How Google's SSL Impacts Branded vs. Non-branded Search

How Google's SSL Impacts Branded vs. Non-branded Search

By Meghan SullivanOct 10 /2012
googles ssl impact

The past week, I’ve been working a report analyzing keywords, traffic and conversions, and while researching the topic, I came across a good, straightforward piece by Will Uppington at bloomreach.  He describes the differences between navigational and non-navigational traffic, or branded and non-branded. 

Optimizing for Branded vs. Non-branded Keywords

These terms refer to visitors who come to your site using a keyword that includes your brand name or the name of one of your products, versus visitors who use non-branded keywords. Non-branded keywords might include a product category or a problem the visitor is trying to solve.

Visitors using branded keywords are awesome, because they are typically BOFU (bottom of the funnel) leads, which means they know you, they came to you specifically and are probably ready to buy. Visitors using non-branded keywords are more likely to be TOFU leads, or top of the funnel. They have an interest or need in an area that applies to you or your products, and are doing some Internet research to learn more.

While visitors who search on branded keywords are more likely to convert, when assembling your SEO or PPC campaign strategy, do you want to focus all of your efforts on this group, just for the higher conversion rate? This might not be the best strategy. A sales funnel of only BOFU leads is not sustainable, and isn’t really a funnel at all. We need to have a constant flow of leads at all stages of the sales lifecycle in order to support growth. A comprehensive SEO/PPC campaign will focus on both branded and non-branded keywords, but consider what the right ratio might be when allocating resources. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Optimize your PPC campaign for top of the funnel and middle of the funnel using non-branded keywords. TOFU and MOFU leads are most likely to search on non-branded keywords, and paid search is an effective way to reach new prospects.
  • Focus on long-tail SEO with keyword phrases containing three or more words. These keywords attract prospects looking for specific information and have a higher conversion rate.
  • Map your lead nurturing campaign to leads at each stage of the sales lifecycle. Create findable content that pulls new visitors into the top of the funnel, nurtures them into the middle of the funnel, and prepares them for the bottom of the funnel.

Analyzing Keywords in the Era of Encrypted Search

Of course, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to even analyze keywords – branded or not – thanks to the changes Google made to search about a year ago. To briefly rehash the story for those unaware or those who conveniently forgot, Google made SSL encryption the default on Google searches for all Google users signed into a Google account. This encryption prevents keyword data from being passed on to the destination website owner, instead appearing as “not provided.” We can still see the number of visits and leads that came from these sources in the aggregate, but the actual keywords are hidden.

Google initially estimated that this change would only impact 10 percent of search data being passed on to marketers. A year later, companies are reporting much higher numbers, including Kuno and many of our clients, where we are seeing anywhere between 15 and 50 percent.

There are several factors likely contributing to this increase:

  • SSL Search was gradually rolled out to Google users, so the impact didn’t happen overnight.
  • Google+ has continued to grow, which has possibly increased the number of logged-in Google users.
  • Firefox 14, launched in July 2012, defaults to Google SSL Search.
  • Safari on iOS6, just launched in September, also defaults to Google SSL Search. This one is extra-problematic because this traffic is appearing as “direct” instead of “organic.” Google is supposedly working on a fix for this
  • Internet users are more aware of security issues, and we could be seeing more savvy folks opting-in to SSL on their own.

Search experts think this trend is going to continue, which begs the question, "What do we do?" Should we be redirecting our efforts and resources elsewhere? Many argue that this further emphasizes the need for good, relevant and shareable content, but doesn’t that content need to be optimized? I’d love to hear what my fellow inbound marketers think. Leave a comment below!

photo credit: shareski

Social Media Case Study