What Google’s secure search means for marketers

October 16, 2013 by Experian Marketing Services

Google’s recent push to secure search data has increased the percentage of secured searches to more than 80%. Google’s objective to provide consumers with a more secure Internet experience is commendable. However, the change has a big impact on how search marketers manage their programs. Since according to Hitwise, 89.39% of U.S. and 93.46% of UK search clicks for the week ending October 12 were organic clicks, the recent update to secure organic-sourced search traffic removes visibility of an important channel for marketers attempting to measure and react to how users reach their site.

If, for example, I sell running gear online, I’ve used organic search data to know that users typically search “lightweight running shoes,” which results in organic visits to my site during peak running months. Furthermore, I can see that “lightweight running shoes” results in more online sales than “running shoes for winter” and I can adjust my site content accordingly. Prior to Google’s change, marketer’s site analytics applications used to receive data about the origin of the search click that brought a visitor to their site, with secured search, now all the application receives is a “not provided” message. Google’s decision to secure organic search means marketers have a limited understanding of new search trends, seasonal shifts or general topics of interest.

Sources of search behavior insights

There are still a number of sources that marketers can use to gain insight into Google search behavior. While Google has secured nearly its entire organic search data, they have not secured all search data and still provide information to marketers through their tools. For organic search, marketers can utilize Google’s Webmaster tools and import that data into Google Adwords. While useful, most sophisticated search markers will find it limiting given that they tend to focus on only the top 2,000 terms in a category. In addition, Google is still providing visibility to paid search terms. Paid click search terms still deliver to the marketer’s site analytics the source of the click, but paid data is a one-sided story that involves investing further in Adwords. Marketers can also utilize services, like Hitwise, to gain insight into search behavior.

Search intelligence services

It is important for marketers to retain visibility of their organic search in order to better inform their marketing decisions. Search intelligence services that have anticipated Google’s shift-to-secure rollout can help marketers through this transition and continue to provide the insights marketers need. For example, due to the composition of the Hitwise sample and specific enhancements we have made to our data collection and processing system in preparation for this change, reporting, and thus the marketer’s visibility into organic search data, remains unaffected. Here are four core features marketers should look for when seeking search intelligence solutions to effectively measure how users reach their site:

  • Website search share – knowing the share of search traffic your website receives helps determine the market share of organic clicks relative to competitors, while answering the question, “who is winning in organic search?” When analyzed within the context of a syndicated or custom industry, users can understand what sites are attracting the largest percentage of organic clicks, which is particularly important in the absence of site-centric organic search data.
  • Search term traffic – understanding the search terms that drive traffic to a website offers direct insights into organic search terms, replacing lost data by site analytics “not provided.”  Filtering for brand and cross-tab terms improves ability to uncover insights. Extending the report to include a custom industry further improves visibility of organic terms. The volume of search data coupled with weekly or daily reporting provides a competitive advantage given competitors’ loss of visibility of their own terms.  Users can know more about competitors search data than their competitors do!
  • Downstream website search terms traffic – Search terms that historically drive a high percentage of organic traffic should be measured and benchmarked in the absence of site-centric data. Including a portfolio of terms to an existing downstream websites search term report further enhances the analysis beyond a single term, ensuring your SEO strategy continues to position your site as a top recipient of organic search referrals within your industry.
  • SERP results data – Understanding the relationship between organic positions in search results and percentage of organic clicks. To further explore this strategy, Hitwise Search Engine Results Page (“SERP”) reporting provides the SERP position for thousands of search terms weekly.

Given the dynamic nature of the Google search engine, their shift-to-secure is simply another consideration for SEO professionals to address to build successful programs. Tools come can go but marketers need to be sure they have the insight they need through sources like Hitwise to reinstate what site analytics tools have lost.

Learn more about Hitwise Search Intelligence.