Google Encrypted Search: 9 Key Points B2B Marketers Need to Know

Two weeks removed from Google’s announcement making search secure , B2B marketers are still collecting their thoughts on where SEO strategy goes from here. While the search community has been immediately been vocal about this change, the general marketing community will take longer to react. This is one piece to a much larger marketing puzzle.

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Screenshot of Google Analytics keyword referral report

That said, this search engine change is significant and the news of Google encrypted search will eventually make its way to your marketing desk sooner than later. For more in-depth background, make sure to read Google’s announcement above and Jonathan Allen’s column about Google encrypted search.

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Screenshot of secured browsing experience

For those B2B marketers already aware or getting up to speed, here are nine key points to take into consideration, in the wake of Google’s enhancements to signed-in search data.

Secured Browsing is a Good Thing

Secured browsing and searching is a good for Internet surfers in general. In my opinion, as users get more educated on online security, and are realizing that there search experience is secure, they will be more likely to stay with Google. While we can argue whether Google’s intentions are well purposed in general (keep reading), marketers shouldn’t complain when it specifically pertains to the search engine seeking to maintain relevance with users.

Not all Google Keyword Data is Blocked

Here is where it gets dicey. Not all keyword information will be blocked from third party reporting tools. Search engine advertisers will still have access to all of their individual keyword referral data. This means Google makes an exception to how they handle secured search for advertisers.

Secured users that click into secured sites should still be able to capture keyword data as well. Those organizations that employ SSL may want to consider the option of moving to a completely secure online experience.

Keyword Data, Not Organic Search in Aggregate

Overall organic search engine traffic metrics are not impacted by this change; only specific keyword referral information. B2B marketers will still be able to evaluate total organic search engine traffic, new versus returning traffic, and conversion metrics associated to organic search engine traffic in general.

The Single Percentage Impact Should Not Be Expected

Google has indicated that the percentage of search results that this change will impact will be in the single digits. However as illustrated in the chart below (of a sampling of client search referrals) we can see growing percentages exceeding those indicated. Several other search professionals  have also found higher than expected percentages as well.

While every website is different, it’s unreasonable to expect a low percentage impact long-term, especially when Google is aggressively rolling out Google+ solutions and advocates online security in general. Be prepared for an increasing percentage of undefined keyword data in organic search referral reports.

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Sample data of percentage impact for a select group of website verticals across two time periods

Existing & Ongoing Search Benchmarks are Critical

The most immediate action marketers can take is to benchmark performance of keyword search data historically and ongoing. Metrics to consider include:

  • General organic keyword referral reports 
  • Percentage of “not provided” data via Google Analytics as early as October 18 (when Google announced the change) 
  • Specific breakout for primary keyword targets and competitive keyword themes. For example, if your organization targeted “cloud computing”, track specific referrals for the term as well as how many times that phrase was used in an overall search referral to the website. 
  • Conversion metrics, traffic from link building initiatives, new versus returning visits via organic search

We tend to track metrics no less than monthly and also measure year over year (or set time period to time period) improvements and changes.

Re-Evaluate Google Webmaster Tools

Google is recommending site owners access Google Webmaster Tools for additional keyword information, as they can receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for the past 30 days. However, at least in the B2B space, long-tail search traffic can be equally valuable in lead generation analysis, and often times, several thousand keywords can contribute traffic to an organizations’ website.

Communicate to Your Team(s)

Just like any significant change that might occur in the Internet marketing landscape, communication is critical. Make sure team members responsible for website reporting, and management that receive search marketing reports, understand the change and how it will impact SEO strategy moving forward.

Contact Your Third Party Reporting Vendors

While Google has defined a way for Google Analytics to report this change to web marketers (by way of the “not provided” benchmark in keyword reports) other third party tools that B2B marketers will most likely be slower to adopt. If your vendor has not addressed this change (and many must still be evaluating the impact) it is important to signal the need for discussion.

Here are some initial resources and vendor announcements we have found with regards to this change:

Hopefully more third party referral tools provide resources and information dealing with this change and please add any relevant links or references via comments below.

This is As Much About Competitive Advantage as it is Privacy Concerns

Privacy is implied into Google’s reasoning for moving to SSLbut is not the only motivation.

By blocking keyword information (that is not already part of a Google paid advertising program), Google can take a potentially serious blow to its competition in various online marketing solutions. Customized keyword referral can play a significant role in retargeting campaigns and lead management analysis, the latter being potentially beneficial in marketing automation solutions.

The point is that by creating a work-around that satisfies only AdWords advertisers, Google is appears to also be catering to its own interests in the marketplace, as opposed to solely being a champion for security and privacy of the user, as one might infer.

Wrap Up and Final Thoughts

Jonathan Allen’s article reviewing this Google search change also touches upon the fact that as adoption of mobile browsing continues to accelerate, so will secured search. Google itself has indicated that by 2012, there will be more than 5 billion mobile devices in use, the equivalent of 70 percent of the world’s population.

Mobile users (particularly with Android) are much more likely to be logged into Google from their device, thereby rendering a secured search experience by default. This further supports the earlier notion that single digit percentage impact will certainly increase over time.

Secured browsing and protecting user privacy along with security are good things in the long run. As a search engine marketer, I rely on much of the keyword data that we receive in analytics reports, so this change certainly has an impact.

What are your thoughts on encrypted search in the B2B space? I would love to read your perspectives and considerations via comments below.