Two years ago Google began encrypting searches for users that were signed in, this resulted in the appearance of the frustrating “(not provided)” result.
Now Google has recently announced – albeit quietly – a change aimed at encrypting all search activity, except for ad clicks. This means that there is actually nothing to stop referrer data reaching 100% “(not provided)” pretty quickly.
Is this a good thing? Well… no. Not for marketers and, arguably, not for customers. So why have Google done it?
Firstly, this comes curiously closely off the back of the PRISM controversy. Although Google has firmly denied cooperating with the NSA to provide access to its search data, Google now wants to be seen as operating more transparently to the general public; this means they want to announce how many spying requests they’ve been receiving from the NSA, GCHQ and other bodies. It could also help explain this move as a retaliation against spy agency pressure by securing search data completely, alongside increases in their own data centre encryption.
Secondly, and more cynically, this will encourage ever-greater investment in their Adwords platform. Ad clicks will still provide that valuable keyword data; so all of that organic insight you may lose into your converting keywords can be maintained by extensive testing and optimisation of the keywords in paid search. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, assuming you have the budget. Smaller businesses in a competitive niche might be put at a distinct disadvantage as discovering their converting keywords will come at extra cost.
To me this seems to be a step backwards, and the result may be that publishers who’ve been working so hard to ensure that they’ve been creating a good relationship with their customers by researching the terms that lead to conversions, rather than focusing on shallow rankings alone, will revert to obsessing about placement in the SERPs. Blind optimisation could lead to that elusive #1 spot being a more important indicators of success again, rather than optimising for the terms that actually convert and provide customer value.