Google started encrypting searches for all users logged into their Google accounts two years ago, and for searches done through the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. This month, the company confirmed that they are “now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”
Secured or encrypted searches withhold search term data that was previously sent to publishers after users click on links in Google search results. These searches are simply listed as “Not Provided” in Google Analytics. There has been a steady increase in “Not Provided” traffic since Google first implemented search encryption, but there was a huge spike in the past month:
Image screencapped from NotProvidedCount.com
NotProvidedCount.com tracks the weekly increase in “Not Provided” traffic for 60 websites. Over the past week, the count has increased by 73.93%, and the website estimates that it will hit 100% on December 11, 2013.
After Google released its initial statement, many have speculated that there are two possible factors that could have led to this decision:
Accusations of Involvement in the NSA’s PRISM Spying Program
Google has denied cooperating with the US National Security Agency (NSA) by providing direct access to search data for the PRISM spying program, but many users are still skeptical. Smaller search engines, such as Duck Duck Go, have also been promoting “secure search” and gaining large increases in traffic in light of the NSA issue. This may have pressured Google to take a more aggressive approach to secure search.
Google has since started a campaign that would allow them to publish “aggregate numbers of national security requests, including FISA disclosures, separately.” Aside from this push for transparency, the company also began increasing the security of the data that flows between its own data centers.
The Need to Increase Ad Sales
Google has never encrypted search term data from AdWords campaigns, allowing users and advertisers to access it through Google Webmaster Tools. Advertisers can still see the top 2,000 search terms per day over a span of 90 days, and the company stated it will increase this span to one year in the near future. This suggests that the company may have pushed to secure data from non-ad searches and clicks to draw in more advertisers.
In light of these speculations, Google released the following statement clarify the reasons behind its decision:
“We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can … We’re going to continue expanding our use of SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users… The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users.”
This move to encrypt all search data could drastically change the way search engine optimization and content marketing is done. Rest assured we will keep monitoring these updates to continue to providing effective services.