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SSL Search Reaches Australia

SSL Search Reaches Australia

A Marketing article written by

It had to happen eventually. Yesterday Google announced that SSL search will soon be available on more than just Google.com. This means that SSL search will begin to affect Google.com.au users who search while signed in very soon.

When Google announced in October 2011 that their implementation of SSL search will become the default search option for all signed in users, not everyone was happy. Google has described SSL search as a step to defend their users privacy and encourage other companies to adopt SSL more broadly. Their detractors say SSL search won’t accomplish either.

What is SSL Search?

Google has stated that they have introduced SSL search to protect user privacy. To accomplish this goal, Google’s SSL search will limit the referrer information it passes on, replacing the keywords the user used to find the site in search with the phrase ‘(not provided)’. The keywords will be replaced in this way if all of the following are true:

  • The user is searching with Google using SSL search
  • The user is currently logged in, or
  • The user clicks on an organic link in the normal search results.

However even after Google rolls SSL search out internationally, the destination site will still get to see the referring search phrase if any of the following are true:

  • The user clicks on a paid, Adwords link
  • The user is not logged into a Google account

A number of bloggers have pointed out that this is not a true implementation of SSL, as the destination site is treated the same regardless of whether it is secure or not. Google’s SSL search is limiting the information about how customers find them site owners can get for free, without affecting those that pay for their traffic.

What is the Impact of SSL Search?

SSL search will limit the amount of information site owners get. This will negatively impact marketing activity and insights into customer behaviour. A focused SEO campaign focuses on specific groups of keywords, aiming to both increase rankings for a few specific terms as well as increasing traffic for long tail variations.

Losing organic search data will make it harder to assess the effectiveness of these campaigns outside of Google Webmaster Tools data and other rank tracking services. What is even more critical is that it will make it difficult to assess the quality of traffic generated by this activity. Without access to keyword data within a site’s analytics package, it will be impossible to rate the traffic on conversion rates, percentage of new visitors and other important on-site behavioural metrics.

Dealing with the Missing Data

Google’s SSL search is here to stay, and businesses will simply need to adapt. While it has already been seen live for Google.com.au, its impact is still far from certain. When it was originally introduced to Google.com last year, estimates of the number of searches it would affect ranged from just under 10% to 30%. However in reality the actual figure depended more on the kind of market the site attracted. For some businesses the impact will be minimal while others will find it significant.

Ranking metrics will remain as useful as they were before, even though this is debatable given the increasingly personalised nature of search. It will still be possible to assess the effectiveness of organic search traffic as an aggregate, even if the ability to drill down to query groups and specific search terms is diminished.