It's been seven months now—do you know where your keywords are?
Last November, Google unveiled the secure search feature on its ubiquitous search engine. Identifiable by the “https://” prefix, Google said secure search was designed to protect online privacy during searches, so less personal search information was vacuumed up into cyberspace.
The change, however, had one significant consequence for online marketers: Suddenly, keywords for organic searches were no longer visible in Google Analytics, which is by far the most popular online analytics platform. As a result, marketers using Google Analytics now see “not provided” listed as their most popular keyword search item instead of the helpful list of keywords they were used to.
According to search guru and marketer Derek Edmond, a managing partner at KoMarketing Associates, the advent of secure search is “good for search, but not so good for marketers.”
“I don't have any problem with encryption,” he said. “But I think marketers should have access to this information. Hiding it is counterintuitive to what Google is doing. They want to provide a better search experience, but how can publishers do that if they don't know what's driving traffic to their sites?”
Tom Critchlow, VP-operations at Distilled NYC, estimated that the new secure search is now affecting between 20% and 30% of all Internet traffic—a number sure to rise in the future.
“It's a fairly big loss of information for marketers,” he said. “Google has a history of being transparent, so there's a tendency to panic when they take away information.”
The problem is that neither marketer expects secure search to go away any time soon. Moreover, no one knows exactly why Google is cloaking keyword information for organic searches but not for advertisers. Marketers that use paid searches—essentially, Google's advertisers—still have access to all their keyword information.
No matter what Google is thinking, the issue remains the same for b-to-b marketers: how to design online content marketing campaigns in an environment without access to keyword search information.
At KoMarketing, Edmonds is using “historical data” for clients.
“What we do is look at the historical data, then separate branded-versus-nonbranded keywords and try to see what direction we were heading,” Edmonds said. “Then we're backing into keywords. So we're starting with the page content and guessing what the keywords are. If we're getting page views and traffic on a page, then we'll look at what keywords might be active on that page.”
Ultimately, both marketers said they expect secure search will be part of the future of Internet searching. Firefox has already defaulted to the secure search platform; and as Google invests more resources into Google+, Critchlow expects it to become an Internet norm.
As to whether or not Google will ever restore keyword visibility for organic searches, only Google knows. And it isn't talking.