Measuring the Impact of Google Secure SearchBy Mike Dobbs, Group Director of SEO and Martha Mukangara, Search AnalyticsConsultant at 360i Executive SummaryLast October, Google announced that it would make secure search (SSL) the default setting for all userslogged in to their Google accounts. With secure search, a person’s search terms cannot be tracked bythe third-party technologies that marketers have come to rely on to determine how natural search termsdrive actions within websites.This shift to an encrypted search model drastically impacts marketers’ ability to see details about theorigin of natural traffic at the keyword level. As a consequence, tools such as Google Analytics,Coremetrics and Omniture are losing the ability to track the performance of some keywords, thus losinga share of data previously used to inform SEO strategy. Change Agent: Google’s decision Agent: Marketing Impact : Marketers will Impact: to set secure search as a default for need to evolve their approach to all logged in users has reduced the keyword discovery and tap into other number of trackable search queries marketing channels such as paid to domains by nearly 20 percent media to compensate for lost data. since October. Challenges: Challenges: As Google claims the Next Step : Marketers will want to Step: bulk of natural traffic for most sites, study the impact of secure increasing the visibility of hidden searches on Google traffic to their query information is critical to domains and use the leveraging the correct optimization recommendations in this report to tactics. compensate for hidden keywords.
At the time of the announcement, Google estimated that encrypted searches would comprise less than10 percent of all organic search queries. However, a 360i analysis found that this figure is larger than theengine anticipated. Our study of searches across a range of industries and browsers demonstrates thatnearly 20 percent of Google searches are becoming untraceable by marketers. By 2013, this numbercould rise to 30 percent as Mozilla will soon make secure search its default setting for Google users.This report assesses the impact of Google’s encrypted searches and provides recommendations for howmarketers can navigate the change. The findings are informed by 360i’s analysis of natural traffic forseveral retail and service companies monitored through IgnitionOne, a leading digital marketing suite. High Level Findings360i analyzed the effect of Google’s announcement across a sample of marketers. We found that bymaking secure search the default for all logged in users, Google has created a data loss of nearly 20percent. This means that marketers were unable to track a substantial portion of natural search trafficdriving actions within their sites.Our analysis showed that the impact varied by industry and browser: o Industry trends Overall, websites for service-oriented businesses (i.e. tax preparation services trends: and insurance agencies) were impacted more than retailer websites. o Browser trends The change impacted Google searches occurring within Chrome the most. trends: Before October, Chrome encrypted just 0.01 percent of searches on average; after, more than 30 percent of the keyword information was hidden to tracking tools. For searches conducted within Safari and Internet Explorer, about 10 percent of the data was no longer traceable following the update.Several months after the announcement, we witnessed a plateau in the overall share of Googleencrypted searches across retail and service industries – which have since stabilized. Today, close to 20percent of keyword information remains hidden, with service domains continuing to collect the mostencrypted queries.We predict that close to 30 percent of all Google natural search traffic will be hidden across retail andservice domains after the default search encryption is released to Mozilla Firefox users. This is expectedto happen by the end of 2012. ApproachOur analysis contains three phases spanning 270 days. The "Before" phase spans 90 days prior toGoogles Oct. 18 announcement; the "During" phase covers 90 days immediately following Oct.18 andthe "Post" phase looks at 90 days after the "During" phase.To inform this report, we researched Google natural traffic and encrypted referrals by industry (retail andservice). In addition, we studied Google encrypted search queries across top browsers such as Chrome,
Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Detailed Findings edBefore Google defaulted to secure searches, just 0.1 percent of natural search traffic across service service-oriented and retailer websites was secure, or not trackable by marketers. That figure soared to 13percent across the Google announcement peri in October –3 percent higher than Google’s 10 period 3percent estimate. SHARE OF GOOGLE ENCR ENCRYPTED SEARCHES – RETAIL & SERVICE INDUSTRIES USTRIESOverall, Safari and Internet Explorer were the least affected browsers. About 30 percent of total Googlenatural traffic analyzed during the 270 days came from Safari, which remains the least impacted browserto date.The impact across service and retail industries varied during the announcement phase. Secure searchesfor service sites soared to 18 percent on average during this window. Before the announcement, securesearches were 0.05 percent on average for service websites.Prior to the announcement, secure searches for retail domains were 0.07 percent on average. During the90 days following the announcement, this figur jumped to nearly 12 percent – less than the average for ollowing figureservice domains but still 2 percent greater than the Google estimate.Approximately 15 percent of Google Revenue and Orders for one of the analyzed Retail domains wereencrypted during the announcement period. After the announcement period, Revenue and Orders entattributed to encrypted keywords increased to 20 percent. For retailers that rely on this data to informtheir SEO strategy, the inability to track a fifth of natural keyword referrals creates a very significantchallenge.
For example, in examining one retail client, we noted that its top 100 non-brand, non-seasonal keywordssaw a 5.5 percent drop in Google natural traffic following the change. Although the shift in searchpatterns between encrypted and unencrypted searchers is still manageable, additional monitoring isrequired to establish the threshold where unencrypted Google keyword information will becomeinsignificant. Impact by BrowserBelow is a snapshot of the percent share of total encrypted searches by browser during the 270 dayresearch period. o Chrome - 34.8% o Firefox - 21.7% o Internet Explorer - 7.9% o Safari - 1.7%As expected, major browsers saw an increase in encrypted searches during the announcement window,with Chrome surpassing the rest with nearly 32 percent of its searches hidden on average across retailand service domains. Chrome had the lowest number before the change (less than 0.001 percent). Thisstark increase can be attributed to the fact that the browser is a Google product.Post-announcement share of encrypted searches increased across Chrome, Firefox and Internet Explorerwhile Safari encrypted searches dropped by 4 percent. Of the four browsers, Safari’s share remainedbelow 1 percent on average before and after the announcement. During the announcement, the shareof Safari encrypted searches rose to 4.25 percent on average.Given the prevalent use of Firefox and its intent to test default Google search encryption, we predictthat the share of Google Secure Searches on Firefox will rise considerably over the next few months –with most of the impact occurring across retail domains. Next Steps for MarketersSince keyword research is essential to any SEO program, monitoring which keywords are generatingvisits to a site remains a critical exercise. In light of this trend in secure search, it becomes increasinglyimportant for marketers to accurately report on top traffic-driving keywords, particularly Google non-brand terms and top converters. Below are some strategies for marketers to consider whencompensating for hidden keywords caused by secure search: 1. Run paid and natural campaigns simultaneously. Consider paid performance and conduct long-tail keyword ad tests to gain insights that will power your natural optimization efforts. In analyzing natural visits, terms that historically maintained a consistent flow of traffic to a retail site had a significant increase in encrypted information during and after the announcement as traffic from keywords labeled “Search Phrase Not Provided” spiked. For example, non-seasonal curtain
variants such as “curtain rods”, “door panel curtains,” “sheer curtain panels” and “beadedcurtains” reportedly drove less site traffic following the announcement period, as illustrated in followingthe table below. This was due to a widespread data loss across all keywords driving to thatdomain from within Google Search. NATURAL VISITORS TO RETAILER WEBSITE VIA SELECT KEYWORDS EYWORDSIn this example, a deep dive into the domain’s paid search performance gave us insight intoadditional keyword variations used to gain access to the site through paid search during thesame period. Popular exact match variants for the term “sheer curtain panels” in paid sear searchinclude a trimmed down variation: “curtains sheers”; and detailed variants such as “semi sheercurtains” and “yellow sheer curtains as illustrated below. curtains,” Keyword Clicks Orders Revenue Cost Avg. Rank sheer curtains 38.5% 45% 58.0% 41.4% 2 door panel curtains 9.7% 10% 4.7% 10.2% 1 shower curtain rods 7.7% 7% 5.7% 6.5% 4 shower curtain rod 7.1% 4% 3.4% 6.6% 3 shower rods 5.6% 3% 1.7% 3.9% 3 curtain sheers 3.9% 4% 4.1% 4.8% 1 curved shower rod 3.8% 2% 2.0% 3.9% 3 beaded curtain 3.4% 2% 1.1% 2.6% 3 chi hair products 3.2% 2% 1.6% 2.5% 3 double shower curtain rod 2.8% 5% 2.8% 2.3% 2 semi-sheer curtains 2.6% 4% 6.5% 3.5% 1 shower rod 2.2% 3% 1.5% 1.8% 3 chi products 2.1% 1% 2.0% 1.3% 2 yellow sheer curtains 1.7% 3% 0.8% 1.6% 1 curtains and draperies 1.6% 2% 1.8% 2.2% 1 discount curtain panels 1.0% 2% 1.5% 1.4% 1
Marketers should therefore run paid search (AdWords) and SEO campaigns simultaneously, tracking keyword attribution to discover additional keyword variations that will not only deliver traffic to the site, but convert as well.2. Use Webmaster Tools to access reports about your pages’ visibility within Google. Monitor the top 1,000 search queries that drive traffic (Clicks or Impressions) from Google Webmaster Tools and use them for lead generation. Grouping terms into Broad (one keyword phrase), Torso (two to three keyword phrases) or Long-tail (four or more keyword phrases) buckets will help identify the most popular variants, especially in non-brand, long-tail queries. Use the most keyword-dense variants within the top queries to expand on keyword variations.3. Supplement third-party analytics tools with additional data. Use Hitwise, comScore and third- similar tools to monitor competitor or industry performance. Use additional resources to explore both organic and paid search trends for your site to continuously identify the most opportune words or keyword phrases that you might be tracking in your campaign. Some of these tools are listed below. a. Competitive analysis tools, such as Google Insights for Search and AdGooroo, can be used to compare search patterns across different regions, categories, time frames, properties and competitor keywords. b. Quantitative market research tools, such as Google Consumer Surveys, can be used to glean additional market insights. c. Search demographics can uncover usability patterns across audiences and identify high value keywords that will attract qualified traffic to your site.4. Consider search beyond the PC. Mobile searchers have different behaviors and motivations than PC users since they are normally on the go. By next December, smart mobile devices will account for 25 percent of all paid search ad clicks within Google (source: Marin). The ever- growing adoption of smart phones, tablets and other connected devices means that non-PC traffic now comprises significant share of overall searches. Mobile long-tail searches can provide valuable intelligence into what searchers are looking for, such as intent, desires and needs beyond simply information pertaining to location. Moreover, mobile users are more prone to clicking paid ads, as those appear closer to the top due to the small screen size of mobile devices. Marketers can leverage these insights to power the keyword discovery process, as well. - Published July 2012
About 360i360i is an award-winning digital marketing agency that drives results for Fortune 500 marketers through winninginsights, ideas and technologies. 360i helps its clients think differently about their online presence andevolve their strategies to take advantage of the new world of marketing communications – one wherebrands and consumers engage in interactive and mul directional conversations. In 2010, Ad Age multi-directionalnamed 360i to its prestigious Agency A List. Current clients include Kraft Foods, JCPenney, Coca-Cola, A-List. CocaNBC Universal and Diageo, among others. For more information, please visit http://www.360i.com orfollow us on Twitter @360i. Ways to Connect With 360i o 360i.com/insights blog.360i.com twitter.com/360i firstname.lastname@example.org