On December 18th, Google announced that all searches performed by users who are signed into their Google accounts would be ‘more secure’. Essentially, for tho
se users who are signed into their Google account, no data will be passed to Google Analytics regarding who they are or what they did on a site.
Without getting into the technical aspects of the change, the biggest potential impact would be on those of us who use keyword-level data to optimize site content, layout, user experience, etc.
Despite Google being very clear that this change would only impact less than 10% of queries, our initial reaction included questions such as, “How will we be able to optimize our site for branded vs. non-branded searches?”, “How can we connect user search intent to on-site behavior (i.e., conversions)?”
Before we get into the data we have seen over the past 10 days, here is an example of how we use keyword-level data to optimize a site:
Let’s say we have 20,000 users arriving on a site from organic search. We can divide those users into a few different groups to learn what type of content various users are looking for, what browsers and devices they are using, etc. Perhaps we want to compare people who search for brand terms (e.g., Jeep, new Jeep Wagoneer, etc.) to those who are searching for industry/category terms (e.g, SUV Reviews, new SUVs 2012, etc.). Using advanced segments in Google analytics, we can compare these two groups relatively easily and find that (as an example) those searching for brand terms are 3Xs more likely to download a brochure while those searching industry/category terms are 5Xs more likely to be on a mobile device and 12Xs more likely to search for a nearby dealer. Using this data we can change a site’s experience to better serve our various organic search audiences.
We’ve been keeping a pretty close eye on the data since Google implemented this change and, in general, it has had very little (if any) impact on our ability to measure organic search traffic, track users’ paths through the site, see where users are leaving, what devices users are searching from, etc.
Looking at data from a few different sites that we work on across several industries, here is the percent of organic search data that has been affected:
News/Magazine Site: 1.6%
Insurance Company: 0.9%
Home Improvement Company: 0.7%
Recipe Site: 1.5%
Food Company: 1.2%
Food Company: 1.5%
Pet Products Company: 1.2%
Luxury Home Goods Company: 1.3%
Just to make sure the data above is clear, using the News/Magazine site as an example, of all of the organic search traffic going to that site (over 15,000 visits over the past 10 days) only 1.6% or 250 visits were ‘blocked’. In other words, instead of seeing what queries brought those 250 search visits to the site, we see “(not provided)” as shown in the screen shot below.
So, at the end of the day, it’s not that concerning. Until that number starts to approach the 10% – 15% point, we can still do all of the keyword-level analysis we did before (including the example above) and feel comfortable that we are making decisions based on statistically sound data.
- This change only affects organic search data for users who are signed into their Google account.
- It does not impact your ability to appear in organic search results.
- This is not a change to Google’s search algorithm. Nothing is different in terms of what it takes to appear in organic search results.
- This does not impact paid search data. Those users’ queries will still appear in the data.
- The change will be seen in all analytics platforms, whether you are using Google Analytics, Webtrends, etc.
- This only applies to Google searches. Yahoo/Bing search queries will still be displayed.
- So far, the amount of data being blocked is so small that it is not worth worrying about.
If anything, it might even provide new data that we did not have access to before. For example, if we start to see that the (not provided) traffic really likes subscribing to our RSS feed, we definitely need to make sure that our feed appears correctly in Google Reader (since we know those users are signed into a Google account and are more likely to use Google Reader to manager their RSS subscriptions).
We’ll continue to watch the data (as we tend to do), but don’t expect any massive changes to your ongoing organic optimization efforts, measurement ability or traffic patterns.