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On the demise of SEO: is Google removing keywords to push paid traffic? Encrypted search on the rise

Courtesy to GuestCentric – February 2013

In 2011, when encrypted search was made default for logged in users there was a great concern over repercussions in SEO (Search Engine Optimization), as encrypted searches obliterate keywords. While the source of traffic is still “Google”, keywords are “not provided” into any conversion analysis. This change is dramatic in terms of hard data. But at least the SEO community could get comfort from the prediction that it would only affect a very small percentage of overall searches.

However, encrypted search has been on the fast track. We are now seeing websites with over 20% of their Google visits coming from “(not provided)” keywords. This trend is recent and worrisome. Some websites that had only a few percentage points in June 2012 are now at over 20%!

This trend will only worsen, as Chrome has added search encryption to its omnibox following Firefox and Mobile Safari. With encrypted search no longer being exclusive to logged in users, the amount of encrypted searches is set to increase and the ability to track the results of organic search queries to decrease.

If a conversion analysis down to the keyword doesn’t take into account those that are using encrypted protocols, the SEO analysis will become skewed towards only those that don’t use encrypted search. This seriously cripples the ability to predict online behaviors and the SEO solutions that present the best results.

The rise of encrypted search makes it difficult to make accurate and trustworthy SEO predictions and assessments as it is only being applied to a limited percentage of overall searches. But why would Google take away from SEO? And how will this change SEO strategies, and the results one can get from them?

The paid search alternative
Back in 2011 there were already some taking note of how encrypted search had been high enough for them to take notice, but it nonetheless soon fell out of notice with justifications that encrypted searches would be proportional to regular searches. But these assumptions missed the essential point that SEO can’t be justified as accurate if its methodology is only being applied to a limited percentage of the overall searches. And no one predicted the recent growth in encrypted search.

One possible alternative to get keyword reports is paid search. Curiously, Google will send the complete keyword information, which includes the query of the user, to the advertiser whenever a user clicks on an ad on the Google search engine, whether using encrypted search or not. But this comes at a cost.

If you don’t want to have to first run ads in order to figure out which keywords have the best ROIs, you’ll have trouble using the Analytics reports to look for keywords to optimize for. There are ways to get more information on, for instance, long-tail keywords to optimize for. These, nonetheless, make you rely on other Google tools, like Google’s Keyword Tool, or paid services even more.

In the new necessity of substituting previously available data by acquiring Google tools and running AdWord campaigns, might lay the Google’s strategy behind this move.

Google, don’t be evil!
Google justified its implementation of encrypted search as a way to “provide users with a more secure and private search experience”, but if that is the case why is the information still being provided to paying advertisers?

There’s also the possibility of Google’s goal being to stop SEO poisoning. This is a perfectly reasonable explanation, but one should take into account that the way in which malicious websites promote themselves is ever changing (just like the security measures to stop them). Furthermore, if the ultimate goal was to stop SEO poisoning shouldn’t all search be encrypted?

One obviously can’t be sure about the strategy behind Google’s adherence to search encryption. But, when its actions are seemingly inconsistent with the reasoning presented, one cannot help but question Google’s motivation.

As encrypted search increases, one will increasingly be required to resort to pay for keywords in order to test the market and somehow establish keyword conversion rates for their website. This will translate into more costs, and more time dedicated to website tuning, as it makes SEO a lot more dependent on trial and error. If the keyword you run an AdWord campaign for turns out to be more irrelevant than expected, then you’ll have to try again until you succeed.

Check it for yourself
Regardless of being able to pinpoint with certainty Google’s strategy behind the push of encrypted search, the values of encrypted search coming to your website are nothing to ignore.

Don’t take our word for it, check it for yourself.

Step 1 – Go to “Reporting” on your Google Analytics page.

step 1

Step 2 – Press on “Advanced Segments” and “+ New Custom Segment”. “Include” a “Source”, “Containing” “google” and then “Add “AND” statement”. Making it look like this:

step 2

Almost there!

Step 3 – “+ Add a dimension or metric” that is “Keyword” and “Containing” “(not provided)”. This should look like:

step 3

Step 4 – Name the segment in the “Name:” field and press “Save Segment”.

Step 5 – In “Advanced Segments, in “Custom Segments” you can select this new segment and “Apply”.

step 5

To better see the effect of encrypted search you can even create a custom segment for Google.

Step 6 – Press “+ New Custom Segment” on the “Advanced Segments” section, and “Include” a “Source”, “Containing” “google”.

Step 7 – Name the segment in the “Name:” field and press “Save Segment”.

step 7

This way you can select both on “Custom Segments” and “Apply” to see the effect of encrypted search in something like this:

What now?
Will SEO lose accuracy and overall efficiency of methodology because of encrypted search? And if so, what channels can take its place in digital marketing strategy? It is time to think and discuss thoroughly the place that SEO should take in hoteliers’ digital marketing strategy. If SEO methodologies are becoming ineffective in their solutions without incurring into even more costs than before, then hoteliers need to seek out other channels that may provide better bang for the buck.