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author
Nag Patta
M Posted 8 years ago
t 5 min read

Firefox recently announced that users who search using Firefox’s built-in features, such as its search box, will also have their searches done using a secure connection. Secure search is poised to affect an even greater number of searches and we thought this is a good time to follow up on our previous post on Google secure search. In this post, we analyze how secure search affects search marketing (and how it doesn’t), quantify the impact and come up with recommendations to assess this change. I hope you find this post useful!  

Firefox now uses Google Secure Search By Default

Back in October 2011, Google announced that users logged into Google would see their organic queries default to secure search. In other words, for the portion of visitors that are logged into Google and coming to your site from a query on google.com, you will only get the information that the visitor came through an organic search. What you won’t get are the words that they searched on with Google. Now, searches using Firefox’s built-in features, such as its search box, will be done via secure search. Therefore, when a user visits your site, the exact search term used will be known only to Google and the user if the user is signed into Google and/or uses Firefox Google search. Notable exceptions are Google AdWords and Google Webmaster Central users. Let’s save that discussion for another day.  

The number of secure searches is significant

The percentage of secure search referrals is increasing rapidly. Our clients across industries have 15-25% of their traffic coming in through secure search. You can see a few examples from different industries below:

Company Percentage of Secure Searches
Leader in banking and financial services 26%
Television media conglomerate 30%
Multi-media rental retailer 22%
Real estate information leader 17%
High-end retailer 15%
B2B and B2C technology company (UK) 25%
B2B and B2C technology company (France) 30%

 

Secure searches do not affect your rankings or optimizations

Secure searches have no impact on rankings. If you are a BrightEdge S3 user, all ranking reports continue to be unaffected. Recommendations, Tasks, Share of Voice and other SEO analysis provided by BrightEdge S3 are also not impacted.  

Secure searches affect insight into user behavior at keyword level

The increasing number of secures searches does  affect visibility into why users are searching for you and how they are coming to your site. Previously, web analytics solutions such as Google Analytics, Adobe SiteCatalyst, Webtrends and Coremetrics attributed metrics such as conversions, traffic and revenue to individual keywords or keyword groups. You could identify the organic search keyword that drove every one of the visits on your site. With secure search, SEO marketers can not attribute all the site traffic to individual keywords. This means that the reported traffic (and not the actual traffic) from those keywords decreased while the site traffic attributed to unknown keywords increased. It is important to note that secure search does not affect reporting at an aggregate or page level i.e. total traffic to the site remains the same and so does the traffic for each page.  

Measuring the impact of secure searches

Secure search referrals cannot be ignored. While they do not affect rankings directly, they do impact search marketers' understanding of why and how users come to their site. Fortunately, the impact of rising number of secure searches can be mitigated and here are some suggestions:

  • No impact on top level reporting - There is absolutely no impact on top level metrics that report “total organic searches”.
  • Adjust all keyword level metrics -  The metrics associated with the individual keywords will be artificially lower. We recommend adjusting the traffic, page views, conversions, orders, revenue upwards for each keyword. The adjustment factor varies on diversity of the target segments and products.
    • Sites fairly focused in terms of products and target segment - Increase web analytics metrics such as traffic and conversion by a percentage equal to the proportion of secure searches. If the percentage of secure searches is 25%, increase the metrics for each keyword by 1/(1-0.25). This assumes that secure searches are evenly distributed across all searches – brand, non brand, day of week – which is a  reasonable assumption for sites focused in terms of products and target segment.
    • Sites with a broad variety of products and diverse audience profile - When the products on a site or the audience demographic vary greatly, it might not make sense to increase the keyword-level metrics by the same percentage. We recommend classifying the site/pages by product type or audience profile, and applying a different adjustment to each bucket.
  • Adjust brand vs non-brand keyword reports - While reporting on brand vs non-brand organic search analytics, create a third bucket for empty or “keyword unavailable” keywords. Otherwise, the secure searches will be added to the non-brand group and skew percentages.
  • Monitor monthly - Monitor the % of secure referrals in your site monthly.

How to find the percentage of secure searches on your site

In Google Analytics:

  • Go to Traffic Sources -> Search -> Organic.  Select Source as your Primary dimension and drill down into Google.
  • Select a secondary dimension, Traffic Source -> Keywords, and look for the keyword “not provided”.
  • The ratio of visits from that keyword to the total visits is your percentage of secure searches.
  • By changing the dates, you can then see how that percentages have changed over time.

In Adobe SiteCatalyst:

  • Go to Traffic Sources -> Search Engines – Natural.
  • Drill into the Google results by selecting Traffic Sources -> Search Keywords Natural  and look for the percentage associated with the keyword “keyword not available”.
  • By changing the dates, you can then see how that percentages have changed over time.

Summary

  • 15-25% of searches are secure - By looking at our customer base of 2000+ brands , we conclude that 15-25% of searches are secure.
  • Ranking is not affected: Secure searches do not affect ranking. If you are a BrightEdge S3 user, ranking reports, recommendations, tasks and other SEO analysis is not affected.
  • Visibility into user behavior is affected - Metrics like traffic can no longer be attributed to keywords so marketers have lesser visibility into why users come to their site.
  • The effect of secure search can be partially managed - Make adjustments to metrics provided by your web analytics platform by increasing traffic, page views, conversions, orders and revenue to compensate for the queries which are not accounted for.