Firefox Rolls Out HTTPS Google Search with v14.0.1


By: Todd Atkins
Today, Mozilla released version 14.0.1 of its popular Firefox desktop browser. I normally welcome browser updates, espcially anything that helps people rid the world of IE6. Version 14 was arguably a more important and bigger update compared to 14.0.1. However, 14.0.1 now utilizes HTTPS for all Google searches preformed in the browser.

Why does HTTPS Matter?

Back in October, Google started stripping the keyword query used by a searcher from Google Analytics data when that searcher used HTTPS to perform the search. When you go into Google Analytics and look at the organic traffic to your site, you can see what queries people used to find your website. If they used HTTPS (https://google.com instead of http://google.com), instead of the query you’d find “Not Provided”. Most searchers probably use HTTPS without realizing it because they are logged into their Google account. Google claimed the move was for privacy and security.

Aren’t privacy and security good things? Usually, yes. However, in this case, the keyword data is not personally identifiable, so the privacy claim is laughable. I’m not a security expert, so I can’t really speak to that claim. However, if there were legit security concerns (or privacy concerns) why does Google continue to provide this data for paid search?

Keyword data is incredibly valuable to both business owners and their marketing efforts. It allows business owners to better understand and serve their customers. I work with a client that sells products online. We look through keyword data and conversion data to better understand what the visitors that come to his site are looking for. We are able to provide a better user experience and better customer service from this data by positioning certain popular products and clarifying certain features so they are easier to find on the website. This client is able to better manage inventory and ship products faster because he is able to anticipate trends and styles based on the keywords people use to find his site. This allows him to order more of a certain product from the manufacturer which qualifies him for a better price, which he passes onto his customers.

Keywords from organic search is one of the most valuable pieces of data Google Analtyics offers.

The end of Google Analytics is near

Why is this beginning of the end of Google Analytics as we know it?

At the time, Google claimed “not provided” would only impact a small percent of searches (“single digit percentages”). The impact was far greater than they predicted. Here at Fruition, we’ve seen only a small handful of sites fall into the 10-15% range, every other site is much higher. A ballpark average is 30%, with one client as high as 80% some months.

Google Chrome has always forced https on Google searchs. As Firefox 14.0.1 gets download and installed, these percentages are going to go up, way up. Firefox and Chrome are currently the most popular browsers out there, accounting for about 58% of all browsers (May 2012). Chrome’s share continues to grow each week. If all of those Firefox users update to the newest version, “not provided” will make up a MINIMUM of 60% of the keyword data in Google Analytics.

There is other valuable data we can gather from Analytics. Mobile traffic, geographic location, conversions, and average time on site are just a few. None of them hold a candle to the value of the keyword data for most business owners. Soon, the only way to get this data is through AdWords. Perhaps this was the intention all along.

Todd Atkins

Todd Atkins is an account director at Fruition. Todd is deeply immersed in the world of emerging technology and excels at digging deep to truly understand a client’s needs. Todd’s in-depth technological background puts him in a unique position to balance marketing and technology needs to find the ideal approach.

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