Adjusting Your Strategies to Google’s Encrypted Searches

3 Oct 2013 – Adrienne Erin – Featured –


When Google completely cut off keyword data at the end of September, it may have seemed out of the blue, but the first encrypted searches appeared as far back as 2011 and many believe that the events prompting this change date back even further.

Regardless of the causes, Google has delivered another major blow to marketers following the recent implementation of the new Gmail tabs.

On Sept. 24th, Rand Fishkin of Moz said in his special Whiteboard Tuesday that he believed about 75% of Google’s searches were encrypted and predicted that 100% of keywords would soon be hidden. For marketers this change means new challenges as they try to determine how to navigate keyword research without referral data.

While it’s scary to think about how to work around this major change, let’s break it down to see how you can rise above encrypted searches and maybe even use the change to your advantage.

What Are Encrypted Google Searches?

Encrypted searches use HTTPS, meaning keyword data won’t be revealed to site owners. These types of searches won’t allow Internet marketers and site owners to track users’ keyword searches anymore; web analytics software was previously used to break down users and their keywords searches, but this tactic will no longer be possible.

The reality is that even if you can still see some keyword data, eventually 100% of your referrals will probably result in the keyword not being provided. Keyword data will be gone. Google has removed the ability to view what a user searched for before visiting your site.

Why Keyword Referral Data Is Important

A lot of marketers use this keyword data for tasks that not only improve their own page ranking, but to better the web as a whole. Keyword data can help our ranking efforts and our ability to effectively serve our customers. If you notice a keyword is getting a lot of search traffic, but the page still has a low rank, you realize you’ll have to brainstorm ways to make the page rank higher. And if a search term is sending a lot of people to a specific page, but your conversion rate is low, you know you need to improve the page.

Keyword data is also important when examining how users view our brand and content. Looking at users’ searches allowed us to get inside our customers’ minds in regards to specific products or content; however, this task just became more complex without keyword data.

As for marketing opportunities, keyword data was previously a goldmine. We could figure out ways to optimize for keyword phrases that didn’t have a high rank. There were ways to confront and improve low-ranking keyword phrases – now we’ll have to find another way.

Adjust Your Strategies

This change is undoubtedly going to make our job as marketers more difficult, but don’t get angry about it; instead, look for ways to adjust your strategies. A lot of brainstorming and conversations need to happen in order to figure out where to go from here, but here are a few basic ideas to get you started:

  • Start looking at page level data. When you can’t see the keyword data anymore, how are you supposed to improve a page’s ranking? Try using the connection of various sources of data, as the Moz blog explains. Which pages on your site are getting search visits? Start looking at page-level data instead of keyword-level data.
  • Organize your search terms into categories. You can track your rankings based on multiple different categories to see which one is improving your ranking. For instance, organize your terms by head terms, long-tail, branded phrases, non-branded terms and more. Then you can examine the pages with search traffic from each category to see how successful they are.
  • Use other sources to analyze perceptions of your brand. You could try keyword suggestion sources like SEMRush or Google Suggest to view the keyword expansions associated with your brand and content. Another easy tactic is looking at what people are typing in your internal site search bar, giving you insight into how customers view your brand.
  • Target specific keywords with AdWords campaigns. Unfortunately, this may be what Google is aiming at by using encrypted searches. Running Adwords campaigns may be expensive, but they will allow you to view expansion opportunities, see where you’re missing organic traffic and possibly bid on certain keywords.

Use This Change to Your Advantage

It’ll take time for Internet marketers to adjust to this change and find ways around the lack of keyword data from Google. Bing will still send keyword data, even though it’s not as widely-used as Google. It’s important to remain optimistic and use this change to your advantage.

If you have clients for whom you do SEO, use this as an opportunity to start conversations with them. They may be uneasy and confused, so they’ll be looking to you for solutions. This is a great time to step up your efforts and use your knowledge to continue pleasing your clients.

Take this as an opportunity to start reading and learning more. There’s never been a better time to refresh your practices and learn from the industry around you. Every marketer will be dealing with this problem, so you’re not alone. Stay current with conversations and learn from others in your niche.

Encrypted Google searches definitely change the way Internet marketers will perform their job. What are your ideas on how to circumvent the loss of keyword data? Have you found any useful workaround articles? Please share in the comments!