Last week, Google moved to send all searches through Google SSL Search, setting up the ultimate end of keyword data passed along via referrers non-advertisers. Now, Google’s official alternative channel for this information — Google Webmaster Tools — has also stopped sharing the data, most likely due to a bug.
A Bug Or An Intentional Move?
Google Webmaster Tools has had outages before, so maybe this is just a temporary bug. But if so, it’s terrible timing.
NOTE: See the postscript below that suggests this is indeed a bug. We’ve added that to the headline and the lead of the story.
Google stopped reporting keyword data through the “Search Queries” feature as of September 25. There’s no data for that day or any of the following ones, from what I can see — and others on Twitter have reported a similar omission.
That puts the cut-off happening only two days after Google confirmed that it had ramped up the use of Google SSL Search. Even people not logged into Google are now directed to Google SSL Search, also called Google Secure Search. That causes search terms to be stripped from the “referrer” data passed along to publishers, except when people click on ads. Advertisers still get referrer data off their ads.
The data withholding, coupled with an earlier move to allow publishers to archive search term information if they use Google’s AdWords system — rather than the Google Webmaster Tools system — has led to much suspicion that Google’s holding back the data not just for privacy reasons (and some doubt even this) but also to push ads.
Google Stays Silent
Early yesterday, we asked Google about the Google Webmaster Tools issue — whether it was a bug or a permanent change. An entire business day went by without the company responding.
That fits in with Google’s earlier refusal to answer further questions I sent last week about the reasons why it increased the use of secure search — and it’s not encouraging for frustrated publishers.
For more background, see our earlier stories:
- Google’s Plan To Withhold Search Data & Create New Advertisers
- Post-PRISM, Google Confirms Quietly Moving To Make All Searches Secure, Except For Ad Clicks
- “100% Not Provided Is Not The End Of SEO” Insider Opinions On Google’s Move To Withhold Data
This is a related column I wrote for CNET that may also be of interest:
Postscript (1:30am ET): As noted in the comments below, one of Google’s webmaster relations people, John Mueller, has acknowledged the issue and promises it will be fixed:
The team is aware of the problem and working on speeding that data back up again. Thanks for your patience in the meantime.