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Google encrypts all search data

So you’ve been grappling with two little words in Google Analytics for a while now: ‘Not provided’.

As frustrating as this irritating combination of words may be, you’re likely to come across them a lot more than you were before if you’re after any analytics information from Google about organic search terms.

A while back Google made a change to the way secure searches worked for any user logged into a Google account. The change, effected in 2011, meant any search performed by a logged-in user was done on a secure socket layer (SSL), and therefore failed to pass the search term referrer data.

This meant that any logged-in user who used an organic search term to get to your website, which you would have previously seen in Google Analytics data, was now ‘not provided’ by the service.

Then, Google moved one (huge) step further last month, and announced it would encrypt all organic search activity, except clicks on ads.

What does this mean for marketers?

Previously search term data was only encrypted for search users who were logged into a Google service. Now, all organic searches carried out on Google are encrypted, whether a user is logged in or not.

So as a marketer, you won’t be able to access any information about the search terms people entered before they arrived at your site, and hence you will lose the ability to optimize keywords to maximize user experience and your site’s exposure.

Where to from here? 

Well, firstly you may still have some access to keyword data, but that is likely to be less than five per cent of total searches carried out; with the remaining available search data coming form non-Google traffic.

Secondly, if your business uses Google AdWords, you will still have full access to the keywords entered before a click was made on your ad.

But, for the majority of the time, you will now have no idea what a person was looking for, or interested in, before they arrived at your site.

There are other ways to capture some search term data, including analyzing the searches done through your own site so you understand what people are looking for, as well as using the often small, but still useful, amount of information provided in Google Analytics about the non-Google users’ search terms.

And, Google Analytics still provides a host of useful information to consider when analyzing your site’s visitors. In a well-timed announcement hot on the heels of the decision to encrypt all data, Google announced a new ‘Analytics Academy’, which offers free online courses about how best to utilise Google Analytics.