Encryptiongate – Google Strikes Again!

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Encryptiongate – Google Strikes Again!

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Yesterday, Google made an announcement that shook digital marketers and brands to their core.  Google announced that it would be encrypting search queries made from secure connections (SSL).  I’ve dubbed this controversial move “Encryptiongate”

“When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query.” http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2011/10/making-search-more-secure.html

Basically what this means is that keyword level analytics data for users who Google’d a term while signed into their Google account or from https://www.google.com, will not be available to Website owners.  Google claims that the encryption of search terms will better help protect the privacy of the user.

My Perspective

Over the past two days, I’ve read some pretty uninformed POVs on Google’s new search term encryption policy, and I’d like to put my point of view out there.

  1. Google’s press-release states that the search term encryption only applies to organic search queries.  If Google is so concerned about privacy, why not extend to PPC/SEM clicks?
  2. It’s already the policy of Google Analytics to not store Personal Identifiable Information (PII), so how does encrypting search terms protect anyone’s personal privacy? http://www.google.com/analytics/apps/policy
  3. Google is consistently evolving its personalized search.  How does that work? Google knows your exact location, it knows your Web history, and it knows your preferences.  This allows Google to serve you up search results that it feels you’d want to see.  How does that not violate your privacy?  Why is Google allowed to use EXTREMELY personal data to market to its users, but feels like encrypting organic search terms is a smart move in the right direction of privacy protection?

An Attack on SEOs?

Is this an attack on SEOs?  Absolutely not!  Who is Google really hurting?  They are hurting the very people who make the search engine the most prolific in the world—its users.

SEOs and Internet Marketers use Website performance data at the keyword level to help create better user-experiences.  Keyword level data helps us among many things:

  • Improve information architecture
  • Improve Website usability
  • Improve the quality of landing pages
  • Identify what terms are not effectively communicating a message

Furthermore, with Panda, Google has been relentlessly penalizing sites that fall short of a positive user-experience.  For sites that have been affected by Panda, Google has suggested that Webmasters look at bounce rate, time-on-site, page views, visits, etc… and work on improving those metrics.  Why would Google start removing the tools a Webmaster needs to remediate obstacles to a positive user experience?  Keyword level data is essential to craft a Website that users enjoy.

Does The Move Towards Keyword Encryption Kill SEO?

No.  Absolutely not.  Legitimate SEOs and Web strategists who understand the art and science of search will be able to adapt and find the data they need to be successful.  As long as people use Google to search for information, SEO will be in high-demand!  On that note, make sure you have an SEO or Web strategist you are highly confident in, because the game is changing and you need someone who knows their stuff!

Does The Move Towards Keyword Encryption Make An SEO’s Job A Little Harder?

I would be lying if I said no.  But nothing worthwhile comes easy—and personally, I like overcoming challenges.

I did read an article today that claimed keyword encryption makes SEO better and I about fell out of my chair (with coffee in hand).  How in the world does limiting access to keyword data make SEO better?  Let’s put the BS aside and be real about the challenges and possible limitations that keyword encryption brings.  SEOs may have to find other tools and methodologies to get the data they need to be successful.

Will Google Reverse Their Encryption Policy?

No. I don’t think so and it’s not just my opinion.  Danny Sullivan @dannysullivan from Search Engine Land provided a resounding “No!” when I asked him his opinion on whether Google would overturn Encryptiongate.

But This Only Affects A Small Percentage of Searchers, Why Should You Care?

Yes, according to Google’s Matt Cutts and SearchEngineLand’s Danny Sullivan, this change will only affect a small number of searchers.  So as of right now, there’s nothing to be too concerned about.  The problem lies with the future and the direction Google seems to be going. http://searchengineland.com/google-to-begin-encrypting-searches-outbound-clicks-by-default-97435

When Google first introduced personalized search, your results were only personalized if you were logged into your Google account or if you had the Google Toolbar installed.  In 2010, personalized search became default regardless of whether or not you were signed into

Ultimately, many of us in the search community believe that the same will hold true for referral data for organic search.  As of right now, encrypted queries only affect users who search using SSL (e.g., https://www.google.com) or are signed into their Google account.  However, in mine and many others’ opinions, it won’t be long until Google sets its default search page to its secured page https://www.google.com and organic search referral data becomes a thing of the past.

In Closing

Google, I hope that your users fill your holiday stockings with coal, because you’ve set in motion a policy that will affect their ability to find what they are looking for.  Not every brand or organization has the skill-set to help them navigate these changes, so it’s my assumption and opinion that the quality of search results will deteriorate with the broaded rollout of encrypted search queries.

About Author


is a Digital marketing veteran located in the Twin Cities area.


Twittarr Pirate

October 21, 2011at 11:14 am

I know the Data Liberation Front is about moving data from Google products, but it seems that it would apply to a larger movement, too.

IMHO I think the importance of analytics for SEO can be overstated, other than trying to prove ROI. Ultimately, if your website or article contains phrases that one would honestly search for to find it, that is what matters because of the bounce rate. If they come and they don’t stay, does it matter that they found you?

Adam Dince

October 21, 2011at 11:45 am

Thanks for the comment! IMHO, being able to see keyword-level performance data helps in so many ways. Anyone who’s been hit by Panda can attest to the value of keyword metrics for SEO

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