Google Analytics Encrypted Data and the Future of SEO

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I’m sure that most of the readers here on Search Engine Journal are all well aware of Google’s October announcement about making search more secure for their users. Other major SEO and online marketing blogs like Search Engine Land, Search Engine Watch and HubSpot and have been chatting about it for weeks, while dozens of SEO bloggers (myself included) have joined in on the conversation. Google had said that the change would impact less than 10% of daily searches, but I have definitely read more than one post where site owners were complaining that a much greater percentage of data is now being classified as “Not Provided.” In fact, for some of my client’s sites I’ve seen it up as high as 40%! That’s a far cry from the 10% Google initially promised.

Watching this situation develop over the last few months has got me thinking about various “What if” scenarios that could come from encrypted search data and how it might impact SEO down the road.

For the record, these are just questions and concerns that I have. I’m not claiming this is what is happening or what will happen; I’m just throwing a few “What if…” scenarios out there to get all of your thoughts and opinions.

Is Google setting the stage for a paid product?

As it is right now, Google Analytics is free for site owners. However, the encrypted data announcement got me wondering if Google might be looking to introduce a paid version of Analytics down the road. Think about Hulu—when it first launched users could watch all the content they wanted for free. However, Hulu eventually introduced Hulu Plus, which locked premium content behind a $7.99/month fee. Users could still watch some content for free, but all the good stuff Hulu lovers had come to expect was suddenly a premium item. If you wanted it, you had to pay for it.

I wonder if Google is looking to do the same thing one day. Will they offer a free version of Google Analytics that sticks with “Not Provided,” data, but for a fee site owners can access all the data they used to get? Does Google want to start selling what they have been giving away?

Is Google trying to get site owners to spend more on PPC?

Much to the chagrin of many site owners Google has said it will still report click information on AdWords ads; unlike organic analytics, PPC reporting will be unchanged. Obviously Google wants their PPC clients to be successful with the campaigns because it helps ensure they continue to pay for AdWords ads. If you want someone to pay, you have to prove ROI. (How many of us have had that held over our heads by clients when trying to explain the value of SEO?)

Since PPC reporting will remain unaffected, I started wondering if Google is trying to push more site owners to spend more on their PPC campaigns in order to acquire data that can be used for their SEO campaign. I, like most SEO professionals, don’t like making recommendations to my clients that aren’t based on quantifiable data. If more and more organic searches are encrypted, will site owners and SEO providers have to rely on PPC campaign data to make SEO decisions? How many campaigns would you need to run to get all the data you needed to make an educated decision?

How will this affect the value of mobile search?

Droid phones are dominating the Smartphone market right now, and a new Droid requires a Google account to be activated. I have a Droid phone, which means I am constantly logged into my Google account. Every single search I conduct on my phone (and it’s a lot) is now encrypted. There is no denying that mobile search is going to have a big impact on the SEO industry in the future, but with Droid taking a lion’s share of the market, will there be any reliable data for us to use? Mobile SEO is still a relatively underdeveloped field, with many site owners just getting their feet wet. Will encrypted search make it pointless for site owners to even try? Or will they just be forced to make blind decisions and hope for the best?

Are Google’s intentions as pure as they claim?

If Google was really serious about protecting user’s privacy, why not just shut down Google Analytics entirely? Why let some data go through? It feels like Google is trying to play both sides of the fence right now, fighting privacy concerns and still trying to keep site owners from using other analytics providers.

As I mentioned before, these are just a few of the “What if” scenarios I’ve played out in my head since Google’s secure search announcement. I don’t have a crystal ball or an insider look into inner workings of Google, so I can’t say if any of my fears will come to pass or if I’ve missed the mark entirely. These are just a few of the concerns I have if the encrypted search trend I’m seeing with my site and my clients’ sites continues.

I’d love to hear what you think about Google search, encrypted data and its long term affect on SEO.

Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis is the President of Brick Marketing, a full service Boston SEO firm. With nearly 13 years of experience in the Internet Marketing industry,... Read Full Bio
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis
Nick Stamoulis

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  • bryant

    Google Analytics is already bringing out a paid solution – its called Analytics Premium, my sources at google are saying that the paid version will not have access to (not provided) data

  • Heidi Strom Moon/CDG Interactive

    We are definitely seeing a far greater percentage than 10% on some of our client sites. (In some cases, “not provided” is the #1 keyword.) Internally, we’ve also wondered whether scenarios #1 and #2 weren’t somehow behind it.

    Google giveth and it taketh away …

  • Jim

    I share a lot of your concerns, plus one that you didn’t mention – what happens when secure search is the default for users regardless of if they’re logged in? And even if that never happens, Google is pushing pretty hard for people to create accounts and stay logged in, so I can see a day not too far in the future where more than 50% of keyword data is lost (even for non-web/tech sites).

    Also, on the mobile front, Google is currently not defaulting to https for mobile browsers (which begs the question – why not?). So for the time being, you can still get the keywords data for mobile searchers. I’m sure this won’t last long, so get it while it’s still there!

  • Jim Zamichieli

    Google’s bread and butter is AdWords. Every step they take is ultimately to help drive revenue for AdWords. Remember when they revealed page load times would affect rankings? Oddly enough, they released a service (currently free and in beta) that does what? Shockingly, the service helps page load speed. Updates like Panda, to help clean up the web? Again, a calculated move to disrupt just enough sites to make businesses think, “Should I just stick with PPC since it took me “X” to get a great ranking, just to see the latest algorithm tweak bump be back to page two. Google “protecting” keyword data for organic searches, but not click-through data for AdWords is just another way to say, “Hey website owner, use your money with PPC instead of SEO and you won’t have to worry about these issues.” Google is a public company that has one goal: make money for its stockholders. It makes decisions based on the bottom line–which it should do–as all corporations do. However, the public perception is that the company just wants to make our lives better; and it they make a couple of dollars, good for them. It may not happen, but don’t be surprised if their teflon coating starts to wear off and people start viewing them as the next evil empire, a.k.a. Microsoft.

  • Ronnie (aka Video SEO Hound)

    As many of us have stated before, there was NO personal info passed along to GA, so to say they are doing it for “privacy” smacks of “1984-speak”. I see the 10% figure as WAY LOW for most of my client’s… it is more like 30 – 40% “not provided” anymore.

    Maybe they have something in the offing that will pass on more “personal” info as they try to get more “social” – so they are just getting ready for that to roll out.

    I agree with many of your “what-ifs” and thought of them as well when I first read the announced change. They do have a Pay For Analytics product but the 150K/yr price-tag is way out of reach for the majority of businesses.

  • karen kouf

    As a whitehat SEO, the encrypted data change is scary. For many of my small business clients, the (not provided) data is often around 40%. With the Google+ empire growing and now Daily Deals, many of us will remain in our Google account all of the time.

    I’m with Nick, I think a paid GA service might very well be in the future. With PPC revenue continuing to decline, makes sense to grow business elsewhere. I need this data and because I’m familiar with their tool, will pay for premium GA.

    • Nick Stamoulis

      Hi Karen,

      I’m also worried that small businesses might not be able to afford a paid analytics tool, so they will be forced to rely on the limited free information Google gives.

      Thanks for the comment!

  • Michael Martin


    Although Android users are logged into their Google account inherently, those searches are not performed under https thus not encrypted.

    I thought the same initially & posed that question to the Google team.

    Google is currently NOT encrypting any mobile search keywords to analytics tools as that defeats their intention of advancing its use.

    • Nick Stamoulis

      Hi Michael,

      Thanks for the clarification. Guess Google is more focused on making desktop search more secure : ) I wonder if they will stick with their current plan for mobile or will they have to start protecting that data somewhere down the road as well.

  • Scott Krager

    I don’t think we will see a paid version of Google Analytics (besides their spendy Enterprise version) that would give extra data access to those users. That would be such an about face from their public blog-posts I don’t see anyway they could not look completely evil.

    We are seeing the SSL (not provided) around 10% from a sample of sites in the US using SERPs.

  • Qadir Kalhoro

    Guess Google is more focused on making desktop search more secure : ) I wonder if they will stick with their current plan for mobile or will they have to start protecting that data somewhere down the road as well.

  • Ayush

    This could very well be a move to promote their premium GA edition that costs $150K a year. I’m an ecommerce manager and not able to see majority of the organic keyword search terms (15-20%) as they are encrypted.
    I’m thinking we’ll have to go with another web analytics tool such as Omniture, Web Trends or CoreMetrics that cost way less than GA premium on annual subscription basis. Overall, I think Omniture would be the way to go with the excel report builder option and advanced data segmentation using Discover.

  • Alex-Tenddeapact Solutions

    Google makes decisions based on the bottom line–which it should do–as all corporations do. Maybe they have something in the offing that will pass on more “personal” info as they try to get more “social” – so they are just getting ready for that to roll out. Who knows. Thanks for posting.

  • Nick Stamoulis

    Thanks to everyone for commenting! It’s interesting to hear that so many of you have seen more (much more!) than the expected 10% of “not provided” data.

  • Ronnie (aka Video SEO Hound)

    According to what I’ve been reading lately, we are supposed to be able to get the “missing query” data from our Webmaster Tools account. So maybe this is a way to get around the “lost” keyword data…. anyone out there using that technique… if so Nick, perhaps you could write up a “how-to get the Google Keyword data another way” as a follow up to this post

    • Michael Martin


      That is a sidedoor method, although not the most reliable, it is at least a way to get around the missing keyword data.

      Its based on the Search Query data within Your Site on the Web in GWMT.

      Wil Reynolds at Seer spoke about this at PubCon Vegas recently.

  • Qadir Kalhoro

    Michael Martin,
    u are right this is a good way

  • Jesse Kanclerz

    I don’t think Google will start charging for access to “not provided” data in GA. Doing so means they’d be unfairly using their monopoly in search to box out competing analytics programs like Webtrends and Omniture, who don’t have access to this data. It’d invite scrutiny from the FTC, even more so than they faced recently with the accusations from Yelp and Nextag.

  • Matt Commins

    Google is already offering this data if you sign up for the premium version of GA ($150k price tag), which is total bull crap. BUT Google is a business that deserves to make money. All that being said, what Google did was give you a taste of the information but then took it away.

  • Justin

    Since things are not in our control as SEO’s this is what you do. Put the Google blinders on for a bit. Yes, I’m not crazy. If you’re providing best practice methods of SEO, there’s no reason you can’t take a leap of faith for a while with your strategy. Take this time to regroup anything thats has not been working on put your efforts into creating new content and testing user engagement. This is also a great time to just build your social graph presence.

    In the short term, you may loose out on a few opportunities. In the long term, most of the time with experience, your intuition will be right. You’ll come out with a well rounded strategy rather than being hyper focused on Google.

  • Will Dangerfield

    Google is going to change their whole business model to lead aggregation since they see the lead aggregates are making more money in their niches.

    First you gave them your keyword data and they took it and gave it to your competitors, now they will basically say: hey give me some money and I will give a chance at a client (trust me). The mob used to do this.

    They will set the pricing to just below the quit threshold for the company.

    All your profits belong to Google! Long live Google! All hail Google!

  • Andy

    I think Google doesn’t want to let people do any thing without its consent. Its something like blocking our hands. People bound to use PPC programs for higher ranking in google. Google is not leaving any way for organic searches gradually.