On Tuesday October 18, 2011, Google announced that users logged into Google would see their organic queries default to HTTPS (Secure HTTP) instead of HTTP. This is described by Google as an enhancement to protect the privacy of users. Paid search is not impacted at this time.
This change will reduce visibility into why visitors are coming to your site. This is because, contrary to HTTP, HTTPS does not pass the referring query to the destination site. 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. You will not know whether they searched on “shoes”, “running shoes blue size 10 less than $50”, or another phrase. This referring information will be missing from all the solutions that track usage on your web site, including Google Analytics and all the web analytics vendors (Omniture, Webtrends, Coremetrics). However, according to Google, you will still be able to get to some of this information in Google Webmaster Tools.
BrightEdge conducted research over the last three days to quantify the impact of this change. Based on our analysis, this change is currently impacting just fewer than 10% of the referrals originating from Google, which is consistent with estimates released by Google. The reason the impact is not higher is because:
- It requires users to be logged in to Google
- Users have to perform their queries on google.com and not through another site or toolbar
- Google has not enabled this change on all the signed in queries yet.
Impact on SEO
This does not change your SEO metrics and optimizations. The BrightEdge dashboards, reports, recommendations, tasks, analysis, etc. continue to function as before. However, you might see a decrease over time of the visits and conversion associated to specific keywords. The best practices for optimizing your site – on-page, backlinks, social, internal linking – are unchanged and it is recommended that you not make any adjustments to your SEO roadmap or strategy.
As secure searches become a larger portion of the organic traffic referred by Google, it is likely that keyword attribution and ROI calculations will become more sampled. This is because they have to rely on the portion of the traffic that is not from secure searches. However, attribution segmented by page or page category/type – important for E-Commerce and any web site targeting the long tail – are unaffected by this change. This is because they are driven by analytics on the entry page which themselves are not impacted by this change.
We are looking at a number of innovations to keep you ahead of these changes. For example, we are considering integrating with Google Webmaster Tools so we can provide the referring information that is important to you directly into the BrightEdge platform. In parallel, we are also looking into deeper integration with our partners that provide visibility into user web behavior – for example competitive intelligence vendors. We will keep you posted as we get closer to releasing this functionality.