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Google Encrypted Search: What it Means for Brands

By Meghan SullivanOct 17, 2013

No more keyword data.Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote a blog post about how Google’s SSL encryption was impacting keyword analytics. At the time, Google was encrypting search data from users logged into their Google accounts and estimating it would impact about 10 percent of search data. We performed our own analysis at Kuno and saw results more in the 15–50 percent range.

Fast forward to now, and Google has taken this a step forward and made encrypted search the default for all search data, regardless of whether a user is logged into a Google account or not, effectively hiding keywords for all Google-based searches from marketers’ website analytics. <Insert record scratch here>

My colleague Patrick gave us a rundown of all of the recent Google changes, including the Hummingbird algorithm update and the broadening of encrypted search and what he thinks it means for the short- and long-term future. Here, I  take a look at the year-over-year impact from some actual websites.

Website A: 12-Month Trend, (Not Provided) Traffic

(Not Provided) Impact

Notice the steady increase over the last 12 months in traffic coming from (not provided) keywords. This can be attributed to a number of factors I touched on last year, and it looks like all of those trends continued. What we see here is a significant increase in September 2013, when Google officially pulled the trigger on encrypting all search data.

Let’s look at another example.

Website B: 12-Month Trend, (Not Provided) Traffic

(NotProvided) Impact

Here, we see an even greater contrast over the last 12 months, suggesting Google was rolling this change out slowly rather than flipping a switch in September.

Google Encrypted Search is the Default—Now What?

Old habits die hard. We were used to having greater control over rank and now Google has punched a giant hole in the actionable data we were accustomed to having. It’s tempting to cling to any remaining remnants of SEO, but I would advise marketers to move on and focus on things you can truly control:

  • Know your buyer intimately. If you completely understand your buyer and the problems they are looking to solve, you don’t need keyword data. You know what they are searching for. Knowing your buyer doesn’t mean just asking your sales team what they think the buyer wants. It means asking them directly and frequently. Leverage your customer touch-points to gather as much intel directly from customers. Throw some money behind proper market research. It’s worth it.
  • Give your buyers what they are searching for. There needs to be a strategic shift to emphasize quality content over quality. Yes, the temptation is there to publish a blog every day or even twice a day to have more indexed pages, but the catch-22 is quality tends to suffer. The Hummingbird algorithm update suggests Google is placing even greater emphasis on content quality, as it’s better able to interpret the full intention of long-tail search queries. The latest updates suggest you are better off publishing a little bit less, focusing on meatier content that is well researched and speaks directly to buyers and their true needs.
  • Let go of SEO. I don’t mean to quit doing the basics, but stop obsessing about how Google crawls your PDFs. Ditch those breadcrumbs unless your site is enormous and they are actually helpful to visitors. Reevaluate your website and worry less about the keywords you think are important, and more about whether it clearly addresses buyer pain points and solutions—the pain points they have actually told you they have.

We’re all in this together, marketers. What is your take on the latest updates from Google? What advice would you give to other marketers to adapt? How do you feel about losing so much keyword data? Leave a comment below!

Photo Credit: wwworks


Meghan SullivanWith a decade of marketing experience, Meghan Sullivan is a Senior Consultant at Kuno Creative and is passionate about developing and executing inbound marketing strategies for her clients. When sheís not doing that, sheís probably curled up on the couchwith her dog and iPad, or exploring Clevelandís incredible food scene. Connect with Meghan on Twitter or LinkedIn.


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