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Keyword “Not Provided” due to “encrypted_search-terms”

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You might have noticed that the keyword “Not Provided” ranks top in your search analytics data. What does it indicate? Few months back Google rolled out “encrypted search service” for the logged in users. With this your search queries and search results pages are protected through a secured channel and  which is being safeguarded from the interception of third party applications. Secure search can be accessed through  https://google.com or https://encrypted.google.com/ . On 18th October Google announced the implementation of SSL search is default for logged in users.

google ssl search

Brief about SSL

SSL stands for “Secure Socket Layer”. Historically SSL is used for protecting personal information and sensitive content over the wire. For example, the users make a fund transfer over the internet from own account to other accounts. SSL encrypts the information passed over the internet using standard encryption algorithms. This prevents interception of intermediary sites. This is commonly called “Man-in-the-Middle (MIM)” attack. Data transfer over SSL is a safe and time tested approach for digital transactions.

SSL Search

The above technique can be extended to user search actions and search results over the internet. It offers a secure user experience and addresses their privacy concerns.  Why SSL search is required? Users may want to apply privacy and protection over what they search and what they see as an outcome of the search. Search is personal and the terms are heavily user driven. Users perform the search on the search engines website. The search query is passed to the server typically as a “Get” request. The request is visible through naked eyes which exposes a risk of accessing them to trap personal information. This is especially applicable if the user browses over unsecured wifi or other networks. User search results are also shown in a much open manner on the browsers. There is a high chance of these data like search query and results can be sniffed over network. SSL offers privacy and protection by encrypting the data back and forth during search. More recently (18th October 2011) Google launched its encrypted search for all users adopting to HTTPS everywhere policy. If you use  http://www.google.com (non SSL), both the search query and source (Google) can be tracked via http referrer field. But if one use https://www.google.com for search queries, the search queries will be encrypted and only the source can be tracked

Impact of encrypted search on SEO business.

The data show single digit percentage impact for past few months in terms of the number of search results. This may not hold good for days to come due to adoption. Mobile devices also prefer secure communication over their network. This compounds to adoption of secure search much faster than expected. There will not be a short term impact to SEO business that relies heavily of Google’s search results. Google is making the key words available through analytics and web master tool. Over a long term, SEO business will adopt by devising new models of handling this technological change. The strategy to include organic key word search together with Google’s web master, analytics and other 3rd party providers who deal with search data. In a nutshell, several industry experts conclude that this is a very good move as it addresses security and privacy concerns for the users. They also highlight the need of agile adoption of this new approach for SEO firms and B2B marketers.

Criticism on Google’s encrypted search

There are a lot of initial reactions from SEO firms and other business organization deal with search data. Search Engine journal published an article on Google’s SSL search-Google puts price on Privacy.  The key concerns are:

  • How this affect their existing data on referrer and the ownership of search results rests with Google completely? There is a lack of clarity on this.
  • Google may use this opportunistically for paid service and marketing other products like analytics.
  • It sounds like Google has not taken many of the SEO firms into confidence before rolling out this change. This affects the preparedness to manage this change.

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