Microsoft is reportedly looking at encrypting their Internet traffic which would include their search results, in response to the NSA spying controversy where it is believed that the NSA was able to gain access to Microsoft’s global communication links.
Encrypted search is something that is gained a lot of popularity recently, particularly since Google made a highly publicized switch where all searches, instead of just those for people that are logged into their Google account as was done previously, would be encrypted. Google made the switch back in September for encrypted search as default and since then people had been watching to see if Microsoft and Yahoo would follow suit, which they finally seem to be doing.
What does this mean for webmasters? Right now, other than the limited data webmasters get in Google’s Webmaster Tools, having Bing and Yahoo search referrals are really the only way that webmasters can get an idea of what keywords are bringing visitors into their site. Even though it is generally fairly low percentage of traffic for most websites, it is better than nothing.
However, Microsoft switching over to encrypted search on Bing would mean those webmasters could very likely end up not getting this data from Bing any longer. As a user searchers for something with encrypted search, the URL search referral that brings a user to a website is completely encrypted, meaning webmasters will not know the keywords that brought visitors to the site.
In Google’s case, this is where we see “(not provided)” in Google Analytics. Microsoft is looking at implementing it not just on Bing, but across the full range of services they offer on both the business and consumer level.
Yahoo has also announced that they plan to offer encryption, however Yahoo’s encryption will be an opt-in for users, where users need to specifically opt into encrypted searches. And unless Yahoo users are somehow prompted and asked whether they buy to opt in, chances are very good users either won’t realize it’s there or not know why encrypted searches are important.
The other piece of the puzzle is that Bing provides search results for Yahoo, so Microsoft could easily pressure Yahoo to encrypt searches regardless of whether a person has opted in.
As the search world continues evolving to encrypted searches, webmasters are just going to have to evolve with it. Currently webmasters can get the limited data in Google Webmaster Tools and have access to keyword data for any paid Google AdWords ads, finding ways to work around “(not provided)”, particularly with Bing and Yahoo moving in that direction, is crucial.
Top Microsoft executives are reportedly making key decisions on encrypted search this week during meetings at Redmond.