A sizable percentage of inbound search terms are hidden from publishers now that Google encrypts searches by default when users are logged in to Google.com and Firefox and Chrome use encrypted search in their toolbars. When Google announced the change in October, the company predicted that the change would affect less than 10 percent of searchers. Adtrak writes that the figure is much higher: “Figures reiterated quite often on blogs, forums and in tweets suggest that some 20% of their keyword traffic is hidden behind secure search (when a person is signed into their Google account and searching the web).”
Other than the Google issue, Firefox and Chrome now default to secure search in their toolbars. When you combine Google’s share of the search market with Firefox and Chrome’s share of the browser market, about 26 percent of searches will be encrypted, not including those logged in to Google, according to Practical eCommerce. The question is, could your business afford to not know what 20% – 40% of visitors were searching for, when they use the world’s most popular search engine to find a product, or a service?
This poses challenges for people trying to assess whether their content is in sync with potential readers, but it also can hide potential story leads. Laura Amico of Homicide Watch D.C., uses incoming search terms as clues for recent murders. She described how this enables her to beat the competition:
When people land on HomicideWatch.org, we see their search terms in our site analytics. When we see a name we don’t recognize, we run it through Twitter and Facebook searches, where we usually find a profile filling up with RIP messages. We follow these sources and report the story out of the information they are sharing. This means we often have an ID long before police put out an official statement. When other news organizations are rewriting that press release, we have a rich profile with comments from friends and family.
Amico and her husband Chris sought funding to build software to enable searching and filtering of search terms, but the proposal didn’t make it to the second round. Chris Amico indicated that their records now show “(not provided)” is the second-highest search query for the website in the last month. He said encrypted searches probably affect Laura’s reporting, “but it’s hard to say, because ‘(not provided)’ is a black box. … At the very least, it’s frustrating because we don’t know what we’re missing.”