Google's Search SSL encryption – How online marketers can plug the “unknown” data gap

Google giveth and Google taketh away. No doubt having barely got over the excitement of multi-channel funnels in Google Analytics giving us easy data on how consumers engage with pay per click (PPC), search engine optimisation (SEO), Social, Email and Direct before finally buying, many online marketers will have read Google is about to throw a massive spanner in the works when it comes to accurate tracking of your SEO referrals. 

You can read the full announcement here, but in a nutshell, Google is going to make any searches you make while logged in to Google, private, by using a secure connection. This will make it impossible to track the keywords you searched for before clicking on any given site. As a marketer, while you'll be able to see that Google sent you the traffic, you won't know what the specific keywords were.

No magic workaround

Whilst I cannot say exactly how this will manifest in your tracking, I imagine you'll soon start to see referrals appearing where the traffic source is Google but the keyword is "other", "unknown", "none" or similar (you may already have this if Google refers you non-search traffic or traffic that is otherwise not trackable, in which case it's likely the number of visits you have recorded on this line will increase). 

In the case of Google Analytics, Google has confirmed  it will be using the token "not provided" to report on this traffic. This has been rolled out for and you should expect it for other versions of Google soon.

I'm going to be blunt and crush any hopes that there is some magic workaround to this: there isn't. Google has been quite plain in its desire to protect the privacy of its users here. With any luck, it should be a small data hole. What is worthy of panicking over is the prospect of Google deciding to make all of its referral data private whether you're logged in or not... that doesn't bear thinking about, so I'll move swiftly on.

Plugging the "unknown" data gap

It would be nice to fill the "unknown" hole in your data somehow, so when I'm looking at analytics I'll be assuming that people, who search while logged in to Google, search for keywords in more or less the same proportion as those who aren't logged in.  This means taking the visits, conversions and sales that have been attributed to the "unknown" keywords and reassigning them to known keywords in the same proportions, so something like this:


 ...becomes something like this:


You will end up with slight inconsistencies due to rounding errors (as I have in the visits column here), particularly once you start dealing with larger more realistic data sets, but that's a much less annoying hole than hundreds or thousands of pounds of un-attributable revenue!

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