Google Blocks Keyword Information

You may have heard about the announcement that Google made on October 18 stating that signed in users will be routed to the SSL version of Google (https://www.google.com) in order to provide “a more secure online experience”.  This impacts the ability to track the keywords for visitors coming to your site and making phone calls into your business from Google.

On the heels of this announcement, we wanted to provide you with a  summary of the changes, let you know how its affecting our system so far, and let you know what to expect going forward.

What Changed?

Specifically, Google announced that: “…a web site accessed through organic search results on http://www.google.com (non-SSL) can see both that the user came from google.com and their search query… However, for organic search results on SSL search, a web site will only know that the user came from google.com.”

This means that internet marketing and call tracking services like ours will now NOT be able to extract keyword information for logged in visitors that came to a site through the SSL version of Google.  

Google made the switch to SSL for logged in users for privacy reasons. We recommend listening to Rand Fishkin at SEOmoz talk why Google made the SSL change.

What does it mean?

Experts in the field are recommending that each marketer and website owner take a minute to estimate the impact this is having on their data collection.

(If you’re not using Google Analytics, “(not provided)” won’t be in your keyword list; it’s a Google Analytics term. But never fear, your analytics provider just has a different naming scheme and you can ask them what it’s called in their analytics tool.)

Across the first week of the change, we have been watching the impact on our clients and our own site:

1) For example, our Call Tracking Metrics Google Analytics account shows that:

  • From October 1 to October 15- we saw 0% of our google organic website traffic with the keyword “(not provided)”
  • From October 16 to today- we saw 2% of our google organic website traffic with the keyword “(not provided)”

2) Interestingly, when looking across all the phone calls coming through our system for all of our clients, we have seen virtually no change in the number of phone calls being attributed to a keyword:

  • October 1 to October 15- 8.4% of phone calls coming from google organic visitors did not have a keyword associated.
  • October 16 to today- 8.2% of phone calls from google organic visitors did not have a keyword associated.

There are a number of reasons (in addition to this new Google SSL issue) that can prevent a keyword from being associated to a call in our system including:

  • The caller visited the website days ago and wrote down the phone number and called days later.
  • The caller visited the website but their IP address information did not match their caller ID information.

What to do next? 

We are not seeing a reason to panic yet! Here are some things to keep in mind as you continue to watch this issue in the coming weeks:

1) It does not affect google paid traffic (coming from clicks on paid ads) – just organic traffic.

2) It only affects users that are signed into Google (google estimates this is about 1% of google users- although many are questioning that figure as it seems that a much higher percentage of searchers on google are logged into a gmail account….)

3) You can still access a wealth of search query data for your site via Webmaster Tools. For sites which have been added and verified in Webmaster Tools, webmasters can do the following:

  • View the top 1000 daily search queries and top 1000 daily landing pages for the past 30 days.
  • View the impressions, clicks, clickthrough rate (CTR), and average position in search results for each query, and compare this to the previous 30 day period.
  • Download this data in CSV format.

Unfortunately, this still won’t give the level of detail you are used to seeing in Google Analytics tool: the list will include all keywords from all sources, not just those lost unlogged Google user keywords, and the keywords won’t be attached to any unique visitor data.

Stay tuned for more updates from us on this issue.