Analytics just got harder

My last blog briefly discussed a few concerns some of us SEOers have about how we will deal with Optimising websites if Google+ takes off on a Facebook sized scale and users start searching while logged into the platform.

Last week another revelation came about, with the news that if a user is logged into Google, their search would be done on a secure socket layer (SSL) and would no longer pass on the search term data to analytics. A small victory for online security, a big blow for data analysts trying to work out where their traffic is coming from.

Google’s official blog had this to say:

“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users. Over the next few weeks, many of you will find yourselves redirected to (note the extra “s”) when you’re signed in to your Google Account. This change encrypts your search queries and Google’s results page. This is especially important when you’re using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet cafe. You can also navigate to directly if you’re signed out or if you don’t have a Google Account.


What does this mean for sites that receive clicks from Google search results? When you search from, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query. They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools. This information helps webmasters keep more accurate statistics about their user traffic. If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.”

This statement is suggesting that the changes are solely for the privacy of the user, but there have been allegations of double standards, as the changes do not apply to paid search visits. Why should a paid click be any less private than and organic click?

There’s been a lot of comment on the subject in the blogosphere, but I think Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz sums up nicely, the changes, the reasoning behind them:

“Google has made a big change to the way that they are serving keyword referral data from their search results, and this is going to have an unfortunate impact on all of us who do white hat SEO, who do web analytics, and who try to learn from this practice.

But I think the unfortunate thing here is that those of us in the web analytics/SEO sphere are going to have a tough battle to fight from a PR angle because Google can play the “no this is to protect your privacy” card and use that as their excuse. Of course, if that were the case, it seems very odd that you can pay them and still get the data. But I’m going to reserve judgment on that, and I’ll let folks make their own decisions. I do think it’s very important that we not just get upset about this, but we also think about what we can do actionably. Anytime a major player in the search world or social world or inbound world makes a big change, we need to figure out what is it, how is that we can best respond, how can we use data, how can we continue to be great marketers.”

See the full blog by SEOMoz here.

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Image credit seocamberley on Flickr