Google has quietly released major changes in the way which search data is reported which is likely to have a significant impact on the way SEO is practiced.

So what is the big game changer?

In October 2011 Google announced that it was encrypting the data arising from organic search for those users who were signed in to their Google account, in the interest of protecting personal privacy and security. The result was that when one used Google analytics organic search sources to see what keywords were sending traffic to your site this encrypted data was reported as “not provided”.

While this was an inconvenience, Google said at the time that it would not exceed 10%, one could infer from the not encrypted searches what keywords the page was ranking/not ranking for and carry out on-page SEO to improve the ranking and resultant traffic and conversions.

The big change in the recent Google announcement is that Google will now encrypt 100% of the data. As a result you will be able to see search traffic results for each page but have no idea what search words were used to generate that traffic.

How can you help users to find what they are looking for if you have no idea what search terms they are using? It is akin to driving your car by looking out the rear window.

You can now guess what keywords might be relevant, carry out your on-page SEO and check for changes in traffic in the following few weeks, i.e. while driving guess if you should turn left or right and check for the resultant impact.

Why is Google Doing This?

Google is doing this “in the interest of protecting personal privacy and security” so that third parties cannot spy on your search activities.

This sounds reasonable. However, suspicion as to the motive has been raised when this same keyword data is available for Adwords account holders.

Ad search traffic is not encrypted, so that when someone arrives on your site after searching Google and clicking on an Ad, the search data is available. A small detail is that you pay a click fee for each visitor that arrives via this route.

What can you do?

Microsoft Bing search data is still available. The data will represent only a very small percentage of all searches carried out – Bing is typically 17% versus Goggle’s 66%.

Perhaps you can make the assumption that Bing users are a representative sample of all search users.

Google Webmaster tools, still provides search data estimates for the previous 90 days.

However, it is worth noting that the figures are only estimates and only the data for the most recent 90 days are available. To build up a history, once should download the data on a regular basis.

Use one of a number of independent providers, who have access to other sources of search data, and offer commercial alternatives.

Wordtracker one such vendor who claims to have a database of 3.5 billion searches per month. Wordtracker also have a limited functionality free alternative.