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Stephen Logan

Firefox “Burn” Millions Of Website Owners

10th May 2012 Analytics, News, Industry News 3 minutes to read

First Google siphoned off keyword data from Analytics, with (not provided) becoming the top referring term for many site owners overnight. Now Mozilla are getting involved, with their Firefox browser encrypting search queries behind a HTTPS connection. So what does this mean for Analytics users?

Well, it’s not great news. Without keyword data it becomes increasingly difficult to see how people are finding your site and how valuable individual rankings are for your site. So with the percentage of (not provided) results rising, your understanding of how the site is performing in Google will invariably fall.

So why are Mozilla so keen to roll out HTTPS on Google searches? Why have they ignored Bing, Yahoo (both of which are available as default options in the browser) and the rest of the search engines out there? Will Internet Explorer follow suit? Any answer would be pure speculation of course, but the party line is that it is all in the name of privacy.

The subject of privacy has blown up in recent months and years. It wasn’t all that long ago that we all happily shared information and laid our lives bare for anyone to see. But now, thanks to a number of damning and widely reported stories – particularly in relation to Facebook and Google – it’s come in to the wider public consciousness.

Whilst this is certainly no bad thing, the encryption of search results in the name of privacy is a little far-fetched. I can honestly say that I really don’t care who knows what I search for. Most of the time it’s mundane, in all other cases it is generally irrelevant. I use a number of devices, search engines and profiles to mix things up a little. If you tried to piece together who I am from Google searches, it would be a very confused picture indeed.

So why should I care if a website knows how I found them and the keyword I used to do so? Why should you for that matter? They don’t have any personal details or a full log of where I’ve been in the past, it is, in all likelihood, a one-off search. Well, Google certainly thinks I should care and so, now, do Mozilla.

So why are SEOs rolling their collective eyes at this latest move? Well, stepping to one side for a moment, here is what our very own Mike Essex had to say on the Mozilla Privacy Blog in response to their announcement (don’t look for it, they didn’t publish it):

“Whilst I applaud the desire to protect user privacy it is worth clarifying that when information is passed on to website users about search activity it has always been de-personalised.

Although the search itself can be seen there’s no name, or any personal information that would allow a website owner to identify. Just the search query and the number of times that led to a visit on your website.

Blocking this data means website owners will have no way to see why a person arrived on their website. Being able to see this data helps us to write better content in the future that answers your questions. Without the data we are left to guess what people want, which is a real loss for the Internet and the needs of millions of searchers.

Do you hate it when you search and see no relevant results? Well that will only get worse in the future. If you visit a website for a query string and a page doesn’t answer your question we can at least now see what you wanted and try to help you in the future.”

The issue is that even if this data is encrypted, someone, somewhere is still able to see the number of searches for keywords and even where they originated from. I also wonder if this will impact those users who are paying a hefty $150,000 a year for Google Analytics, as I discussed yesterday? Will that same encrypted data be removed from the accounts of millions of AdWords users? If data is supposed to be protected, then nobody (including the search engines) should have access to it. However, I would question whether this is actually the case.

With Firefox being one of the big three browsers, along with IE and Chrome (which already has HTTPS protection on searches), this could have a major impact on the keyword results Analytics users see moving forwards. If you have any views on the updates by Mozilla, conspiracy theories included, please include them below.

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