Better Blogging / Blogging Tips / Google Search / keyword encryption / SEO tips / Unknown search terms

Google Encrypting Keyword Searches, Ads Exempted

red question markYou must have noticed the increase in “Unknown search terms” in your stats. I’m seeing hundreds in mine and they are growing daily.

Web site owners want to know the keyword terms visitors type into Google search to locate their sites, but no more keyword data will be provided from Google.

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a protocol that provides secure communications on the Internet for such things as web browsing, e-mail, instant messaging, and other data transfers.

As of fall of 2011 analytics programs could no longer detect the keyword terms used by visitors coming from Google search, if they are logged in and have SSL enabled in their Google account. In 2012 the conversion to encrypted search expanded globally to all signed-in users then went even further to include default searching in Firefox.

In September 2013:

When searches are encrypted, search terms that are normally passed along to publishers after someone clicks on their links at Google get withheld. In Google Analytics, the actual term is replaced with a “Not Provided” notation. Post-PRISM, Google Confirms Quietly Moving To Make All Searches Secure, Except For Ad Clicks.

blue question markGoogle says, the reason for the switch is to provide “extra protection” for searchers. Search Engine Land, however, suspects that Google may also be attempting to block NSA spying activity. …  Because Google is encrypting search activity for everything but ad clicks, most think this is a move to get more people using Google AdWords. Support Documentation Update

“UPDATE: In September 2013 Google started to rapidly expand the number of searches that it encrypts, which results in a higher proportion of “Unknown search terms” in your stats. According to some sources, this expansion will eventually result in encryption of all Google searches.

This is being done for privacy reasons by Google when someone searches at, before a visitor arrives at your site. Therefore we don’t have any way to unhide the search terms. We recognize this means a loss of stats information for you and we will look for other ways to show you how users arrived at your site.  via Stats — Support —”

The bottom line is that in 2011 Google made a change aimed at encrypting all search activity — except for clicks on ads. In September 2013  Hubspot’s Pamela Vaughan reports that currently nearly 74% of search terms are being encrypted resulting in aNot Provided” notation. — Google to Encrypt ALL Keyword Searches: Say Goodbye to Keyword Data

question marksDiscussion

It’s a bummer because though it’s still possible to tell how much traffic your website is getting from organic search without the keywords, most bloggers are not SEO wizards, and aren’t inclined to study their Google Webmaster’s data as closely as the experts do.

But maybe it’s not something we need to wring our hands over because we know that Targeted Blog Post Titles Draw Traffic.  Provided we know how to identify our blog’s target audience, understand what they need and want to know and keep it in mind when writing a blog post,  we can to publish engaging posts that will increase traffic and encourage us to take our blogs to the next level.

Taking a look at your Top Posts and Pages gives you a quick, clear idea of what’s most popular. You can use this valuable data to inform future posts, but also to make sure your perennially popular content is polished and primed to turn a casual visitor into a die-hard reader.  via Stats Wrangling III: Top Posts and Pages — Blog —

Related posts:

That said, I’m sure users are eager to know which “other ways” Staff will be taking  to inform us what keywords were used by visitors to reach our sites.

What say you?

41 thoughts on “Google Encrypting Keyword Searches, Ads Exempted

  1. Pingback: Search Engine Poetry, Cryptically | beeblu blog

  2. Very interesting but I know this information goes way over my simple mind. Maybe one day it will click – by the way, letting you know my progress in adding a comment/policy page onto my blog site. I did use your page(s) as the basic format and added credit to you at the end. If this is a problem, please let me know and I will adjust accordingly. Thank you. Also, off on another subject, how did you add the link onto your Copyright widget directing readers to your copyright page? Again, thanks.

    • Hi there,
      Yes, there is an ongoing change unfolding, but I truly don’t think most of us will be adversely affected.

      I have been scrambling to get our business backlog up to date and I’ve also been updating posts so watch the featured posts section at the top of my blog. :) See you on your blog soon. :)

  3. @Jeffry Blight and Thomas Docheri
    I have a life offline. My husband’s position requires travel and he was home for the weekend. I was enjoying my weekend with him rather than blogging, so I didn’t even see several pending comments until this morning. Moreover, I require both a valid email address and a web address for submitting comments. Well one commenter who submitted three comments and who accused me in the third one of deleting his first two comments when I hadn’t even read them did not provide either one.

    At first I decided to post all three of his comments and choose not to reply to two of them. No sooner had I done that than I had another pending comment wherein the commenter falsely accused me of deleting one of his previous comments too and then invited the first guy to visit his blog. As there was nothing of substance of value in any of the comments, I deleted all of them.

    Today, October 2nd, 2013. I approved all your comments and trust that will make you happy.

    • I admit I made a mistake to accuse you of deleting my comment. Mea culpa. I think it was relevant because it identified an author of a very influential book on WordPress that conflicts with what you and Cutts are saying. So, who is correct and don’t assume Google/Cutts is not pursuing some agenda? I think I learned something interesting about WordPress in the process.

      All weekend I saw my comment awaiting moderation. Then Sunday, it mysteriously disappeared. I could find it nowhere within the thread we were discussing. So, I assumed you deleted it. I immediately went to my blog reader and un-followed you. Then, this AM I received Jeffry Blight’s comment about being deleted in an email and replied to him, not to you. You deleted all.

      I think what happened was my WordPress login expired and when it timed out, I lost the ability to see my comment was pending moderation. Why do I believe that? Because when I replied to Jeffry I entered all of my personal information explicitly, as your comment form requires. While logged in to WordPress this is not necessary since comment function takes that information from my WordPress profile, if available. When I submitted the comment you deleted WordPress required me to login, which I did.

      I think the subject of WordPress tags and what Google does with them is very important. And I don’t agree that Google is stymied by tag inflation in the tag header. Google can easily write a function that compares its view of relevant keywords with what WordPress includes in its footer and decide if you are guilty of tag inflation. There is something else going on here that as yet you have not adequately explained.

      I encouraged Jeffry to visit and comment at my site because he is an aggressive commenter and I felt I could learn from interacting with him. You, dear timethief, are a little to impressed with your own web presence.

      Thomas Docheri

    • Greetings timethief,

      Thank you for relenting and including my comments. We both got off on the wrong feet but now all is cool, or I think it is.

      Loss of keyword visibility is a major bummer. Now we can only guess what is the right way to structure a post to give it the best page rank possible. We will never know for sure but I think a few notions seem to work, or at least they do, if the number of spam comments I’m getting on one of mine is an indicator. I’m making an inference that if the spammers want to lever their sites on top of mine, I must be doing something right. Thankfully I have Akismet to filter the cruft.

      H1, H2 and H3 headers that pull keywords from text are to the good. So are keywords in the post’s title, WP pretty permalinks. The careful use of bold and italic textual keywords is good as is a relevant link or two but too many links is bad and will get your PR lowered. How many is bad I cannot say. After reading your post I reread Page and Brin’s original SE paper while they were at Stanford (GOOG circa 1998) and back then they did use meta tags for indexing. Now, of course, we have only assertions from folks like Cutts as to what they are doing. One thing every WP blogger should do is register with GOOG and MS and get their site crawled. I thought mine had been but it wasn’t until I registered that I was certain it was. Now my name garners 13 of the first 20 slots, 9 of first 10, when I google it.

      Thomas Docheri

  4. Even though I blog, I welcome this change. I always found it to be creepy that other bloggers and website owners could find out what I was searching for when I found their blogs, even though the data wasn’t linked to me, specifically. On the other hand, the data was useful. I have a beauty blog on a self-hosted WordPress site and it was helpful to know what readers were looking for. If I got a bunch of searchers that were led to my site looking for information on a certain product, I could then research that product and write about it. I’ll just have to find other ways to stay on top of trends.

    • I find it creepy that I don’t have an instantly accessible listing of keyword search terms used to locate posts in my blog. I find it annoying that Google is burying that information in my webmasters account. If those who are creeping around in my blog don’t want me to know which keywords they typed into Google to locate my posts then it’s my opinion that they are creepy people – I mean, what’s to hide and why hide it? Presumably, if visitors find articles of value in my blog they will want to return to read future related articles. Encrypting search terms and making it hard for me to figure out what their interests are so I have to trawl through Google webmaster data to find what used to be instantly and easily located does not impress me and is not to my way of thinking – progress.

  5. Thanks for deleting my three comments. Feels real warm and fuzzy to contribute and provide internet peers with insight when such efforts are being discarded.

    • She deleted one of mine too. I wonder why? I wonder what I said that was so offensive? In it I quoted Lisa Sabin-Wilson, author of “WordPress For Dummies.” That book is not bad but there are other errors that make it less than 100% reliable. In her 5th edition published in 2013 she asserts very emphatically on pg 193 that WordPress tags are harvested by search engine crawlers to aid others to find your site. Translation: that means the tags are used to index the site. I could repeat that quotation but then she’ll just delete this comment too. Now is Sabin-Wilson wrong? Is Cutts blowing smoke? I worked for Google for 18 months and managers love to blow smoke, to confuse outsiders. Or is this blog’s owner afraid to permit real discussion of a controversial issue? Man, believe me, Google indexing is more than controversial. It’s what makes the web go around. Or is there some other reason I’m unaware of that justified deleting my comment? I certainly did not violate her ToS. But, it’s her blog. She can manage it any way she likes but deleting comments that don’t violate ToS destroys credibility.

      One technical note: WordPress tags are not included in a header tag. They are inside a WordPress with some CSS styling. What Google does with this is anyone’s guess.

      Hey Jeffry, if you like to read fiction, please visit my site and don’t be afraid to leave a comment. I moderate too but I don’t delete anything except spam. I prefer to debate and discuss, even with people who hate what I write. It’s called transparency.

      Thomas Docheri

  6. Well, that’s a bummer. I get a kick out of knowing some person stumbled on my blog because they were searching for “what did Richard Dreyfuss’ character say to the police in American Graffiti?”

    I don’t use the data to drive my posts. But it is intriguing to know what brings folks to my site. I do understand, however, why some might not want the wide world of the internet what they’re searching for. Just why that’s so is still a puzzle.

    Great post as usual, timethief.

      • Thank you for that link. I did think Google used WordPress post tags to index a page. I infer from Cutts that poorly chosen tags that don’t relate to important words in the post might actually lower the page’s Google rank. That actually makes sense, that Google keeps finding ways to stay ahead of spammers, since they are everywhere. Every comment I’ve received so far at my website has been spam, flagged by Akismet. Sabin-Wilson needs to revise her book. On pg. 193 she writes:

        “Another reason to use tags: Search-engine spiders harvest tags when they crawl your site, so tags help other people find your site when they search for specific words.”

    • It’s a progressive thing that has resulted in hundreds of “Unknown search terms” in my stats. It’s creepy that “privacy settings” prevent us from knowing which keywords resulted in readers locating out blogs. I don’t use privacy settings on my browser and I wonder how many of us do.

      • That’s an odd view on the topic. Wasn’t it more creepy that bloggers could “spy” on its visitors in such detail that they could see exactly what the visitor searched for?

        Don’t get me wrong, I also have a blog at wordpress and got the same kick out of seeing what people were searching for, as I believe people who watch soap-opera or reality TV get out of that activity.

        On a societal level however, I think it does more good then bad to prevent me from getting such information and instead keeping people’s searches somewhat more private (except from Google/ISPs and their commercial partnerships, NSA and any government in the world that is part of the global “signal intelligence exchange program”). I’d much rather the web be populated by articles written for the sole purpose of being informative to a specific target audience, than having gazillion useless sites designed just to hit the top 5 search results on Google.

        Adjusting the content, words and phrasing just in order to try matching against what people enter into search engines certainly doesn’t sit well with me at least.

  7. Pingback: Thoughts on Blogging | We Live In A Flat

  8. Do I want to know what people are searching for when they hit my site?
    I do.

    Have I ever actioned on these organic keyword data?
    I haven’t.

    – The data is more for my understanding of the search audience that visit. And what they were looking for, and whether the post answered their query.
    – It is also a measure of how effective my SEO is. So far, only a few specific posts get consistent traffic from specific sets of long tail keywords. This means that the majority of my other posts do not get any benefit from search traffic and this is a content matter that I can work on for future posts.

    What did I use the data for then?
    My own understanding of the audience and verification of the content I have been crafting.

    – understand which terms brought the most traffic to my blog from Google/search engine
    —- which are really a few very specific, long tail information posts that I’ve not seen other pet bloggers blog about.
    – understand what these searchers may be looking for when they hit these very specific posts and their mindset.
    —- e.g. “can my dog live in a balcony?” is very different from “what do I need to set up a dog area on a high rise balcony” – although in both cases, I hope they read my post and understand that it is dangerous to leave a dog alone on a balcony.

    Would I see an actionable use for the data had it would still be available in future?
    Possibly, with a year’s worth of data to give me some ideas of what people were looking for with regards to the content I have been working on.

    It may be valuable for me to reference and plan an extension or part 2 to the original content, which then can be use to address those queries that I thought relevant but I had failed to address in my original post. Or the queries could give birth to more ideas for future posts.That is the loss I feel I get with the trend towards encrypted keywords.

    Given this is the case, what may greatly help me would be if can include in their dashboard breakdown of traffic referrals by page. I can see which pages are the most popular and which pages are the most popular by search by cross referencing “top posts and pages” with “search engine terms”. When “search engine terms” stops being useful because the data gets hidden, getting a breakdown of traffic referrals by page, can at least give me a sense of the effectiveness of the specific content I am churning out with the marketing activities I am doing – whether they are searchers or other segment of visitors from other domains and specific blog hop activities.

    I’ll be glad to hear your thoughts as a wordpress veteran :)

  9. I’m losing my faith in Google, and fear they are becoming more like Facebook every day. Sticking more and more of their services into Google+, etc. I suspect somehow they are more concerned with their ad income than with protecting us little people from NSA spying. At this rate we’ll soon have no stats at all …

    • I try to avoid getting too involved in the Google Empire. I don’t use their word processing, spreadsheet etc tools. I have a Google+ account, but don’t use it and I’m not even sure how to use it.
      And now I have an Android based phone. God help me!
      I think Google knows more about me than the NSA.

    • You are indeed correct. Google exists solely as a channel to push advertising. Any service they offer is designed and exists only to further that goal.

      When Sergey and Larry started Google they did have a completely different mission, filling the gap of the defunct Altavista. Today however those roots and values do not exist anymore and Google of today has nothing in common with the original company.

      The introduction of encrypted search terms is from Google’s perspective not about privacy. It is about them controlling that information and being able to dictate if and how such information is to flow to any other entity on the net, be it a partner, customer (ad company) or product (users of their search, mail, analytics and other ad supporting infrastructure).

  10. I feel that this is probably just to help drive income their way. I think many people will start to move away from Google as they narrow their algorithms, I for one want wide results from searches not narrower. And Google are denying this. Removing the keyword from data just reinforces my move to other search engines.


  11. Thank you so much for this post. I was wondering what happened. I also think the recent huge drop in stats on many blogs for a period of time was related to this google change.

    I lost most of my Google search traffic for a few weeks and then the search traffic suddenly came back and at the same time as the rise in unknown search terms on my 3 blogs.

    Again thank you for your posts and keeping us up to date on these types of things.

    • Hi Bert,
      There is no permanent static IP address for any blog so cannot and does not provide static IP addresses. All the IPs are dynamic ie. ever changing thereby lessening the odds of hacker access. There are three HUGE redunant server farms in three different locations.

      • that is not exactly what I mean. I was referring to the visitor’s ip-address which also reveals who they are, and where they reside (in most cases). Armed with this information, we bloggers would know a lot more about our visitors …

        • Oh now I see what you mean. It’s been over a decade since IP addresses were unique. ISPs save money by placing hundreds of us in the same IP block. Hence the information you seek will not be accurately portrayed. Moreover, many of us have dynamic IPs that are ever changing. In my case the IP never ever tells you where I’m actually situated and my so-called location changes from day to day and even hour to hour.

          If you wish you can install a free third party Feedjit widget (non-JavaScript version) Feedjit in a text widget but be aware that if you do it’s a big turn-off to many readers so they will click out never to return again.

          I repeat that we can only use the HTML version (non-Javascript) version so be sure you get the correct code. HTML feedjit code for blogs, MySpace, Windows Live Spaces, LiveJournal and Hi5 users >

          Step 1: Customize It! (Choose your color scheme, widget width, and the maximum number of entries to be displayed.)
          Step 2: Copy the code into your site HTML or into a text widget and display it in your sidebar.

          Likewise with the whosamungus widget and clustr maps. You cannot use the JavaScript version here as the software will strip the code out to preserve security. You can contact whosamungus and get the non-Javascript code whosamungus > and copy and paste it into a text widget.

          If you wish you can also install a Flagcounter widget in your sidebar. Go to the Flag Counter site to get the code. Go to > Appearance > Widgets and open a text widget then copy and paste the code into it. Lastly, click “save” and “close” in the widget and that’s it.

          You can also use getclicky. See here

          The last three do not display locations on the blog as the Feedjit does and are less likely to be a turnoff to visitors.

          See also sitemater and stat counter here

        • As the OP wrote, IP addresses aren’t very reliable. Relying on cookies to track users is also a dead end and the industry (larger companies) have moved on to fingerprinting. Google and the larger analytics companies rely on many different data points to identify you. The easiest method is to look at characteristics of your browser, such as what fonts you have installed and the order they’re presented by the browser, the operating system and version you use, your browser variant and version, your locale, your screen resolution and color space etc. These few metrics alone will uniquely identify you amongst the entire internet population 99.99% of the time.

          Google and other analytic companies extract and correlate about two dozen additional data points about us when we use services they “sponsor” and they have zero problem identifying us even if we have random IP addresses, clear out our cookies etc.

          You can use these mechanisms yourself, but not at, as all the mechanisms rely on you being able to add a bit of Javascript to your pages.

          The future of “visitor insight” for bloggers will require anyone looking for such information to abandon services that do not offer custom javascript embedding. This means either start hunting for some other blog hosting provider, or setup your own “” instance somewhere (like on Amazon).

          Unfortunately, even if you deploy the tactics outlined above, you still won’t know what people were searching for in Google when they landed on your pages, so it doesn’t address the fundamental problem. But it does provide you very [intrusive?] insight into each individual’s use and consumption of your blog pages, just not what brought them there as the latter has become proprietary information of Google :/

Comments are closed.