Secure Search, Or Security For Google?

What you need to know about encrypted search.

Searchers using an unsecured network (like a public WiFi, for example) could be at risk of their search data being unsecure. Now, if you’re one of the odd 8% of people who search when logged in to Google’s search engine , your keyword search data will be encrypted. It won’t be shared with other sites – or stored. The 8% will vary from location to location, sector to sector and website to website.

While this sounds great to stalkers and porn addicts (OK everyone, everywhere)…there’s a BIG caveat. Google say that search data will only be secured in the case of organic search listings – but where they make money, from Adwords ads – search data (which is anonymous anyway) will still reach webmasters everywhere. The intentions seem slightly unclear.

The data is still available to Google, and Google may be planning to allow only users of the new paid GoogleAnalytics version to see search data from users using the encrypted service. Speculation, but not outside the realms of possibility.

What this does mean for marketers and website owners is that up to 7% of your search keyword data in Google Analytics could be reduced. The long-term implication is simply that we’ll have less data to rely on from organic search…and we’ll be more likely to turn to pay-per-click data for more trustworthy insight. Of course…that’s good news for Google’s revenue streams.

A lose-lose situation?

As a digital marketer – this is unsettling. Partly because I use Analytics data daily to test, justify work and make important decisions about my clients’ digital strategy, keyword targets and more. And that involves transactions that help build revenue for the businesses we work for. I can’t accept that they simply haven’t considered the marketer in this equation, or that it’s just about growing PPC revenue or selling a paid Google Analytics product.  Google Analytics, after all, was Google’s idea.

Even for the most important party in all this – the user, I’m not convinced enforced SSL is the solution, either. The option to use SSL is important, but I don’t agree it should be enforced as it is currently being proposed. Anonymous Google Analytics (or other analytics packages) data helps us to make better websites that deliver what the user is looking for. Making that data less powerful is only going to slow the evolution of websites and create a less relevant experience.

So the data still won’t be 100% secure and websites won’t get better. This isn’t 100% about the user. There is an alterior motive at play.

Analytics packages offer so much to marketers – but this, in my opinion is a step backwards in this mutually-beneficial Google / marketers / users relationship. So long as query data is not personally identifiable, and never becomes so – I just can’t see enforcement as a thing that benefits all parties.

What should you do now?

  • Make sure your analytics package is configured correctly so that you’re getting as much data as you can, now, to benchmark on later
  • Add an annotation in your Google Analytics account from today to measure the impact of this on your search info
  • If you’re b2c, analyse your client database for gmail email addresses – just export them all into excel and filter by ‘contains: gmail or googlemail’ – this will give you some idea how prevalent gmail use it amongst your audience – and so how likely they are to be signed in to gmail. So if 25% of your customers use gmail, and Google estimate 8% could be logged in at any one time, that’s about 3% of your current customer’s search data you may not receive.
  • Subscribe to this blog to hear about Google Analytics news as-it-happens.

What do you think? Is this a good thing for users or marketers? Leave your comments below. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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