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SSL search: The potential impact on onsite optimisation`


By Rachel Sweeney |

As many will already know, on the 18th October this year Google announced that they have begun encrypting search queries on result pages. This basically means that keyword referral data is no longer showing up in Google Analytics reports. Currently, this change only affects visitors who are logged into and judging by initial data analysis it is affecting between 5 and 10% of search queries. Many have reported on the effects on keyword research in SEO; this post will focus more on how it may affect two major data reports used for onsite optimisation and AB/MV Testing.

 Keywords from SSL searches show as ‘Not provided’ in the Google Analytics reports.


Keyword by Landing Page
Potential impact: Low – Medium
At the start of any conversion campaign or SEO onsite recommendation document, keywords play an important role. If conversion rates aren’t as high as you’d like, the first step is often to analyse what visitors are doing as soon as they land on site. Looking at an aggregated view of keywords and their landing pages along with useful metrics like bounce and exit paints this picture. If a landing page’s exit rate is particular high for a high-volume keyword, perhaps the content isn’t as relevant to the visitor as it could be. Optimising the content could therefore lower exit and increase time on site.

Keyword by Landing page can suggest how relevant the landing page’s content is to visitors.

So how much will SSL affect this type of optimisation? Well in reality, it will massively vary for each site. The point of the above content optimisation is to lower exit and bounce rates for high volume keywords – you aren’t optimising for the long tail. This means that in theory losing 10% of your keyword referral data won’t have a significant impact on your data analysis. However, this also depends on the total volume of traffic coming from organic search- a site with 1,000 unique organic visitors a month will be affect far greater than a site with 60,000.

The impact will also be related to the type of organic keywords driving traffic to your site. If the majority of traffic is coming through a few different keywords then the volume for each keyword means that losing around 10% of queries again, won’t have great impact. However, saying you have 10 to 20 strong keywords driving traffic to a medium sized site – now you will start to notice that visitors coming through these keywords are lowering (as they are now ‘not provided’) and hence – the data you are using for optimising landing pages is becoming less statistically viable.

So what can you do? Realistically, not much. There is no way to force the keyword data to come through and even if there was, it would be against Google’s policy. Alternatives is to analyse the keywords and landing page data from before the update to produce a list of keywords and their landing pages. From there, viewing the keyword report with the landing page as a secondary dimension will allow you to take an educated guess on which keywords may belong to certain sets of ‘Not Provided’ data.

Keyword by Conversion Rate
Potential Impact: Medium to High
The conversion rate by ‘last-click’ keyword is another stage in the journey to convert. As well as lowering bounce and exit rate, it is important to see which keywords are more likely to lead to visitor’s converting than others. Keywords with low volumes of traffic but high conversion rates are good. They can play a part in SEO and PPC campaigns, and also can be used in Display’s creatives, as traffic is increased via these high performing keywords. These keywords are normally not the highest volume however, so losing 10% of data from them will lead to less statistically viable information.

Moreover, the loss of referral data may have a significant effect on Google Analytic’s multi-funnel attribution. Multi-funnel data provides pre-last click data. An aggregated view of keyword paths may show which generic keywords lead to long-tail queries. This information is used in on-sight optimisation. As it is a path view, the percentage of traffic for each path is lower than for single keywords, therefore, this data is likely to be affected by the introduction of SSL. This will also affect assisted conversion data. SEO often need to know which keywords are leading to ‘assisted conversions’ (e.g. searching the brand term but last click converting directly). This data will be significantly reduced or lost. Although this does not affect top level ranking and traffic reports, it does affect more advanced analysis.

Google’s Multi-channel funnel paths may be affected by SSL search

In summary – the new SSL query may potentially have a large impact on certain aspects of onsite optimisation. However, in context, this problem will affect a percentage of one part of recommendations – between the other channels and other dimensions available in Google Analytics, the lack of keyword referrals will be limited – but won’t be overall a game changer for most markets. (Unless it is extended to non-logged in keywords.)

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