In the past month, Google has made a major change to the way they report organic keyword data in Analytics.
They are now redirecting all traffic to the HTTPs (secure) version of their site, which means most organic search activity will be encrypted in Analytics. This change has been a long-time coming.
If you've delved into your site’s organic search traffic report in Analytics regularly over the past two years, you may have noticed a larger and larger chunk of organic search traffic coming from the (not provided) keyword. At 9xb, we have certainly seen the percentage of (not provided) traffic increase over the past two years.
Back in 2011, Google announced that it would encrypt search from anybody logged into Google. At the time, they estimated that this change would affect less than 10% of search queries.
Most webmasters will testify that this estimate was wildly inaccurate and that the percentage of (not provided) keywords has steadily grown over the past two years. Google have explained their motive for redirecting all traffic to the HTTPs version of their site:
We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.
This begs the question that if the motive truly is security, why is it only organic data that is encrypted and not Adwords traffic. What difference does it make whether that search query relates to an organic click or a paid one? Sceptics have commented that whilst Google’s official line may have been user privacy, their motives are, in fact, more likely to be financially driven; a way to keep competitors from offering their search remarketing product or forcing businesses to reallocate organic SEO budgets to PPC.
So what difference does this make to the way you understand how people are using your website?
You’ll no longer be able to see what keywords are sending traffic and the behaviour of users from specific keywords. It therefore becomes a little trickier to decide where to allocate your SEO resources.
Rankings and search volume can still be used as a proxy for how much traffic certain terms are driving to your site. You can also use the impressions, clicks and average position data from Webmaster Tools (although the reliability of this has been questioned).
Unfortunately, if SEO is still at the heart of your website marketing strategy, there's not a lot more you can do than accept the changes. That said, the SEO goal posts have always had a tendency to move and the industry has always been about changing with the game. This is perhaps more fuel to the argument that SEO can no longer be a standalone marketing strategy.
Organic search still represents a huge opportunity for business, but to succeed online, it needs to be just one element in a rounded digital-strategy. Click here to read more about our approach to digital marketing.