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October 20, 2011

The Major Implications of SSL Encryption No One’s Talking About: Enhanced Search Personalization

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There’s a potential consequence of Google’s SSL encrypted organic search that’s been overlooked. Through the process of obscuring query data from personal identifiers, Google has put themselves in a position to learn more about signed in users’ search behavior and is setting up an environment that allows for a highly personal search experience.

The conversation coming from SEO corners regarding Google’s recently announced measures for signed-in users’ search privacy is largely related to the reduction of search referrer data that results from encrypted transmissions. And in a world where every person doing a search may see a unique set of search results, it goes without saying that consistent ranking reports are a thing of the far past.

Yet there are broader implications for the search industry at play, including the changing makeup of search results and increasing modes of personalization. Picture a SERP that reflects an individual users’ behavior, query history and click behavior and integrates search results from a user’s accounts on Google services like Gmail and Google+. This latest move could enable a new iteration of individually personalized search experience.

What’s Happening Under the Hood

Tuned pontiac under hood

To see how the next step in personalized search has been advanced, let’s start by examining the technical mechanism by which Google is encrypting signed-in users’ organic search activities.

When a user queries Google, the browser sends a packet to Google’s server with some basic info. The server returns the info being requested. What SSL does is make the info packet secure by encrypting (scrambling so it’s indecipherable) the data.

Now, Google is encrypting its interactions with signed-in users. This includes hiding search terms from the referrer when you click on a search result. They do this by going to an intermediary page, which changes the keyword parameter to something unrecognizable. That intermediary page also provides Google with a connection between the user, query and the site they are visiting.

It’s up for debate how much Google previously knew about a signed-in user’s click behavior from search results. However now, as an intermediary, it’s certain that Google understands the user’s behavior from query to click.

Individualized Universal Search Results

With this information, Google now knows an individual user’s preferences to an unprecedented degree. Google has a newly enhanced ability to display finely tailored organic and paid search results for every signed-in user. The more signed-in users they can get to participate in this experience, the more targets they’ll be able to offer advertisers.

No doubt, Google’s hoping that Google+ adoption will take-off, as more Google+ users would build up the signed-in Google user base. While Google says that currently only 1.5 percent of search is performed by signed-in users, this number could grow as the Google+ network grows ━ the potential of which shouldn’t be underestimated given Google’s resources and determination on this front.

And here’s another impending implication of secured search. In 2007, Google introduced Universal Search, the integration of search verticals, including video, maps and images, on the default results page. By securing search results pages, Google can now safely include results from a user’s accounts across Google’s many services, from Gmail to Google+.

The utility of connecting search to social services is already apparent in the Bing-Facebook integration. The first signs of cross-service integration within Google have been announced. Google Reader and Google+ will be tied together as Google+ takes over Reader’s social functions like friending, following and sharing.

As Internet marketers, we’re reliant on the search ecosystem and the topography of Google’s results pages. Watching the story unfolding here is fascinating, if nerve-wracking, as following every move by Google is like keeping up with a dancing target. Still, I think we can all appreciate how Google’s turned out another game changer in the evolution of the search experience.

Take a listen to

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will lead to intensely personalized search results in the second segment of today’s SEM Synergy.

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7 responses to “The Major Implications of SSL Encryption No One’s Talking About: Enhanced Search Personalization”

  1. Nicola writes:

    this topic is getting more and more important. I wonder if that 1.5% of search from signed-in users is a real data or something google say just not to scare us

  2. Mike - The Indianapolis Real Estate Guy writes:

    I think it remains to be seen whether Google+ will take off the way Facebook did. Also, is delivering what the user wants (implicitly, through past recorded actions) better always the same thing as delivering what the user needs? In other words, what the user wants and what’s most relevant may not always coincide. I’m not sure I care for the concept of personalized search results.

  3. Nick Stamoulis writes:

    This is absolutely another important step to pay attention to. As search marketers we rely on the data that Google provides us with. If that data is limited in scope it can have a big impact on the success of campaigns based on that data.

  4. Open Market Currency Rates In Pakistan writes:

    Google actually changing it’s search strategy and keywords analytics now a days that is why we are hearing such types of news.

  5. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Thanks, Nick. We’ve relied on Google’s data, although by now it’s clear that’s not a long-term strategy. :P

  6. Valerie Gold writes:

    Virginia, any long term strategy that relies on data, information or services from a third party such as Google is doomed to failure. That being said, I’m not a particular fan of “personalized search” or personalized anything. When I search Google, I want the same results anyone else would see, not results tailored to assist marketing towards my assumed demographic.

    Here is an example of the lack of effectiveness of personalization already existent in Google Adsense… My father asked me to search for info on preventing grey hair and print him some articles (he’s not computer literate). Anyway, for the last 2 months, every other Adsense ad I’ve seen on my computer is related to gimmick products for grey hair. Try the same, searching for diet or other highly marketed topics. Simply put, it’s very assumptive and completely inaccurate to place grey hair Adsense ads on a site about halloween decorations.

    Sorry, I can think for myself. Also, Google is doing no favor in terms of privacy by removing search referrer information while turning around and selling that information to Adwords marketers.

  7. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Hahaha! Thanks, Valerie, that was good for a laugh. A funny failing of artificial intelligence, alright.

    Btw, what’d you find out about preventing grey? I could use a remedy myself. :)



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