SSL Encryption for Google Searches

Lorna Gill Posted by Lorna Gill

Last week Google announced its SSL encryption for all signed-in users and the data it was giving to webmasters. Before Tuesday all signed in  users used non-SSL Google (http://www.google.com) for their searches but now they all would be routed to (https://www.google.com) for their searches.
This big change not just buzzed the whole digital marketing community but also put SEO practitioners in a trauma. I have been reading a lot on how it would affect SEO.

Below I will share some lines on what this change means along with few of the interesting conversations going over the internet.

What does SSL for Google Result means?
It simply means that when someone searches for a particular keyword on Google, no one can see the results that pointed the search towards their website or what keyword they used to come to that website. A very good video introduction on how SSL works can be seen at SEOmoz.

Google’s Webmaster tools blog reported it as a way to provide more secure online experience and gave the following explanation on why and how are they going to do it.
“SSL encryption on the web has been growing by leaps and bounds. As part of our commitment to provide a more secure online experience, today we announced that SSL Search on https://www.google.com will become the default experience for signed in users on google.com. This change will be rolling out over the next few weeks.

What is the impact of this change for webmasters? Today, a web site accessed through organic search results on http://www.google.com (non-SSL) can see both that the user came from google.com and their search query. (Technically speaking, the user’s browser passes this information via the HTTP referrer field.) However, for organic search results on SSL search, a web site will only know that the user came from google.com.”

SSL benefits Google and Google only
These SSL changes benefit Google in many ways, one of them is that without SSL, any publisher was able to gain information on how someone has landed at their website using a particular search term, and they could then target them in various ways across the web with ads that would reflect the searchers’ interest, but now this information would be only visible to advertisers and not publishers.

Danny Sullivan explained about this in detail in an article on Search Engine Land by saying ‘This is called “retargeting,” and Google’s a leading provider of retargeted ads. When you cut the referrers out, except for your own advertisers, Google makes it harder for its competitors to offer retargeting services.’

Another benefit Google would have from this is that it prevents anyone but Google’s own advertisers from doing keyword-level conversion tracking. Using keywords you can do a detailed analysis to identify what someone did on your website after coming to it from a particular keyword and create better targeting approaches in the future. Ultimately making conversion tracking another cash cow for Google.

Danny also pointed out a fair solution of this SSL outcry, that Google could have shifted its default searches to be secure as well. It would have calmed the privacy advocates who are always over the cliff about Google sharing and knowing its visitors data. Also this would have meant better protection for everyone over the web, and those who wanted to have the referrer data could easily shift from an unsecure server to a secure server to receive that referrer data.

A solution for Google
Though Google claimed it only affecting 10% of search results which is confirmed by SEOmoz in their reports. A thread at Webmasterworld gave an easy and secure solution, which I think is worth considering for all at Google implementing privacy policies especially when Google has finally decided to secure searches.

“Implement a system which uses encryption of the query string, with site owners given access to the decryption key (through WMT) that could be used with code available from Google – this key could also be shared with analytics programs to decode the querystring.!”

If you want to read more about security over the internet I would recommend Chris Soghoian and his complaint he filed on the security issues. Also visit the Duck Duck Gowww.donttrack.us site.

In your opinion what Google’s best move could have been? Share your thought with us.

About the author

Lorna Gill
Lorna Gill
Lorna is responsible for acquisition marketing at Adthena, communicating their award-winning product and generating demand. She has developed her career in fast-paced, start-up environments, including two tech track 100 companies and is passionate about translating technical information into stories that excite and delight.