Amit Singhal, chief of search at Google, shocked the SMX West Conference crowd (including host Danny Sullivan) during his keynote conversation, when he admitted that Google was exploring a “solution” to the encrypted — AKA ‘not provided’ — issue with providing traffic-driving keywords in Google Analytics.

True to Google’s style, Singhal didn’t say what the solution might be, or even what the exact problem was (or if Google saw it as a problem). He merely stated that they have been looking at the issue.  Of course, he also stated that Google is content with the way things have gone in organic search, specifically mentioning that they’ve heard continued requests for secure search from Google users.

Singhal also announced that, while he had nothing official to announce, we should expect something to be announced in the coming months, as they find the right solution.

As a search marketing veteran, I had several thoughts go through my mind as I read this news:

  • Might we get our organic data back?
  • How many Google users really know the difference between secure and unsecured search?
  • Lots of search bloggers talk about ‘not provided data’ and the hypocrisy of providing the data on the paid side but not the organic side…
  • I could foresee Google announcing the logical solution to fix the “hypocrisy” would be to stop providing search query data on the paid side as well.

Sure enough, Danny Sullivan lists the potential outcomes in his Search Engine Land summary article “Google Reviewing “Not Provided,” Withholding Keywords From Organic But Not Paid Search Clicks“:

  • Google decides to make no change
  • Clicks may pass only to sites that run secure servers
  • Google makes all organic click data available through Google Webmaster Tools
  • Organic clicks will have terms restored
  • Paid clicks will have terms withheld

Google has made veiled threats at heading to a world where paid search is less about keywords. This is especially evident with their introduction of the AdWords Express program that allows a novice user to launch a campaign in just minutes, without doing (in a professional’s opinion) proper keyword research and discovery.

While the change to ‘not provided’ on the organic side definitely hurt initially, you can count us on the side that feels it ultimately wasn’t as big of a loss as initially feared. It prompted SEO professionals to pay even more attention to appropriate keyword mapping & targeting, and probably weeded some of the “riffraff” from the industry.

But could Google really be so bold as to completely remove one of the core components of paid SEO from the tool belt of search marketing firms?  How would the search marketing community respond? Moreover, how would advertisers respond, especially if their ads show up for irrelevant terms and they have a harder time optimizing their campaigns? Only time will tell.

What do you think of Google’s discreet maneuvers in not provided data?