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    Why Google SSL Search Is Good For Google

    May 28th, 2010

    Recently within the #measure community there has been much talk about Google launching https://www.google.com which is an SSL version of Google search.  The big issue is that when a user clicks through a search result the referring site is stripped off and there is no way for the destination site to tell what keyword was used.  What will happen next depends on who you talk to.

    Perhaps this means that businesses don’t know what is driving traffic to their site (via natural/organic search) so they will not want to spend ad dollars on keywords that may or may not be used frequently by their visitors.  Maybe businesses switch spending to a different service, such as Bing, where they can feel more comfortable knowing what they are spending on.  For the web analysts, like myself, there is the issue about where the traffic shows up in marketing channel reporting.  We will no longer know how much traffic Google is driving to our sites.  Since Google is such a major player in the search game this could be a huge issue.

    But there is one problem with all of this.  While I -  as a web analyst – care about this,   I -  as a customer, as a searcher – don’t give a crap what a company does or doesn’t get.  That’s their problem to work out.  In fact, with all the talk about privacy from all the Facebook changes, as a searcher I would be happy with any new security Google can provide for me.  So this means that the users of search are not going to drive Google away from defaulting to SSL searches and perhaps do the opposite and attract more pepole.  That only leaves the businesses paying for advertising, but they hardly have any strength at all.  Really, it just means businesses will not spend money as efficiently as they could be so they would have to buy more keywords or risk lost revenue from lack of paid traffic.

    That inefficiency is one of the smaller ways Google could make some money.  There is an even bigger opportunity that is revealed in Google’s own statement about the service:

    Searching over SSL doesn’t reduce the data sent to Google — it only hides that data from third parties who seek it.

    You see where I’m going with this?  Google could start charging for access to the natural search.  This is sold to senior leadership at businesses by stressing that without the data the company 1) won’t know what is driving search traffic to the site and 2) won’t be able to spend their search advertising dollars efficiently.  It is a grand slam for Google.  Furthermore, before you get up in arms about the thought of paying for this data, have you ever used Acxiom data to gather targeting information on customers you otherwise know nothing about?  If you’re not in the direct mail space, then what about Hitwise or Comscore?  All of that is the same thing. Nielsen Ratings? Same thing.  Just a company collecting (or buying) massive amounts of data and packaging and selling that data to clients.

    At the end of the day businesses simply cannot afford to say “screw Google, we’ll buy ads elsewhere”.  They will pay for this data, and probably line up to do it (after the mandatory complaining about how they used to get it free).  We all know that Rupert Murdoch is changing the face of news on the internet by charging for it.  There were even talks about making Google pay to index it.  Google needs to keep looking for new ways to generate revenue; charging for search data may be it.  At the very least it could come free with Google Analytics, giving you one more reason to switch.  I bet that wouldn’t make Omniture / Adobe very happy.

    I think things could get interesting.  What do you think?

    This has been a Thought From The Cake Scraps.



    You Are Being Tracked: Internal Campaigns

    September 22nd, 2008

    So you know that you are tracked by e-mails.  You are going to beat the system.  You are not even going to use a search term to get to the website because you know Google will track you along with the website.  You are going to direct load – typing the URL into the address bar – and avoid being tracked.  Almost, but no.  Chances are that the site gave you a cookie last time you were there.  Oh well, you tried.  But that is not what this post is about.  Just because you got to the site without tracking, does not mean that you will not be tracked.

    Internal campaigns are exactly what they sound like.  They are campaigns that are internal to the site.  A campaign is anything that the site is doing to try to get you to buy more stuff (or whatever the conversion metric would be, such as filling out a survey or something).  E-mails are campaigns.  Billboards are campaigns.  A site or company runs advertising campaigns. You get the idea.

    The banner that you see across whatever site you are on is sure to include an element that says that you clicked it – a tag.  Note that I am only talking about a banner that is on the site and for the site, not an advertisement for a different site.  The advertisement for a different site would be an external campaign for the company that bought the ad.  We are talking about an ad for another item on your site – perhaps for an LCD monitor when you are looking at computers.  I call this a real estate campaign or an internal campaign.  I call it real estate because the site is tracking based on the tag on the banner and the site knows the location of the banner, the real estate. I call it an internal campaign because it is for another product that will take the visitor somewhere else internal to the site, not push them out the door to an external site.

    So you clicked the banner and were tagged.  It is in this way that the site can track how often the banner is being used (instances) as a rate of how many people saw the page it was on (page views).  This also allows the site to understand where someone is clicking on the site.  Each area of the banner could contain a different tag, thus if you clicked the t-shirt you could get tagged with a value of tshirtclick while if you clicked the jeans on the same banner you would get tagged with a value of jeansclick.

    Internal campaigns are very useful for a site because they allow for a wide variety of reporting.  The site will know how many conversions they got that clicked on the banner and how much revenue is associated with it.  This also is a much easier way to track traffic from a page.  Perhaps a single page has multiple banners and the site wants to know how many people clicked the banners.  With no tagging on the banners, all the site would be able to do is look at what pages visitors went to next and add them up.  For instance if there is no way to get to the jeans page from your home page and yet 20 of the 100 visitors took that path you can assume that they must have clicked on the jeans banner.  But then to add that up with the page that took them to the t-shrits and the page that took them to the pants, and to…etc. is a huge pain. By the time you get to the number of estimated clicks (because in theory they could have the page bookmarked or something like that) you won’t care any more.

    Look for more the post forthcoming about purchase influencer tagging on Thoughts From Thee Cake Scraps.


    Google Search History Update

    September 9th, 2008

    In my post You Are Being Tracked: E-mail Style there was some discussion/confusion about when I said:

    Hopefully you know that Google keeps track of everything you have searched for.  Ever.

    Well this it true and false depending on how you read it.  GHamilton noted that Google does not keep everything you searched for.  Rather they keep it for 18 months.  The key word here is “YOU”.  In a recent post on the Google Blog Google announced:

    Today, we’re announcing a new logs retention policy: we’ll anonymize IP addresses on our server logs after 9 months. We’re significantly shortening our previous 18-month retention policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to improve privacy for our users.

    You may see where I am going here.  GHamilton is correct in that from and individual IP perspective after 18-months, or rather 9 months now, Google no longer has history on you specifically.  I am correct in that Google really does have “a history of everything you have searched for.  Ever.” with the caveat that they no longer know that you were the one that searched for it after 9 months.  If you are interested CNET does a great job of getting into the nitty-gritty and explains why the ACLU is so critical of Google’s privacy policy.

    Hopefully that helps clear things up a bit for people.  Let me know your thoughts.  Do you care that Google keeps your data for 9-months?  Should it be longer/shorter?  Should they keep anonymous search history forever?


    You Are Being Tracked: E-Mail Style

    September 6th, 2008

    Most people probably already know that they are being tracked.  There are all sorts of programs and ways to do this at all sorts of levels.  For instance your ISP may track you and give (sell) your data to a company like Hitwise – privacy policy can be found here.  I actually saw this in a newscast last week.   They interviewed some guy about what popular search terms are and tried to make it sound creepy.  Amazing! People search for weird stuff on the internet like “how to make bombs” and *gasp* “porn”.  This guy must be some sort of genius!  And he looks at historical data! Brilliant!

    Hopefully you know that Google keeps track of everything you have searched for.  Ever.  Anyway, the part that people probably don’t know as much about is how individual sites track you.  One way a site can track you is by tagging you when you click through on an e-mail they send you – the focus of this post.  Think of tags as dated stamps in your passport book.  Interestingly enough, some of this tagging can be easily found in the address bar of your browser.

    When you see something in the address bar that looks like emid=584783 that is telling the website that your internal – meaning site specific- e-mail address ID is 584783.  This value is unique to a single e-mail address. Each e-mail sent to that e-mail address will have their unique emid attached to all links in the e-mail. This also allows a site to build a history of that e-mail address – not only for activity, but for response rate as well.  Now every time you click through an e-mail for that site they have more history.  Note that larger sites rarely look at individual behavior but instead classify a behavior and then analyze that group.  Still, the information is there.

    In addition to an e-mail ID, there is usually a campaign variable such as cid=Sep08FreeShipping.  This allows the site to report on everything with Sep08FreeShipping stored in the cid variable. All of this information is contained within the link that you click from the e-mail. If you get the e-mail and directly load their site, not through the e-mail, the activity will not be tracked because in a direct load no value would have been assigned to cid.

    These variables do not have to remain in the web address the entire time.  They are stored in the background after the initial click. So when you no longer see emid or cid in the address bar, but originally arrived at the site through the e-mail, you and your activity is still being tracked.

    Look for at least one more installment of how you are tracked. There I will focus more on how a site tracks internal campaigns. Hope this helped give some people a better understanding of how websites track you.