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BNR Branding Solutions is based in Huntersville, N.C., and is a full-service web development and digital marketing company.

Saturday, 26 November 2011 11:36

The trouble with protecting your users

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In an effort to "do no evil" Google announced last month that logged in users would default to using their encrypted search. That's just fancy tech talk for search being done over HTTPS. This is the same technology that protects your private information when you buy stuff online through secure websites. Basically, it jumbles up any information exchanged between a website and your browser so anyone snooping around can't read that information. Sounds like a good idea right? Right?

It is a great idea, particularly when you consider how many people connect to the internet in public places like Panera, Starbucks, or even McD's. A typical WiFi user has no idea how trivial it is to monitor the network traffic on a WiFi network. Anyone with the right software (freely available, just Google it!) and a decent laptop can easily capture data over an unsecured network pretty easily. It makes sense for Google to protect the data it's logged in users are using since it could be used for many a nefarious purpose not the least of which would be stealing your identity.

There is a downside however. Anyone that frequents Google Groups has probably noticed the ever increasing noise about this mysterious new keyword that has been showing up in Google Analytics -

(not provided). It didn't take long for the online marketing community to latch on to this new keyword and the mystery was solved pretty quickly. The (not provided) keyword represents any searches that were done by a logged in user due to the data being encrypted.

No big deal right? Well, sort of. Google claims that it shouldn't impact sites much since most users are not logged in. According to Google, less than 5% of users are logged in when they search. I wanted to see if this held up in the real world so I check the analytics on two of our sites for the 30 days after Google made the announcement that logged in users would default to encrypted searching.

The first site I checked has a significant amount of traffic - over 25,000 unique users over the month sampled. Nearly 60% of their traffic comes from search and about 75% of that comes from Google. That's a plenty big sample to give us an idea of the impact.

not provided

Not bad, just under 4% is being obfuscated. The troubling fact is that it's the #5 keyword of the 3000+ that resulted in traffic to the site. It's also the #1 keyword that didn't contain the company name or portion of the name.

The second site also has decent traffic, about 10,000 unique visitors for the month sampled. Search accounts for about 40% of the traffic and Google supplies a whopping 89% of that.

not provided again!

The results on this site are a bit more troubling. First, (not provided) represents nearly 9% of the traffic coming to the site. It's the second most common keyword and is hundredths of a percent behind the top keyword, which is the company name.

This news gets worse when you consider that Google has stated that their plan is to leverage the Google+ network as a framework across all of their properties. If the calculated trend in users joining Google+ are correct, we should see that number increase as more users become accustomed to being logged in to use the various Google services. There is one small saving grace - Webmaster Tools will still report on all of the keywords that are resulting in traffic to the site, but it's not quite the same as having the information in Google Analytics were we can tie keywords to results. Stay tuned, we'll see how this works out as Google get's pressured by marketers.


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Brent Friar is the owner and chief web developer for BNR Branding Solutions. His development experience dates back to 1994 when he was a founding partner of Internextion Web Development in Orange County, CA.

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