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Google Changes The Rules, Again...

"SEO Under Attack" and "Google Puts A Price On Privacy" are just two of the many headlines I've seen in regards to articles and posts written about Google encrypting search results pages for logged in users. Here's my take on the whole thing...

I was thinking about going the FOX News route and writing about MC Hammer’s new search engine but then I decided to write about something that was actually news worthy. As many of you are aware, the search engine marketing blogosphere has been up in smoke over Google’s latest announcement that it will default logged in users to SSL Search

Short explanation: Google is encrypting searches and outbound clicks from their results pages by defaulting signed in users to a secured page in order to protect the search privacy of users.

What does this mean to most people you may ask… well absolutely nothing. However if you ask a Search Engine Marketer/Analytics Guru or an Internet Privacy Activist, you would get two extremely different answers.

Internet Privacy Activist Opinion (not mine)
Referrer data is private and always has been private! Look what happens when you do a search on Google - http://donttrack.us/ (NOTE: We are no way affiliated with DuckDuckGo. This is not an endorsement and is just being used for educational purposes). By logging IP addresses and search strings, Google has been running the largest intelligence operation in the world. Google should have made the move to eliminate data kept about its customers’ years ago but I think this is a step in the right direction. 

Search Marketer/Analytics Guru Opinion (mine)

Defaulting logged in users to SSL search strips referrer information (caller ID) when a searcher clicks an organic listing. I can see people are coming from Google, but not the keyword a searcher used on Google to find and click the website.  As search engine marketers, we need this data to tie those keywords to conversions on our website so we can determine which keywords to focus our SEO/SEM efforts on. Stripping the referrer data also makes retargeting impossible unless we run on Google’s network. This is how we optimize our campaigns, and also how we report to our clients…we NEED the data!  And to top it off, Google is sending referrer data to their advertisers?  This seems unethical to me… so your saying it is about user privacy, EXCEPT when it is about the $$$. Even though we advertise search campaigns through Google Adwords, we still want to see our organic data keyword data. We have seen your (Google) estimates in the single digit percentage of users who search signed in, but this is only going to increase in the future.

Other Considerations
For Google to be able to allow for advertisers to receive referral data they needed to come up with a unique technical work around. This workaround looks like this (Thank you @dannysullivan, Editor of SearchEngineLand.com)

Secure /// does NOT pass referrer to /// Unsecure unless…
Secure >>> passes referrer if ADVERTISER to >>> Unsecure

So Google realized this would be an issue with advertisers, and because they are advertisers themselves, they specifically created this workaround to prevent any backlash. In my humble opinion if Google really cared about user privacy, they would not have created this workaround for advertisers.  

And as the aforementioned Danny Sullivan put it, “If blocking referrers isn’t a privacy issue, then Google needs provider referrer data to all publishers, not just those who advertise.” 

Sources: Search Engine Land, google.com/support