Imagine not being able to track traffic that was referred to your website. Think the day will never come? Think again.

Last week, Google unveiled a beta of a new SSL-encrypted version of its search engine called Google with SSL. The pitch to consumers: “a more secure and private search experience.

Given all of the threats to privacy and security that exist on the internet today, Google with SSL sounds like a good idea. But for online publishers, it might not be. That’s because, for security purposes, web browsers don’t send referrer information when a user moves from a secure page to an unsecure one. In the context of a Google search made through Google with SSL, analytics tools will see a referral from Google as a direct visit, not a referral.

Needless to say, this has some publishers and analytics providers concerned. Some are apparently going so far as to see Google with SSL as an existential threat to analytics itself, as Google’s dominant position in the search market would mean that an inability to track referrals from Google would make analytics all but useless.

But is Google with SSL really such a big deal? As our CTO Tom Stuart notes, “This will only become a serious problem if enough people start using the
secure version of Google’s search, which probably won’t happen unless
Google makes it the default setting as they did earlier this year with

Making SSL search the default seems unlikely (at least at this point), and it also seems unlikely that Google with SSL will become an overnight hit with consumers if Google doesn’t make it the default. Publishers and analytics vendors were worried when Google started experimenting with AJAX-based search results, but analytics is still here. In the end, the outcome here will probably be similar.

That said, publishers will want to keep an eye on given the increasing amount of attention security and privacy-related issues are receiving in the mainstream. If more and more consumers become more privacy-conscious, analytics in general could face a growing number of challenges on multiple fronts over the next several years. In short, publishers and analytics vendors must assume that there is no such thing as a status quo in this market.

Photo credit: Darwin Bell via Flickr.