this strategy to be effective, you need to set up Goal Conversions in Google Analytics.

Use Keyword Research Tools – Tools like Google Ad Planner (this is the replacement for Google’s retired Keyword Tool (you will need an Adwords account to use it)

There is a silver lining here. The loss of access to this keyword data, combined with Hummingbird’s de-emphasis of those keywords, means that quality content, ethical SEO, and compelling websites are what “The Big G” wants to see, so use these tactics to your advantage by contacting us today about SEO optimization.

Carlton Smith is owner of Flagstone Search Marketing, LLC, in Birmingham, Ala.

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