In light of questions about privacy and threats of FTC investigations, Google has made a significant change to search. The problem is that these altered search results could be giving additional preference to paid advertisers.
Defaulting to SSL
In the coming months, all searches performed by users logged into Google will be run through Google Secure. This means Google will process the search information using Secure Socket Layer technology and pass only minimal information along to websites accessed through the search engine. The SSL search default will be for all logged-in Google users and for anyone using https://encrypted.google.com/ to search. Estimates are that at full roll-out, this change will affect anywhere between 5 and 30 percent of all Google searches.
What this means for Analytics
For users of Google Analytics, this change has severe consequences. Google Analytics does not track keyword or search information for secure searches. This means the users logged into Google while searching will not be tracked by Analytics. In the kind of industry where a single tenth of a percentage point can represent thousands of dollars or more, this reduction of information can represent a very significant amount of lost money. Keyword statistics are used to make major decisions about everything from long tail keyword discovery to entire marketing campaigns.
Preference for paid advertisers
Though analytics programs will no longer show information from logged-in Google users, one group will be allowed access to the information. Google Adwords users who pay for the service will be allowed to see the referral keyword data that will otherwise be hidden.
In the end
Google is moving more strongly toward a preference for paid customers. While this move is not surprising for many industry watchers, it will be increasing the cost for any website owner or manager who wants to get full-scale information on the keywords that drive visitors to their website.