Google Chrome Goes Dark

SEO marketers and webmasters have an unpleasant surprise coming in the form of Google Chrome.

The new Google Chrome 25 uses SSL to encrypt searches through Omnibox, the search tool used to type URLs, even if the user is not logged in.  Previously, searchers were encrypted only for logged-in users.  The keyword is no longer passed through analytics software, so this cuts down on the site owner’s ability to track keyword performance.

More (not provided), Fewer Keywords

Firefox made the decision to offer secure search in July 2012, surprising beating out iOS6, which jumped on the bandwagon in September 2012.

Since 2011, when the idea was first implemented, the (not provided) results have been steadily increasing.  Currently, SEO experts report rates between 20 and 39 percent of this message and the numbers are rising consistently.

What can you do about this growing issue?

Fortunately, there are ways to reclaim some of the lost ground.  The keyword data you are searching for does not pass through the referrer but it is still aggregated in Google Webmaster Tools and in AdWords, so look there.  It may not be as simple as using a referrer but you can still get a feel for keyword performance.

Another option is to use other search engine’s data such as Bing or Yahoo.  These two still send information through, so a “spot check” with these search engines may be enlightening.  However, you must understand that it will not be equivalent to Google results.  In other words, there is not necessarily a linear relationship between the number of Google users searching for specific keywords and those on Bing or Yahoo looking for the same keywords.  Bing and Yahoo users tend to be in different demographics than Google users, so they may have different search parameters.

You can also set up filters in Google Analytics to extract keyword position from the referring string, then append it to “not provided” or the landing page in question.  You can also simply look at “not provided” and the land page data.  This is not 100 percent guaranteed to give you good results but it is often useful as you think about common keyword strings.

Implications of Dark Data

What does dark data mean for SEO analysts and webmasters?  Although it is not the end of the world, it is something that must be considered when planning organic search strategy, if only because you no longer have access to the same analytic information as in the past.  Here is a summary of the implications of Google’s decision to “go dark” with Chrome 25:

  • - The new version of Google Chrome 25 will encrypt all search data, meaning that all requests via the Omnibox will be hidden from analytics. 
  • - Keyword data will not be passed to your analytics software from Chrome’s Omnibox, so you will receive a “not provided” code. 
  • - Tracking search traffic by referring keyword is, therefore, becoming increasingly difficult. 
  • - It is very likely that these (not provided) codes will appear at an increasing rate in the future.
  • - You can use other available data to estimate the lost keyword data from the (not provided) codes.  Possible tools including Webmaster Tools, AdWords, landing pages and Google Analytics.

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