Yahoo Says Goodbye To Referrer Data As It Secures Searches

Data collection tactics by the National Security Agency (NSA) appear to have stepped up actions by at least one major search engine. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said the company will encrypt all information moving between data centers, offer users an option to encrypt all data flowing to and from Yahoo, and work more closely with international Yahoo Mail partners to ensure that its co-branded accounts are https-enabled.

Mayer said in a Tumblr blog post that this extends efforts the company made to secure Yahoo Mail through Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) 2048-bit encryption technology. She explains that it's about keeping user data private. "There have been a number of reports over the last six months about the U.S. government secretly accessing user data without the knowledge of tech companies, including Yahoo," she writes. "I want to reiterate what we have said in the past: Yahoo has never given access to our data centers to the NSA or to any other government agency." (Technology providing access.)



Search referrer data remains the biggest issue surrounding encrypted searches. Last September, Google confirmed it would secure all searches by default. Bing earlier this year said it would move in that direction. Yahoo is the last of the three major U.S. search engines to make the move.

No credit for Yahoo could completely obscure reporting for marketers, but it won't hinder data reporting for companies like comScore. A spokesperson told MediaPost that comScore uses panel data to evaluate the search marketplace -- relying on what occurs directly on its panelists' computers, not the referral information from the engines, so it does not impact its search reporting.

Unlike Google, a search on Yahoo will reveal nothing, including keywords and origin. Even if searches originate from Yahoo, searchers will appear to have gone directly to the Web site, rather than through a click from the engine.

It will make it more difficult on brands using attribution models and referrer data to determine the amount they will spend on advertising for each search engine. It's part of attribution reporting that tells marketers the keywords and the clicks that support the conversion. Without that data marketers must find another way to determine where to invest budgets.

Mayer might need to rethink Yahoo's encryption business practices if the company continues to sell ads on its properties, including in search query results.

Kevin Lee, Didit founder, offers some advice to mitigate the loss of organic keyword information from encrypted search:

1. Ensure that account structures on paid search are optimized to assure the greatest relevance between the keyword and landing page. This will help marketers use the paid keyword data as a proxy.

2. Use the Google and Bing Webmaster tools. They are loaded with keyword data -- and while that data isn't a full substitute because conversion data is missing, linking Google Analytics with Google Webmaster tools provides some great insights.

3. Keep good records of site changes to better understand the potential cause and the cause-and-effect relationships between SEO initiatives and additional organic search traffic. Each page of a site beyond the main and category pages generally only ranks for a small set of related phrases. Clearly written content remains important because gaining traffic to a page typically means the keyword theme ranks.

WordStream Founder Larry Kim points marketers to paid-search query data. "All workarounds for the 'not provided' issue that previously included using search engine data from Bing and Yahoo were just that -- workarounds," he said. "It provided some help, but fell short. It didn't get us back to where we were. There is not a heck of a lot that an SEO can do here. I'd be more concerned about the next Google surprise such as search algorithm update targeting guest posts."

3 comments about "Yahoo Says Goodbye To Referrer Data As It Secures Searches".
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  1. Daniel Soschin from Speaker & Blogger, January 23, 2014 at 3:55 p.m.

    The only surprise here is how long this took to decide/implement.

  2. Kevin Lee from Didit / eMarketing Association / Giving Forward, January 23, 2014 at 4:02 p.m.

    Its worth noting that for paid search, marketers can embed the keywords being bid into their landing page URLs either transparently or via a listing ID (at the keyword level). While that data won't provide clarity for broad and phrase match variants, it does allow to at least know which of several listings pointing tot he same landing page drive the click. The fact that marketers can get at least part of the query has up till now has led engines to provide the full keyword search data for paid listings. That may change...

  3. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, January 23, 2014 at 4:10 p.m.

    has nothing to do with NSA... searches show nothing.. it's the other stuff that count.

    not to mention.. searches are normally cached on the home machine, not the server.

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