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"Encrypted_Search_Terms": Noticing Anything Odd In Your Analytics?

If you are the sort of analytics-obsessed blogger that I am, you may have noticed something strange when you look through your referrals for organic search terms: (not provided) as a referring keyword.

So what the heck is THAT about?

I turned to the smartest woman I know when it comes to all things analytics: Rachael Gerson, head of Analytics at SEER Interactive. I asked her to explain it to me. I asked her first to explain what it means, and what’s changed.

Up until mid-October, sites were able to use analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Omniture, to view the keywords that drove organic traffic. On October 18, Google announced a pretty major change. Now if users are logged into any Google product (think Gmail, YouTube, Google Docs, Google Voice, Picasa, etc.) and do a Google search, they’re taken to a secure version of Google search results. Any clicks on these search results will pass the term “(not provided)” to the site, rather than the actual keyword. So while before, you might have known that someone came to your site on the keyword “holiday crafts,” now you would only see “(not provided)” instead.

Google is actually claiming this is a privacy issue. Here’s what Google has to say.

As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, particularly for signed in users, we believe that protecting these personalized search results is important. As part of that effort, today the Google Search team announced that SSL Search on https://www.google.com will become the default experience for signed in users on Google.com (see the Official Google Blog post to learn more). Protecting user privacy is important to us, and we want to take this opportunity to explain what the Google Analytics team is doing to help you continue measuring your website effectively in light of these changes.

In other words, if you have a Google account, when you do a Google search for a subject, only YOU get to see those results. If you click on a result from a search while you’re logged into Google, the website you visit won’t know what search terms drove you to their site.

I asked Rachael why this issue should concern mom bloggers.

I have yet to see a site that hasn’t been affected by Google’s update, with some sites seeing as much as 33% of their Google organic traffic coming in as (not provided). Why does this matter to mom bloggers, or any other site? You’re losing your data, which means you’re losing the ability to analyze this information to make the best decisions for your site.

She’s right; when I looked at my analytics I had over 500 results that were “not provided.” So if you use organic search terms as a way to determine keywords for your site, you have lost a significant source of information. I asked Rachael if signing out of Google would help, and sure that will provide a website with YOUR search terms, but basically the entire WORLD would have to sign out of Google in order to bring back the results we were able to get just in October.

Awesome, right?

If you’d like to read more, this article is also helpful at Google’s blog, and this article at WordPress has some great info. Thanks to Rachael for shedding light on this subject!

Rachael Gerson is an SEO consultant and the head of Analytics at SEER Interactive. Rachael is a graduate of Villanova University’s School of Business. Rachael is on the Laurel House Board of Directors. Follow Rachael Gerson on Twitter.

Disclosure: the author also consults a few hours a week for SEER, but SEER Interactive did not compensate her in any way other than introducing her to the awesomeness of Rachael.

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