Last week Google made a change to referral data they send to web analytics products. If the searcher is logged in to Google they will hide the keyword the user searched for. Google are claiming this is to maintain privacy and have only applied it to organic traffic. Paid traffic still passes the keyword information into web analytics (which appears to nullify there former argument about privacy).

Across the digital marketing and web analytics community a lot has been written about this change. I have pulled together some of the key insights from vendors and experts. Whilst the vendors and commentators have been fairly neutral in their response, there are a vast number of digital marketers who are angry. Particularly as it’s being done in the name of privacy.

Rand Fishkin

“Unfortunately, Google has made a big change to the way that they are serving keyword referral data from their search results, and this is going to have an unfortunate impact on all of us who do white hat SEO, who do web analytics, and who try to learn from this practice…Anytime a major player in the search world or social world or inbound world makes a big change, we need to figure out what is it, how is that we can best respond, how can we use data, how can we continue to be great marketers.”

Full post – Google Hides Search Referral Data

Bret Gundersen of Adobe (Omniture)

“What’s going to change? Search keywords and search engines will be under-reported in SiteCatalyst. If you’ve implemented organic search integration in SearchCenter you will see a reduction in organic search term traffic. However, SearchCenter paid keyword data is not affected.

“Google engineer Matt Cutts estimates that search encryption will impact less than 10% of organic search queries. To date we have seen that 0.5% to 2% of Google searches are affected, though we expect that number to increase. As a percent of total search traffic, we’ve seen a 0.3% to 1.5% impact.”

Full post –
The Impact of Google Encrypted Search

Bruce Kenny of Webtrends

“Webtrends products will continue to operate as expected, with affected traffic appearing as Google referred but without any search results. We applaud the importance Google places on security and privacy and will provide an update in the near term that will clearly identify those searches that had the terms stripped out.”

Full post – Our Response to Google’s Query String Security Announcement

Amy Chang – Google Analytics

“To help you better identify the signed in user organic search visits, we created the token “(not provided)” within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting. You will continue to see referrals without any change; only the queries for signed in user visits will be affected. Note that “cpc” paid search data is not affected.

“Our team continues to explore ways that we can surface relevant information, like search query data, to help you measure the effectiveness of your website and marketing efforts.”

Full post – Making search more secure: Accessing search query data in Google Analytics

Key takeaways

  • Use your web analytics tool to get a feel for how many queries are being affected by this change before getting concerned – typically less than 2%
  • Manage expectations by communicating with web analytics stake holders about the change
  • Consider how this change may affect targetting or testing plans that rely on keyword data