Yesterday it emerged that Google is planning to encrypt even more organic search queries, thus removing even more search keyword data from sites. 

The already tricky task of measuring natural search data has been made even harder by this latest move. 

I've been canvassing opinions of search marketing experts on the latest move from Google...

According to Google (via Danny Sullivan at 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. 

Powerhouse Fitness has commemorated the occasion with a special new product: 

What does the removal of (most of the) remaining keyword data mean for search marketers? 

Rishi Lakhani, Search Strategist:

Depends on what type of a search marketer you are to be honest. Will it make reporting more difficult? Probably. Will our SEO get a little bit less smarter? Probably.

You have to remember that Google keyword tool and Google WMT are highly inaccurate when it comes to reporting keyword data - I have clients that get organic traffic much higher than reported for keyword traffic suggested by Google.  

On the other hand, I have been an SEO from the days when we used Overture and the Google KW tool did not exist. I remember having to run logfile analytics as free analytics packages didn't exist (anyone remember AWstats?). As search marketers, most of us are fairly resilient.

If we can't report on keyword traffic we will find work-arounds, and maybe bring back rank reporting as an important metric.

So coming back to your question what it would mean to search marketers? It depends on what type of a search marketer you are. If you are resilient, you would take this in your stride. 

Andy Heaps, Operations Director at Epiphany

First and foremost it means there is less data to analyse and use to inform the strategic and tactical focus of SEO campaigns.

A lack of keyword data makes it more difficult to identify low-hanging fruit (e.g. keywords that drive a relatively high amount of traffic from relatively low positions). Spotting trends in keyword data has also been made more difficult.

If organic traffic / conversions goes up but we can’t see what has driven the increase (was it brand or non-brand, was it one keyword or all keywords?), the ability to measure the impact of SEO work is significantly more difficult.

Dan Thornton, Founder at TheWayoftheWeb:

There are already various alternative ways and workarounds to get a reasonable idea of keyword data.

So it simply means more time and expense for search marketers, which may then be passed onto the business or clients.

Neil Yeomans, Head of SEO at Lakestar McCann:

Greater reliance on third party tools and rank tracking software to monitor success.  

People will still want a measure of non-brand growth, so we expect tools such as Google Webmaster Tools search query data, Searchmetrics and SEMRush to become much more important over the coming months.

Kevin Gibbons, UK MD at BlueGlass Interactive:

In terms of strategy, it will be more difficult to find hidden gems of referring traffic keywords and long-tail variations.

But being honest, we all saw this coming back in 2011 when Google started to roll out (not provided) and most have started to prepare for this. Whether we like it or not, Google make the rules - so there's not too much we can do to challenge it.

That being said, there are alternatives: by Dan Barker being just one example already and we've been using organic market share measurement for a long time now to measure SERP visibility, which I think will only increase in popularity since this move.

Why do you think Google is doing this?

Rishi Lakhani:

Frankly, who knows? However their idea of privacy is ridiculous to say the least. You cant offer privacy, but still SELL the data to AdWords advertisers. It's the same user. It's the same action.

So why should paying marketers get the data they need and organic not? Your privacy is only protected from people who refuse to pay Google. Period.

Andy Heaps: 

Given that this only applies to referrals from organic search and not paid search, the argument about privacy doesn’t make sense.

The reason has to be commercial – if the only way to get accurate insight into what is working and what isn’t is via AdWords, marketers may be more inclined to invest more into paid search.

Dan Thornton:

The current speculation and vague reasons suggest the motivation is increasing privacy for users, particularly in light of recent NSA allegations, etc.

But I don't believe that at all - in terms of governmental intrusions, it won't make any difference as long as they have a server or business address on US soil.

Personally I believe it's another attempt to shift the efforts of businesses away from search and increasingly towards paid advertising and Google+.

Neil Yeomans:

It will further muddy the waters for active SEO and position AdWords / Google Shopping as more transparent and accountable search marketing channels.

It also forces the hand of someone who wishes to analyse keyword performance e.g. conversion rate. To find out, people will need to invest in AdWords or trust Bing / Yahoo! data, which in itself is a drop in the ocean compared to Google's reach.

Kevin Gibbons:

I do think privacy and Prism is a legitimate reason. However, what leaves a sour taste in the mouth is the fact that paid search remains intact while organic search has disappeared completely.

That's the obvious reason as to why people are questioning Google's intention behind this, privacy doesn't appear to be affecting the part of their business that drives the most revenue. 

I don't think it will drive more people to paid search and I'm not sure that's the intention. It's probably more the fact that Google wants to be seen as doing its bit towards protecting privacy, and have chosen to remove the part that is least damaging to it.

This makes sense on Google's part, but it is frustrating for the rest of us.

Could it be good for SEOs, in that it makes it harder for amateurs? 

Rishi Lakhani:

Not really. With the loss of keyword data, ranking reports will take a larger share of reporting, and actually it's easier to report on rankings than why a specific set of keywords lost their traffic.

Frankly nothing makes it hard to get into SEO. Anyone who 'thinks' they can do it will still get in the game. 

Andy Heaps: 

SEO has always been hard for amateurs! This will force SEOs to consider and analyse a greater breadth of data sources to understand how campaigns are performing.

There is a risk that the SEO industry will regress a few years and start to once again obsess about rankings but there is also an opportunity to get smarter about how results are reported, looking more at the wider role SEO plays in the overall marketing mix and how much of a role it plays as an enabler as well as a direct response channel.

Dan Thornton:

Not really. It won't massively affect larger agencies and companies who can afford the additional time and cost.

But it will damage small businesses, including agencies, who now have an additional challenge to building their businesses, and I think eventually this will hurt both search results and indirectly impact on search usage, as the incumbents for any term become much more entrenched.

Neil Yeomans:

As with any major shakeup like this there are opportunities for more seasoned SEOs to react quickly, find an alternate way of looking at SEO metrics, and move away from the crowd.

Kevin Gibbons:

Potentially, although if anything I think it drives us more towards having an integrated digital strategy, where SEO is measured as a single channel of a wider marketing campaign.

That will force people to move towards a more multichannel approach (if they haven't already), using clearer business metrics, which will make SEO far more measurable, rather than less.

As SEO has evolved a lot more towards a content-driven approach, one thing I have found increasingly useful is the ability to analyse organic performance per page, as opposed to keyword.

That way you can figure out what content is resonating with your audience best and being rewarded by Google as a result. I'd expect to see this shift continuing, as it's more actionable in the sense that you know what's working, so do more of it! 

Is this positive for Bing/Yahoo? Will SEOs now pay more attention to referral data there? 

Rishi Lakhani:

The same way we used to equate silly formulas such as Overture keyword data multiplied by 3.5 (because site traffic from Google was 3.5 of Yahoo's) to work out keyword potential, is the same way we will start using arbitrary figures to report.

However, today's search marketers are much smarter, and have many more tools at their disposal, which means that despite the fact that reporting this way may be inaccurate, it might still give you a decent and potentially truer "trend" that can be used to optimise sites.

But is it positive for Bing / Yahoo? Not really. Not unless Bing decides to create a public nightmare for Google by running a PR campaign telling users how their data is still available, for people who pay the price (i.e. AdWords).

SEOs dont make the search engines, users do.

Andy Heaps: 

Bing data is going to be more useful now as it's still providing the keyword data that Google now isn’t.

I doubt there’ll be any immediate benefit for Bing in terms of gaining market share from Google because the regular search engine user is oblivious to all this – and it isn’t going to have any immediate or direct impact on the quality of the SERPs.

Dan Thornton:

Hopefully. I'd certainly like to see more of a challenge to Google's dominance, regardless whether it comes from Bing, Blekko, or DuckDuckGo. Certainly Bing seems more likely to continue improving its services and working with the SEO community, rather than pushing people away from them, as Google has done.

After all, most search improvements are aligned with usability and accessibility improvements, so a layer of good quality SEO advice and assistance only helps to improve the internet experience.

Neil Yeomans:

No, because people are still interested in Google rankings.  

While Bing and Yahoo! might give some insights to the performance of non-brand keywords the volumes are tiny in comparison to Google, so is the depth of the long-tail, which is far greater than other search engines.

It will be very interesting to see if Bing and Yahoo end up following Google's lead on this. I'm not sure they'll benefit in terms of search market share at all, which is what's important to them - so I wouldn't be surprised if they follow suit, it's just Google are taking the heat for this right now for being the first to move.

Kevin Gibbons: 

Yahoo/Bing could provide useful data in the meantime, although I think most people will use a variation of tools and reports, such as Google's new organic vs. paid search report.

Interestingly, the real winners are potentially the enterprise level SEO tool vendors, as SERP visibility and organic market share reports are likely to far more valuable now, given the lack of organic analytics data.

Graham Charlton

Published 24 September, 2013 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is editor in chief at SaleCycle, and former editor at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin.

2566 more posts from this author

You might be interested in

Comments (33)

Save or Cancel

Andy Adams

I don't see how keyword data - out of all the available personal data in Google Analytics - is the big target if you subscribe to the "We're only worried about our user's private data, honest" approach Google has adopted. Surely making the network and physical location data 'not provided' would satisfy this?

Even if location only drilled down to country and nothing deeper - that would easily satisfy the 'concerns' Google has about user privacy.

Taking away keyword data is an attempt to divert focus away from keywords that sell, but in doing that many SEOs/Business owners will go back to obsessing over rankings rather than providing good user experience etc. So again, Google's intentions seem jarring against what most of us can see happening.

Trouble is, whilst the average user is unaware of this (and why should they) then it's just tough luck.

almost 5 years ago



I agree with many above, it looks like a commercial decision for Google to remove keyword data. Why should Paid have keyword data and Non-Paid not especially when the results are in the same session.

I believe, Brand Vs. Non-Brand reporting will become obsolete with the change. This does make transparency of data somewhat difficult, but am sure in due course we will figure out work arounds.

The correlation of traffic to rankings will also be more difficult.

However, with historical data, it should be possible to make educated assumptions on which keywords drive traffic to which URL. If your measuring data at a URL level, you are able to make assumptions based on 80%+ degree of accuracy which keywords belong to a URL.

I do also agree, the smaller clients may suffer more than clients who are able to afford the additional resource and time permitted to make changes to reporting.

almost 5 years ago



94% of my organic traffic so far this week is now showing up as "not provided", that's with 33k visits so not an insignificant piece of data.


almost 5 years ago


Powerhouse Fitness

Hello Econsultancy,

Thanks for sharing our product on your website!

Since appearing on your blog, demand has shot through the roof(someone actually tried to buy the product) so we have had to increase the price slightly. ;)

Powerhouse Fitness

almost 5 years ago


Nick Stamoulis

" However their idea of privacy is ridiculous to say the least. You cant offer privacy, but still SELL the data to AdWords advertisers. "

I agree 1000%! Either block it all or open it all up. You can't have your cake and eat it too. I refuse to spend $1000s in AdWords just to get the data that Google had been giving away for free for years.

almost 5 years ago

Martin Dinham

Martin Dinham, Managing Director at Channel Digital Limited

I think that most people were expecting this to a greater or lesser degree, but there's no doubt that this makes granular analysis of SEO much more difficult. Things like organic share of voice are going to become more important, but it also potentially forces people back to metrics such as rankings, which should really be invalid in this age of personalised search. I don't think it takes a cynic to wonder why Google are making almost every paid channel more and more transparent whilst simultaneously doing the inverse with organic search...

almost 5 years ago


Ralph du Plessis

I'm inclined to agree with Kevin in that I think this is going to further push SEO into the broader marketing mix whereby we are judged on traffic and engagement rather than going backwards and obsessing with rankings etc.
If a client is getting traffic that converts i.e. well produced content that attracts the right type of user, then I don't think they give two hoots about the rest.

To Rishi's point, I think reporting will become more difficult until we figure out an accepted "industry standard" which will ultimately come down to ROI for SEO investment.

SEOs will indeed be forced to rely more on PPC data to help make the big tactical decisions on which keywords to go after which is a shame, but it's Google's search engine and so we must tow the party line.

almost 5 years ago

Rob McCreedie

Rob McCreedie, Assistant Marketing Manager at Nu-Heat

Whilst the starter price of $150,000 for Google analytics premium is very high level and out of most SMEs range I presonally think they are going to throttle the free service then direct people to a cheaper version of this.

That way they get you doing more PPC and turning standard GA into a freemium taster service and paying for the Premium product.

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at SaleCycle

@Powerhouse Fitness LOL! Do let us know if you sell it at the new price - we'll take a cut!

almost 5 years ago



What Google Simply want to do is.... Monetize

almost 5 years ago



Selling more Adwords to the advertiser and reduce organic share. Its why Google encrypt search term, Money!

almost 5 years ago

Andy Headington

Andy Headington, CEO at Adido Limited

As mentioned on here already, Google's motivation here isn't to help privacy for users, that is just their PR - it is simply to try and get more revenue from PPC. I personally can't see how it can be anything else given they are giving KW data in Adwords.

And with regards to their view on tracking, privacy and users, if it was that important to them, why are they now trying to target anonymous users based on their browser/network profiles?

Where I think most agencies will struggle is explaining this move to their clients and also proving the value of their SEO work. Given the industry has spent a decade or more reporting on key phrases, rankings, traffic and other metrics, it is going to take time for clients to change their views in terms of how they view the results of their investments.

As an industry I believe we are going to see more and more of this sort of behaviour from Google given their monopoly so it is going to make it harder for agencies to just to focus on search. Like Kevin and others said, we need to take a much wider of view of search, and even digital, and a more varied approach, to prove ROI more effectively.

The game has changed but unfortunately the way it has changed has been done for the wrong reasons.

almost 5 years ago

Daniel Phillips

Daniel Phillips, E-Commerce Manager at HJ Hall

(Not Provided)

almost 5 years ago


Colin Docherty

I can't help but feel this is a great opportunity for Bing. Despite the search volumes being substantially lower, I for one will be paying a lot more attention to Bing's keyword data as well as optimising more for Bing so that data becomes more meaningful and useful.
If Google's end game goal here is to push more people towards Adwords, surely this opens a space for someone to move into for a new search engine who doesn't wish to push their own products so aggressively?

almost 5 years ago

Andy Wooles

Andy Wooles, Director at Great Northern Design Ltd

For most of my UK-based clients, even after the latest hike in (Not Provided), they are still getting significantly more visitors with keyword data from Google than from Bing.

The challenge of using the WMT data to try to fill the NP data gap is that it only shows the keywords that drive traffic, you cannot determine which organic keywords are driving conversions.

almost 5 years ago


Web design company India

That's really sad situations for SEOs and it will make things even more complex and time consuming.

Although still there are some fancy ways out there which marketers can use to come over the situation. The one recently posted on econsultancy found really helpful in the context.


almost 5 years ago


Ian Lockwood

Seriously, you asked all these people what Google's motivation is and NOBODY said "to crush the competitors in the ad retargeting market"?

If Google doesn't pass keyword data to sites receiving traffic in a competing ad network, that ad network can't cookie your machine with what you searched for. Search retargeting then simply doesn't work. AdWords, of course, will be happy to provide you with various display advertising alternatives...

Joost wrote about this on SEOBook's blog almost two years ago, I'm amazed it isn't obvious to anyone in the industry:

I can't see businesses that don't already use AdWords being concerned enough with the loss of organic keyword data to suddenly decide to spend money on PPC just to get that data. If their enterprise is big enough/the web important enough to spend money getting that data, they're most likely doing PPC already. There may be the odd one, but I'd be very surprised if Google sees a big kick in ad revenue solely because of (not provided).

almost 5 years ago

David Farrell-Shaw

David Farrell-Shaw, Digital Marketing at Personal

Some talk about moving to Bing, and many professionals may well do, however, the public is so embedded with Google that they don't even think about it anymore. If you want to sell your product you have to do so on Google.

It's a game changer for sure. The losers will be small companies who can't afford to shell out £1,000s in paid search fees. For the big guns - and Google - it's a winner.

Expect to see a premium SME Google Analytics package soon charging, oh I dunno, £300pm

On the plus site, perhaps,we will see greater focus on quality content. Not holding my breath though!

almost 5 years ago


Nathalie Allard

Actually Google are contradicting themselves - "The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users."

If you know what keywords drive traffic and convert then it helps you create better content for your target audience. I'm not buying into what Google is saying.

almost 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Morning all,

Soes anyone else share my view that this will encourage more digital teams/SEOs to focus on page level optimisation rather than keyword optimisation/ranking?

Landing page data is still fully available and a shift in focus could see more people invest in the content marketing/social/PR elements of campaigns to influence key search signals. The side effect would be keyword ranking but the aim would be to increase visibility of key landing pages and drive natural traffic.

Of course that doesn't mean ignore keyword level data and forget about where you rank but I do think increasing the focus on landing pages might actually benefit some companies - deliver a better UX instead of focusing on keyword penetration.

What do you think? Could this be one of the side effects of the (not provided) shambles?


almost 5 years ago


Paul Gailey

your comment James resonates with me.

Sites like the deceptively simple but smart UX of for example place great emphasis on site search as a primary navigation CTA (rather than an auxillary top right buried item) and if you think you can, as a site owner, glean a tonne of data of keyword usage and user intent of that, then cluttered be and end all designs of bloated multi navigation and mobile unfriendly interfaces now seem less appealing.

I want to increase the % of users who use site search per visit as it's easier for me to serve them in future iterations. Yes, we may have funnel and path analytics but there's no denying keyword intent even if it is onsite.

almost 5 years ago


Matt Stannard

@JamesGurd - I 100% agree.

Unfortunately whether we like or don't like what Google has done its happened.

We can look at landing page performance and we should be clear what keywords we are targeting where. As for Non Brand v Brand I often felt Brand could encourage people to miss insight as to intend I.e was a keyword brand qualified? I.e what does the user associate out brand with.

Perhaps it's not a surprise, perhaps this is Googles way of forcing us to be more UX led?

almost 5 years ago


Adrian Mills

Google is making this more difficult for marketing depts and companies. The amount of traffic visiting our website with no keyword analysis is rising. This obviously has a knock on effect to planning strategies and tactics for digital activity. Our %age of traffic coming to our site without keywords is

I am concerned by Google's strategy. They are number one IMO primarily because they offer the best search results (& have done so for a long time). But if you haven't got the keyword analysis infomation so you know what you have to tweak and change to get more relevant traffic then surely website's may potentially drive more irrelveant traffic thus damaging the search results they provide? I realise they want to drive adwords. Cynically maybe they believe people will start using adwords links as default search results as they realise they provide the better results for their search?

almost 5 years ago


Paul Hornby, Head of eCommerce at Shop Direct Group

I would not be surprised if a GA Premium version offering all of this data becomes available as soon as Not Provided gets close to or hits the magical 100% mark.

I understand the comments made in the article around search marketers being "resilient" and taking this change "in their stride", but it's still extremely annoying when all you want to do is optimise your traffic and create a better experience for your customers!

almost 5 years ago


Sam Thom, Video Journalist at Summit

How about this for a drastic suggestion of how to overcome this encryption issue: PPC and SEO will have to start co-operating!!! That means sharing data, trends and insight. Lots of companies say they do, but do they really?

almost 5 years ago

Kevin Pham

Kevin Pham, Responsive Web Design at ProWeb365

I do not manage Webmaster Tools but that team is seeing the same thing. The interesting thing is we see natural search data coming into AdWords from the recently linked GWMT account...

almost 5 years ago


Creative Risks

@Colin Docherty I totally agree, it makes me so angry that Google have done this, but as you said it gives someone else the chance to come in, I just wish someone would do it.

almost 5 years ago


Matt Lovell, Head of Customer Data, Insight & Analytics at Eurostar International Ltd.

To me, it's not quite an the horrific level in the UK as most companies are seeing the US so the data is still very usable if not fully reportable. As such, it's an inconvenience but not a deal breaker. When you do reach that point however the big question is does the art of natural search actually stagnate. SEO has always been very effective at allowing you to uncover new keywords and identify better performing areas to invest your precious PPC budgets on.

With that potentially at some stage no longer possible it becomes a question of whether you have the budget to do those tests within PPC - The caveats being that a) there is a cost and b) you are doing so blindfolded as you don't have any information up front to tell you you are even on the right lines.

Given Google are unlikely to want to make life impossible for companies though, there is the question of whether GA premium, WMT or something else (paid for inevitably!) starts to allow marketers to get the information they want from their SEO presence...

In terms of other comments:

@James Gurd - I think there is definitely a point there but the difficulty you hit is that only works well if you have a relatively deep and content led site whereby most people don't arrive at your site through your homepage. As a result, I can see that working fantastically well for newspaper websites or giant companies like Amazon but I just don't see it providing the necessary information for your small and medium sized businesses.

For companies where they ultimately drive a relatively simply purchase and focus on bringing people in at a point where they can complete a search for what they want to buy it is more difficult. In these cases you have a single or handful of pages that get most of your traffic which makes the loss of keyword data catastrophic.

@Sam Thom - You're right that a lot of companies don't share their PPC & SEO data as having worked agency side for 7 years, I would say the majority of our clients worked with us on one side but not the other while even where there was synergy, it wasn't as closely linked up as it could be.

The difficulty however is your PPC activity is only going to tell you part of the story as most companies find that their PPC and SEO activity actually often performs in very different ways in terms of usage and conversion rates while there are a lot of keywords over the years that we've unearthed through SEO that we would never have even considered bidding on. Lose this data and where do you even start on that front!

almost 5 years ago



In response to Sam, I don't think they are sharing anything at all. If they did start co-operating, I think it would benefit both parties to an unspeakable extent.

I really enjoy talking about the newest news in the digital marketing world. Come visit my blog and tell me what you think.

almost 5 years ago


Asher Elran

It is a money making move for Google. People who want to have accurate stats will have to pay some big bucks. make it a lot harder for the little guy without thousands of dollars in advertising budget.

almost 5 years ago



Quite frustrating but you can always analyse using your landing pages via organic traffic! Just not so accurate!

almost 5 years ago


Jimmy Morgan, None at None

Google cares about user privacy? No wait, Google wants you to install ad targeting script to enable deeper insights in Google Analytics.

over 4 years ago


Jonas Rasmussen, Webmaster at Gorrior

I am so tired of google having monopoly on the search engine market.
Bing and yahoo can't even compete and Google can do whatever they want to. They just want to make a lot of money and that's it.
I've actually written more about that on my blog here:

about 4 years ago

Save or Cancel

Enjoying this article?

Get more just like this, delivered to your inbox.

Keep up to date with the latest analysis, inspiration and learning from the Econsultancy blog with our free Digital Pulse newsletter. You will receive a hand-picked digest of the latest and greatest articles, as well as snippets of new market data, best practice guides and trends research.