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Google Search Changes and Google Analytics 'Not Provided' Label

Published on November 11, 2011
Tags: SEO

You may remember a few months ago, when Google released the Panda/Farmer update and a significant percentage of search results were affected because of it. That update had a big impact on quite a lot of websites – and it seems Google has once again made some changes that are going to affect lots of people.

This time, the change involves their encrypted search feature. This is something that Google has had running for a while, but now it has altered its systems so that if a user is logged-in (to Gmail, iGoogle, Google+ or another Google platform), they are automatically redirected to encrypted search. Unlike in the past, they are no longer told that they are using this feature; the ‘http’ in the address bar simply changes to ‘https’. That is; https://www.google.com

The impact of this is that the search queries made by those users will be kept secure. The argument made by Google in its favour is that encrypted search is especially useful when using unsecured Wi-Fi networks and that it helps to protect ‘personalised search results’. 

Arguably, this is a smart move on Google’s part as it shows a concern for security and protects users’ data – something that is naturally of concern to many people. However, on the other side of the issue are webmasters, web designers and developers who rely on search information to analyse which of their campaigns are the most successful, who is clicking onto their sites and the terms people search for when they find their websites. 

With Google encrypting logged-in users’ data, it’s thought that around 10% of previous information will no longer be available to the people who typically analyse it.  It isn’t hard to see how this might have an impact on online marketing and analysis: with 10% less data, there’ll be less information to utilise and so campaigns won’t be targeted quite so successfully and their impact will be harder to measure. Around 10% harder to measure, to be precise.

This essentially means that when you log in to Analytics or another keyword tool, you’re likely to see a ‘not provided’ entry fairly high up in your keyword traffic list, where that 10% of data would normally be. 

Luckily, Google has put in place some measures that mean you will still be able to access some information: if you use Webmaster Tools, it will show you the top 100 search terms for your site. Granted, this doesn’t give you the complete picture or go into much detail about search traffic, but it at least provides something to work from.

The good news, really, is that your traffic shouldn’t be affected by the changes that have recently taken effect, as the alterations don’t have an impact on search rankings in the same way that Panda/Farmer did. However, one aspect of the changes that has caused some controversy is the fact that paid-for results are unaffected. This means that if you’re paying for Google’s services (such as for PPC campaigns), you’ll still be able to see which search terms bring in the best conversion rates.

This suggests that Google has put a price on information: if you use its free analytics services, logged-in users’ privacy takes precedence, but if you pay then their privacy is overlooked. It might sound a bit sceptical, but it does seem like there is now a choice to be made between favouring privacy and making money – and, when you consider that Google is selling this change as being in favour of users’ privacy, the sceptic starts to grow.

Of course, Google is designed to be a business. That’s its purpose, so we probably shouldn’t be too surprised when it makes changes that make things easier for itself but not necessarily for everyone else. The CEO of Google recently said of the company: ‘we understand what you want and can deliver it instantly’. Arguably, that ‘we’ is telling. Google knows what you want, but by implementing changes such as this, it makes it harder for webmasters and others to know exactly what people want.

This has a knock-on effect for keyword campaigns and other types of online marketing – and unless you are willing to pay Google for the information, it will continue to be difficult.

Google does a lot of good things, we can’t deny that. Its search engine services are excellent, its other services are mostly very good and it still provides good analysis tools for web designers and others to make use of. Plus, the balance between user privacy and the business of the web is always a hard one to get right. Perhaps these changes will work out for the best. However, in the short term at least, it does seem like things are going to be a little trickier for many webmasters.

By Chelsey Evans

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Comments

Michael Aulia @CravingTech.com

Commented on May 24, 2012

The problem is that we publishers can no longer optimise our posts based on the keywords if we can't see what the users were typing to get into our posts

oh well....

Malcolm - Ampheon

Commented on December 14, 2011

Hi Kanhaiya,

No, we haven't - and that's perhaps the sting in the tail. If you pay Google for AdWords, then you get that data.

Malcolm

kanhaiya

Commented on December 13, 2011

have you seen "not set" data in paid version.

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