It has been happening since 2011 but ever since Google introduced the ability to use their search engine over a secure (SSL/https) connection, the lack of visibility of search keywords has been steadily increasing culminating with a predicted 70% of search keywords not being reported in September 2013, according to this blog post about Google Query Data Disappearing at an Alarming Rate on the RKG Blog.
This has increased from 43% only as far back as July 2013. So why is this happening and what impact is it having on analytics?
Google has been moving users to the SSL version of their secure search result pages to ensure the privacy of their users and ensuring that prying eyes cannot listen in on what users are searching for. They seem to have stepped up this tactic ever since the public has been made aware of various hacks and leaks to WikiLeaks.
The impact this is having on anlytics is that when a user searches for something over a secure connection, the keyword(s) that the user searched for is removed from the referral string. Meaning that a referral is detected from a search engine, but as the keyword has been removed would be logged as Not Available (or equivalent for the relevant analytics package).
As mentioned previously, it is assumed that up to 70% of search terms will be affected by this by the end of September 2013. The huge recent increase of these secure searches has come from Internet Explorer who from IE7 onwards now only supports the secure verison of Google’s search results.
Suddenly trying to understand the impact of any SEO improvements you are making to your site will not be able to be tracked effectively using your standard analytics packages.
One potential way of getting insight for SEO purposes could be to create an Advanced Segment that sets the referrer type to Search Engines and where the keyword is unavailable. Once you apply this segment, you can then look at top landing pages and understand the performance of your top landing pages. You could start to trend this over time and validate any changes this way.
This issue affects all analytics packages, including Google Analytics.
Suddenly, SEO just got a lot harder for everyone. Ironic really as Google is trying to ensure that they eliminate what they term as ‘Search Spam’ from their search results pages – see this video from Matt Cutts – but they are not allowing website owners to see how these changes affect them and how to best optimise their sites through data.
It feels like they are giving with one hand and taking with the other.