Encrypted search on the rise
In 2011, when encrypted search was made default for logged in users there was a great concern over repercussions in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), as encrypted searches obliterate keywords. While the source of traffic is still “Google”, keywords are “not provided” into any conversion analysis. This change is dramatic in terms of hard data. But at least the SEO community could get comfort from the prediction that it would only affect a very small percentage of overall searches.
However, encrypted search has been on the fast track. We are now seeing websites with over 20% of their Google visits coming from “(not provided)” keywords. This trend is recent and worrisome. Some websites that had only a few percentage points in June 2012 are now at over 20%!
This trend will only worsen, as Chrome has added search encryption to its omnibox following Firefox and Mobile Safari. With encrypted search no longer being exclusive to logged in users, the amount of encrypted searches is set to increase and the ability to track the results of organic search queries to decrease.
If a conversion analysis down to the keyword doesn’t take into account those that are using encrypted protocols, the SEO analysis will become skewed towards only those that don’t use encrypted search. This seriously cripples the ability to predict online behaviors and the SEO solutions that present the best results.
The rise of encrypted search makes it difficult to make accurate and trustworthy SEO predictions and assessments as it is only being applied to a limited percentage of overall searches. But why would Google take away from SEO? And how will this change SEO strategies, and the results one can get from them?
The paid search alternative
Back in 2011 there were already some taking note of how encrypted search had been high enough for them to take notice, but it nonetheless soon fell out of notice with justifications that encrypted searches would be proportional to regular searches. But these assumptions missed the essential point that SEO can’t be justified as accurate if its methodology is only being applied to a limited percentage of the overall searches. And no one predicted the recent growth in encrypted search.
One possible alternative to get keyword reports is paid search. Curiously, Google will send the complete keyword information, which includes the query of the user, to the advertiser whenever a user clicks on an ad on the Google search engine, whether using encrypted search or not. But this comes at a cost.
If you don’t want to have to first run ads in order to figure out which keywords have the best ROIs, you’ll have trouble using the Analytics reports to look for keywords to optimize for. There are ways to get more information on, for instance, long-tail keywords to optimize for. These, nonetheless, make you rely on other Google tools, like Google’s Keyword Tool, or paid services even more.
In the new necessity of substituting previously available data by acquiring Google tools and running AdWord campaigns, might lay the Google’s strategy behind this move.