Google to Turn Off Referrer Keyword Data for Logged in Users Searches


Sasha Hanau

Analytics and Data Science

A Key Update for Digital Marketers:

This week Google have made a significant change in the way their search engine will work. It is a change that is likely to affect every digital marketer – not just those using Google Analytics for insight into their website.

Google announced that searchers who are logged in to their account will now be redirected to search Google on an https:// (an SSL or secure) domain rather than on the old domain.

Google’s new change will only affect data gathered from users who are logged into their Google account and by Matt Cutt’s estimation this only accounts for approximately 10% of searches each day. There is some speculation over whether this figure is accurate or not and a good point to note here is that with the advent on Google+ it is likely that the number of users searching, while logged in to their accounts, is likely to be on the increase.

What does this mean for marketers?

SEO is a hot topic amongst marketers right now with more and more businesses harnessing search engine optimisation to generate more revenue online. Knowing what keywords and phrases prospects use to search for your business is valuable insight, and data which a business can use to tailor its SEO strategy.

The key implication is that marketers will still be able to see organic (unpaid) traffic in their Analytics, but the data will no longer include the search term (or ‘referrer’ data) used by logged in searchers. Essentially information is now encrypted by Google.

Previously, had you wanted to see what each and every individual prospect had typed into Google before they landed on your site organically – you could. Many marketers used this information to shape on-going SEO efforts and used it to help determine a) how well certain brand terms might be doing, b) the quality of the lead and c) the lead nurturing approach they were to use moving forward. This is no longer possible as all the searched keywords will be hidden and private for anyone who has searched while they are logged in.

Webmasters will have less of an understanding of what keywords attracted visitors to their sites and this is a considerable loss.

Marketers using Google Analytics can still view the top 1000 searches in Webmaster Tools but will not be able to identify which users used which term.

What do I need to do?

Consult your web analytics provider to find out how organic traffic will appear. We expect that data should remain the same for organic traffic but just exclude the keywords. We should stress again that this applies across all analytics packages; it is not just Google Analytics users who will lose visibility on keywords used.

In Google Analytics, search data that was previously available is now labelled “not provided”. Please see the example below:

Keyword Data not visible in Google Analytics

What about Paid Search?

Paid search (PPC) is not affected by this change and keyword data will still be available for marketers to use.

Why is Google Changing the Way We Search?

The change has come about to protect the privacy of Google’s users; it is an especially important change at this pivotal time when Google is becoming an ever more personalised service.

Logging in to your Google account now means you will automatically be sent to the new secure when you conduct a search – what you type in will be invisible to the website owner and all other third parties.

At a time when the way in which search engines use personally identifiable information is under scrutiny – Google is clearly making a stand in favour of its users. This change may not be popular amongst marketers; but I think it is clear that Google’s intentions are wholly admirable.

What next?

It’s not known if this will be the start of something much bigger in the privacy arena for Google. It could be possible that this will roll out across all organic searches in future but for now this is pure speculation.

Will the loss of keyword data in your analytics affect you? What problems might it pose for lead nurturing and conversion? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter, please leave a comment if you have an opinion on the topic.