Until recently, website owners had visibility into the keywords that consumers used to reach their site from search engines. This valuable data could be used to analyze traffic and uncover trends to help optimize their search engine marketing programs and improve the overall findability of their brands and products.

Google is now encrypting all of the search queries for organic searches. This change largely impacts Search Engine Optimization (SEO) practitioners because they are no longer able to access organic query-level data to determine which keywords drive the best natural traffic to their sites.

A Quick History

Search query encryption began two years ago when Google announced it would begin obfuscating search queries for consumers logged into a Google account. Since then, the percentage of search queries passed as “not provided” by the search engine has been steadily increasing. Today, only queries coming from paid search engine ads are transparent to advertisers.

There are debates about the rationale for this change, but Google states that its goal is to protect consumer privacy. The new era of cross-device advertising raises strong concerns as internet users are now more vulnerable to being identified and monitored via multiple devices than they were previously.

Because Google is working to enable advertising and tracking on multiple devices, it has a lot to lose with concerns over cross-device privacy. Early this year, Google introduced enhanced campaigns, which makes multi-device pay-per-click (PPC) advertising the default for marketers. It also recently introduced Estimated Total Conversions, which gives marketers estimates to measure conversions attributed to cross-device interactions based on the behavior of users that are logged into Google accounts. It follows that these and other changes led the search giant to tighten privacy by encrypting keyword search queries unless a searcher clicks on a paid search ad.

What does it mean?

Search query encryption makes it harder to obtain the insights required to properly optimize organic search position and makes the need to align SEO and paid search strategies more important than ever. In order to obtain search query-level insights from Google, an advertiser needs to be running PPC search. If paid data is shared with SEO teams, it can provide insight into popular queries that should be prioritized for organic keyword optimization.

At Kenshoo, we strongly believe this change increases the need for PPC and SEO alignment. We recently released a study with Hewlett-Packard and global digital marketing agency, Resolution Media, analyzing the interaction of organic and paid search. This study revealed that PPC captures significant click share and drives higher revenue-per-visit, even for brands with top organic rankings. These findings bolster the argument for a holistic approach to SEO and PPC.

Advertisers can also continue to look at analytics data from other search engines to draw search query-level insights. Kenshoo clients can easily access paid search query information as well as actionable reports that suggest positive or negative keywords to utilize based on search queries and performance data.

Since access to organic search query data has been declining, many SEO teams have been preparing for this change and have more closely aligned PPC and SEO.

If your SEO and PPC teams are not collaborating already — now is the time to start.