By Oliver Walker

Google has split the digital world this week with the news that encrypted search will become the default for any user that is logged in to a Google account.

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Google has split the digital world this week with the news that encrypted search will become the default for any user that is logged in to a Google account. Whilst SEO and Analytics bods have been crying into their keyboards over the loss of useful keyword data, the PPC geeks have been smirking behind their screens with the news that their keyword data will remain trackable.

The what

To clarify; Google has made the decision to encrypt search queries made by users signed into a Google account. In layman's terms, this means that if you are signed into a Google account (e.g. Gmail, Google Plus, AdWords, Analytics, etc) and perform a search on Google, the queries you search on will no longer be tracked by Google Analytics.

Google SSL

The how

This will be achieved by making the default Google property for signed-in users https://www.google.com (it's also worth noting that it will be possible to navigate to https://www.google.com if you're not signed in to a Google account but are worried about privacy).

The why

Privacy. Google has talked of "search becoming an increasingly customised experience" and"protecting search results" but it comes down to Google making efforts to show that they are not a Big Brother type entity and instead are concerned with protecting their users' privacy. More cynical minded individuals may suggest that this change is with an eye to encouraging more site owners to invest in its PPC platform, AdWords, as these paid search queries will continue to be tracked, regardless of whether the user is signed in.

The result

Android, Gmail & Google Plus

No-one knows quite how much data is going to be lost as a result of this change; Google themselves have said from a variety of sources that data impact will be minimal and that signed-in users account for a single digit percentage of users.However, Gmail has around 260 million users worldwide; Google Plus a little under 30 million users and Android 190 million users. People who are signed in to either of the first two sites when making a search will have their queries encrypted, whilst many Android phones are signed into their Google account by default. With approximately 3 billion searches a day worldwide, the proportion of visits with enrypted queries may well be smallish, but the sheer number will be huge.

The reaction

It's fair to say that certain quarters of the digital marketplace are up in arms with this change. First of all, the SEO guys are entitled to feel a little downhearted; after all they will no longer be able track conversions by keywords, or what pages were viewed by visitors coming in on a certain keyword - if that search was made by a signed-in visitor - whilst their PPC pals will. As a nod to the SEO-ers, Google is providing aggregated data, such as:

  • top 1000 daily search queries and top 1000 daily landing pages for the past 30 days.
  • impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate (CTR), and average position in search results for each query

Web analysts are also frustrated; with all the awesome introductions to GA recently (Real Time, Multi-Channel Funnels and now Flow Visualisation) it does feel like a somewhat backwards step to take data away from GA. I know there will be an aggregated number for these encrypted queries, but web analysts are 'data junkies' by nature so any reduction in the amount of data they get is likely to lead to cold sweats all round.

PPC-ers however are sitting pretty on top of a mine of data, none of which will be encrypted and 100% of which can be analysed to within an inch of it's life. As site owners, business leaders and marketers become more enlightened to the idea that data is king, the fact that some SEO queries will be encrypted, whilst no PPC queries will, could see a swing in favour to PPC. It adds weight to the argument that PPC is more transparent than SEO and I wouldn't be surprised to see a slight shift in marketing spend as a result of this change.

And who stands to benefit most if that happens? Those bastions of your privacy and mine, Google. 

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