The Dawning of the Google (not provided) Age

Much to the fear and chagrin of SEOs, online marketers, and webmasters everywhere, Google has confirmed that it has begun work to encrypt all searches, once again reminding us all that we can either adapt or die.

Two years ago, Google began encrypting searches for signed-in users. Ever since then, marketers have seen a steady increase in the percentage of “(not provided)” in our organic keywords reports. So the writing has been on the wall. We should have seen this coming.

That doesn’t make it sting any less.

However, when you think about it, Google really owes us nothing. They are in business just like the rest of us and their goal is to maximize profits. Clearly this is the most profitable route for them. Instead of getting keyword data for free, this change will drive many marketers to Google AdWords to run campaigns targeting keywords they want conversion data on.

I see Google’s official reasoning of protecting consumers’ privacy as a smokescreen. Marketers don’t use this data to invade people’s privacy, but rather they use it to make their sites, and the web overall, better. I see this update as merely a business decision.

Yes, it stinks to lose the ability to track results granularly by keywords, but it is not the end of the world.

  • You can still get data on which pages are performing well in Google organically from page-level reporting.
  • You can also get keyword data from Bing and Yahoo, and from Google AdWords campaigns.
  • You can also get some data from Google Webmaster Tools, although that data is not completely accurate and it’s truncated at 2000 (so you won’t have visibility into Google keywords that are in the “Long Tail”).
  • You will still have historical data in your analytics packages.

With a change as drastic as this, it makes keyword rankings tracking even more important. Instead of relying on Google, use a third-party tool like AuthorityLabs for this tracking.

It will be interesting to see what the competitive intelligence tools such as Searchmetrics, Hitwise, SEMRush, and others do in response to this since their keyword level reports will be neutered. This will surely be a test for all of us.

Best of luck!

Stephan Spencer is co-author of The Art of SEO, author of Google Power Search, and founder of

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