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Web Search & Marketing Newsletter: November 2011

Welcome to the latest edition of our monthly newsletter, which covers some of the recent trends and developments in the field of web search and online marketing.

In this month's issue you can read about how Google has recently improved the security of online searches for personalised search, and the impact this will have within analytics tracking of search term data. We also discuss how the "tagging" of links to your site can enhance the quality of the data produced by Google Analytics. Finally, we examine Google's lighter side and take a look at their "A Google a Day" puzzle game that is intended to improve searching skills and techniques, whilst having a bit of fun!

You can read more below, or you can also browse through previous editions of the newsletter, either by month or by subject. You can also follow us on Twitter for the latest developments during the month, or follow our Facebook page.

On to this month's edition...

Google makes personalised search more secure

During October Google announced that it is going to increase the privacy for users of their search engine by encrypting personalised search results. This has caused much consternation in the search engine marketing field, since the end result will be that search query data will no longer be accessible through any web analytics stats from these searchers.

Google says that this change is important for security and privacy, so that users who sign into their Google account will get their search queries encrypted by default. As the use of the search engine is becoming an increasingly customised experience, the results become tailored towards individual users.

This additional layer of security means that Google and the web browser itself can only see any searches. A third party can't intercept the search and know what's being searched on, so it's especially important for people that search using an unsecured Internet connection, such as a WiFi hotspot in an Internet cafe.

Google is doing this by securing the results for signed-in users, through the use of an encryption protocol called SSL (Secure Sockets Layer). This is the same technology that is used when performing secure credit card transactions and is evident by the extra "s" in the "https" in the address bar for Google's homepage, when signed in to a user account.

Google may hope that this change will encourage more people to search through a personalised account, which will protect the user's information but also allow Google to display more relevant results to the user. However, the downside for website owners and marketers is that less information will be available in Google Analytics or any analytics package so that although visits from Google's organic results will still be counted, the individual search terms from logged-in users will be hidden and just displayed as 'not provided'.

Google says that an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to a site for each of the past 30 days will be available through Google Webmaster Tools and also any AdWords data will still be displayed at the search term level, whether the searcher is logged in to a Google account or not. However, the loss of organic search term data is significant and will become more so over time.

Initially this change will only happen on Google.com, and only relates to those searchers who are logged into a Google account. According to Google's software engineer Matt Cutts, this is likely to account for only single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on Google.com at this time. However, as more people use Google's services such as Gmail or Google+ and remain logged in when they search, this percentage is likely to grow and impact the level of data available through web analytics accounts.

We'll be tracking this issue and reviewing the impact over the coming months, but if you'd like to know more about this and how the change may affect your search referral data in analytics, please contact us now.


Tagging marketing campaigns to get better Analytics data

The theme of being able to successfully track data through Google Analytics continues in our second newsletter article this month. Here we discuss the importance of gathering clean and correct data before analysing it. "Tagging" online marketing campaigns is one way in which this can be achieved.

This tagging involves adding an extension to any link included in online marketing activity that points to your site such as email newsletters, online ads or from social media sites - so that the particular traffic source of the visit can be identified.

The three compulsory types of parameters to define are the channel of a campaign (e.g. email, affiliate, display); the source within a channel (e.g. name/type of the email campaign); and the campaign within one or more sources / channels (e.g. October newsletter). This can be tricky if multiple people are involved in a campaign, although if this is the case, it has to be done in a uniform manner by using a clearly defined tagging plan to which each participant must adhere.

An example of this extension would be:

If a link to the site within the newsletter that contains this extension tag were then clicked upon, it would be possible in Analytics to see that a visit came from this newsletter/email traffic source. For each newsletter that is sent the month is changed in the tag, so you can identify which newsletter generated the visit and the results of different newsletters can be compared.

Another example is for Social Media, for which the following tag may be used:

Within Google Analytics, the collected data can be found under All Traffic Sources as "twitter / social". You can track the tweets you send out by adding a tag like the one above to your URL's on Twitter. It is also possible to use this technique for other social media sites, such as Facebook or LinkedIn, and it's an effective way to determine visits from traffic sources that wouldn't normally be as specifically defined by Analytics, thus improving the quality of the data.

An easy way create the URL extensions, or tags, is to use the Google URL Builder.

Please note that if your Google Analytics account has been linked to an active AdWords account, there's no need to tag your AdWords links - auto-tagging will do it for you automatically. However, for some sites this auto-tagging doesn't work and therefore manual URL extensions may need to be used.

If you'd like more information about the benefits of tagging campaigns within Analytics and how this can improve your business's online marketing, please contact us now.


Google's Puzzle a Day

On a lighter note, earlier this year Google launched a new online trivia game which is designed to help users prove or improve their search skills. Called "A Google A Day", players are asked to use their 'creativity and search skills on Google' to answer questions against the clock. However, there are no prizes, only the satisfaction of getting the answer using Google's search engine.

You can access this Google game here. This features a game-specific version of the Google search engine, called Deja Google, which is described as "a wormhole inspired time machine that enables you to solve today's puzzle spoiler free, by searching the Internet as it existed before Google a Day launched." This is therefore a protected search space that doesn't get 'contaminated' by other people's content to prevent the solution being easily found from blog posts, Tweets or other websites.

A Google a Day asks general knowledge questions each day in a cryptic manner, that can be solved by using search techniques on Google. It's intended to be used to improve searching skills while having fun. If you play regularly then you will quickly learn useful search techniques - as well as acquiring interesting bits of knowledge that will help with quizzes and puzzles and provide food for thought! So give it a go to see if it triggers your imagination and helps you discover all the types of questions for which Google can provide an answer.

If you'd like to know more about Google and how to improve your search techniques, please contact us now for more information.


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We hope you've found this month's newsletter useful. Please contact us if you need any more information on the items covered, or our advice on any aspect of your website's performance. Also, if there are any issues you would like to see in future editions of this newsletter, please submit your suggestions to us.