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October 20, 2011#

Google Begins Encrypting Searches

Effective today, if you conduct a Google search while logged into your Google account your searches will begin encrypted over from insecure HTTP to encrypted HTTPS. HTTPS which stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure safeguards you from any third-party, such as hackers, from trying to steal your information as it is being passed over the web. Also, HTTPS protects you from surveillance by governments, and companies.

However safe HTTPS is I couldn’t help but have mixed thoughts about this. On one hand this is good if the user wishes to have more privacy (and who doesn’t) while conducting searches. Google already encrypts their connection whenever you login to your Google account and prior to today whenever you conducted a search while logged into Google that search information, known as referrer data, was passed via HTTP, an uncrypted connection. Although, not necessarily a bad thing referrer data is useful by webmasters and site owners to understand how their sites are found through Google.

On the other hand, this is somewhat of bad thing for site owners because starting today they will lose valuable data that they depend on to understand how they’re found through Google. I say somewhat because Google stresses that those conducting Google Encrypted Searches is in the single digit percentile. I say that with Google Plus (Google+) picking up momentum we’ll actually see this single digit percent increase to double digits quickly as more and more users login and remain logged into Google but we’ll just have to see.

So how will this affect site owners? It will affect you if you rely on conversion analysis down to the search term level. If you use Google Encrypted Search and click on a result for a website that doesn’t use encryption, the referrer data will not be passed along. But if you click on a result for a website that does use encryption then the referrer data is passed along.

So, is this a good time to encrypt your websites? Yes and No.

Yes, if you want to continue obtaining referrer data. For a moment, lets forget about referrer data and note that if you plan to allow your visitors some kind of registration/login to your website it is recommended to obtain an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) for your site to safeguard sensitive information such as login passwords. Especially, if you’re processing credit cards on your website for goods sold you need to have an SSL certificate installed for your domain. In fact, gateway and credit card processors require it.

And no, if your website doesn’t have some type of registration/login page that you want to encrypt and/or you’re not processing credit cards on your site, and you don’t care or pay attention to referrer data then you don’t need encryption.

However, for those that do want encryption you’ll need both of the following:

  1. Dedicated IP – You will have to obtain this from you existing web hosting company. Prices range. If you’re a Synx3 customer you can purchase on here.
  2. SSL Certificate – You can obtain this directly through your web hosting company or from a 3rd-Party vendor like Comodo. Comodo too much? No worries, you can obtain a 256bit encrypted SSL by Comodo for $50/yr here.

This is interesting and although I am a bit divided on Google’s decision for encrypted search I understand why they are doing it as more and more data is moved online, referrers have the ability to expose the locations to where sensitive and private information you may store online is located.

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