Google Locks Up Keyword Searches with 100% Encryption


Sep 27 11:18 am
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Search Marketing, SEO in particular, has been subject to significant changes throughout its short history. Tactics that were effective in increasing a website’s rankings just two years ago are now completely obsolete due to industry and algorithmic changes. It’s a practice that is constantly in flux, and marketers, SEO providers, and webmasters are used to adapting. It’s simply part of the natural evolution of search marketing.


The industry’s latest major shift is upon us: Google has announced they will now be encrypting ALL organic searches, whether users are logged in or not, regardless of browser. This means Google will no longer provide search query data within their analytics tools, and digital marketing providers like will no longer have full insight into every keyword driving organic traffic to a given dealership website.


Here are the key things dealers should know about this change to Google’s philosophy:


1. It’s not a shock. Google has been steadily evolving toward 100% encryption.

Most search experts saw the writing on the wall. Google initially launched secure/encrypted search (https) well over two years ago, and it released secure search for all logged-in users shortly thereafter. Launched a little over a year ago, Firefox 14 also uses secure search for all Google searches, as does Apple’s iOS6, additionally encrypting the referrer. Then, in January, the Chrome browser started utilizing secure search for all Google queries. These incremental changes suggested it was only a matter of time before Google made the decision to encrypt all searches for all users and browsers across the board. Their gradual impact are reflected in this chart, which shows the average percentage of organic visits that came through as “(not provided)” over time across the network:


Search Traffic with Unspecified Keywords - SEO Chart


As you can see, there has been a steadily increasing percentage of visits where the keywords come through as “Not Provided” due to secure search. This trend is likely to continue over the next couple of months toward 100% search encryption.


2. Organic traffic data still exists through Google Webmaster Tools.

The phasing out of organic search query data in Google Analytics doesn’t mean the information is gone. SEO teams will still be collecting search insight through alternate means, including Google Webmaster Tools. GWT will still provide us three key data points: the top 2000 queries that drove traffic to a site; how many visits that query is responsible for; and what are the keywords’ average ranking positions and Click-through Rates. It also displays top landing pages and the keywords driving traffic to those pages – all valuable data that will now demand increased attention. If you’d like to verify your site in GWT, please contact your Digital Advisor.

3. Google still provides search query data on Paid Search campaigns.

Google will likely always provide detailed search query data on paid search campaigns, which means that well-crafted Google Adwords campaigns can provide a lot of the insight formerly provided in organic SEO analytics (a well-crafted paid search campaign will include broad match with appropriate negative keywords, keywords bucketed by tail length, keywords bucketed by branded vs. unbranded, etc.).

Google’s new Paid & Organic Report illustrates this increasingly important relationship between SEO and paid search. The report highlights a particular keyword and whether the website displayed a paid only listing, organic only listing or both. Marketers can use this data to build SEO strategies that attack the high value keywords only where the ad is currently being shown – yet another reason to have SEO and Pay-Per-Click running in tandem.

4. Google’s evolution won’t impact the performance of dealership websites.

As with any major change in the industry, Google’s latest decision is going to take some adjusting and getting used to, but it’s important to note that after studying the issue carefully, this update from Google will not change’s SEO approach, nor does it change the performance of our clients’ sites or the KPIs we currently target. And remember, Bing and Yahoo! still pass along search query data, so organic search data isn’t entirely extinct.

If you have any comments, questions or thoughts you’d like to share, feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear your thoughts on Google’s latest curveball.


Pete Bruhn is an SEO product manager at


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