Big Brother Is Watching (As Long As He Pays for Ads)
That just goes to show the foolishness of making assumptions, however logical, because Google has recently made changes that severely limit the search data available to you and the archiving capability for the data you can have. Whereas before, you saw the search terms that site visitors used to reach your links, you are increasingly likely now to be informed by Google Analytics that this information is “not provided.” Strangely enough, this policy shift may be driven, at least in part, about concern over the allegations of illegal or at least over-enthusiastic online surveillance by the NSA.
The change is part of an ongoing campaign to encrypt more searches and rein in eavesdropping potential, begun back in 2011. When performing an encrypted search, the search terms don’t automatically get passed on to site owners. The company says, via Danny Sullivan:
We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.
So it appears that less information available to marketers is simply a function of increased security and privacy measures in this time of hyper-awareness of the threat of intrusion into our online behavior. However, it may not be that straight-forward. First, after a two-year ramp-up, it’s interesting that Google suddenly switched on the encryption for all users smack dab in the middle of an international freak-out about online spying. The fact that Google itself is getting significant bad press as complicit with the NSA could play into the timing of its increased concern for security.
Second, the withheld search terms are still available through Google Webmaster Tools, and especially available to paid advertisers. Yep, that’s right. You can find the terms your site visitors used to search with, up to 2000 per day for the past 90 days. If you’re using AdWords to buy advertising on Google, you can store these terms indefinitely. If you’re not, you can’t.
And it’s important to note that search traffic itself is not secure when web users click on ads. Advertisers can capture search terms for searches used to find the ads, but Google has limited access to referrer data for those who don’t pay to advertise their firms. All searches are secure, unless the search leads to an ad click. Naturally this leads to the perception that it’s not about security, it’s about increasing advertising sales. Google itself denies the accusation with these words (shared by Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land):
We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can — we added non-signed-in Chrome omnibox searches earlier this year, and more recently other users who aren’t signed in. We’re going to continue expanding our use of SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users….The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users.
What’s the real story? Who knows. All that is certain is that referrer data is getting harder to come by, and Google makes it easier for those who have paid AdWords accounts. Will this affect your accounting firm and the way you handle your online marketing? Please let us know in the comments.
(big brother / shutterstock)
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