24 Oct 2011

How Much Data Will Your Site Lose With Google Encrypted Search Default?

How Much Data Will Your Site Lose With Google Encrypted Search

News from Google earlier this week has the SEO industry in an uproar. In an effort to increase searcher’s privacy, Google will roll out encrypted search (https://www.google.com) results by default for users signed into their Google accounts. This change affects brands who utilize Google Analytics to analyze their search engine traffic and the keywords users search to navigate to their sites. Google made sure to point out that brands that use PPC will still have access to keyword data from users who click their ads, and that this change only affects organic search.

Some industry professionals aren’t surprised by Google’s announcement. Many of us saw this coming, especially with other popular sites going the encrypted route. Not to mention the continuous battles about online privacy. We’ve certainly been spoiled up to this point with all the data available at our fingertips, but it hasn’t stopped many SEO’s from complaining. Most of the complaining is due to the seemingly double standard of the decision. Many SEOs feel that if advertisers are still allowed to view this data for paid search (so much for the “privacy” reasoning), then keyword data for organic search traffic should be viewable as well.

So What Does This Mean?

Google claims that this change represents single digit percentages of organic search traffic currently. I suppose this is their way of saying there won’t be a huge impact. But as time goes on and web users become savvier with their online privacy or sign up for Google accounts (and the growingly popular Google +) this small percentage has a likelihood to grow. In addition, sites that currently receive traffic from a techy crowd may show higher percentages of missing data. An example would be our very own website. Our demographic, naturally, has more visitors with Google accounts than say a clothing e-retailer might.

Exactly How Much Data Will Be Lost?

Any data lost is still exactly that – lost data. But Google’s Matt Cutts is adamant that this change represents mere single digit percentages of organic search traffic from Google. Some SEOs are convinced that the percentages are ultimately higher, and of course that any data loss is a travesty. Especially when that single digit percentage on higher traffic sites could result in the loss of keyword data for over 100K visits.

Upon a suggestion from VMer Kristi Hines, I examined a few of our client’s accounts to see exactly how much traffic it represented over the past few days.

In all I examined eleven sites of varied industry and popularity. Similar results were seen over a three day period between October 18th and October 20th. An average of less than 1% of total non-paid search traffic was affected. You’ll see this notated in your Google Analytics account in the Traffic Sources section > Keywords > Google > listed as: “(not provided)”. A higher average was seen with tech demographic sites, but not by a significant amount.

The disclosures: sure, I know this is only a few days worth of traffic, and yes I understand that this new feature of Google hasn’t been rolled out completely. Yes, it’s silly to make assumptions based on an incomplete set of data – but I must admit that I’m relieved. This change has been hyped up over the past few days, not unlike any other major announcement from search engines. The hype certainly scares many, but after examining just a few days of data I think we’ll all figure out a way to cope with this change.

When discussing this topic with colleague Kristi last week she brought up a good point: “If Google’s goal is to make websites better for visitors, aren’t they just hurting that goal by not allowing webmasters to see what people are searching for and maybe not finding when they arrive on a website?  Knowing organic keywords is kind of crucial in that case.  Also, maybe as an alternative, this would make the site search option and tracking in Analytics even more important so websites will at least get to see what people search when they get to a website.” Certainly something to think about.

Data from sites I examined are in the chart below if you’re interested in seeing the numbers. Should be interesting to see how these numbers change in the future as encrypted search rolls out fully.

Have You Seen Similar Numbers?

Client Site Industry Total Google Organic Traffic (10/18-10/20) Total Google (not provided) Data Percentage
Client #1 Ecommerce 4858 56 1.15%
Client #2 Ecommerce 1103 9 .81%
Client #3 News Site 4416 30 .67%
Client #4 Content Publisher 123,933 1,149 .92%
Client #5 Content Publisher 195,055 1,904 .97%
Client #6 News Site 106,369 992 .93%
Client #7 Ecommerce 6,320 57 .90%
Client #8 Ecommerce 13,733 152 1.10%
Client #9 Content Publisher 13,212 136 1.02%
Client #10 Tech 873 18 2.06%
Client #11 Tech 1,203 22 1.82%


  • Andy Commons Oct 24, 2011

    If the way you use the data is to help you make decisions on keyword optimization or anything else, then this small percent change should not effect that decision making. Especially if the change effects all your keywords equally.

    Yeah, it’s a bummer to have a little slice of your data set taken away, but who knows what data your’re already missing? There is a lot of strangeness in analytics that I just have to put up with, and move on.

    But thanks for reporting it. Knowlege is power.

  • Kaila Strong Oct 24, 2011

    Very good point Andy – who knows how much data you’re really missing already. I was hoping my data would help users see that there isn’t that much data missing that would cause huge issues, since some are touting this Google decision as horrendous for SEOs.

    Thanks for the comment!