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Bing Now Supports HTTPS: How Does This Affect Keyword Data?

by Cyrus Shepard · SEO


Up until today, I didn’t realize that Bing didn’t support https, but I guess it has been an issue for quite some time.

But now, a thread on Hacker News shows this has all changed. Bing now supports SSL and you can search on https://www.bing.com without receiving an error.

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Unlike Google, Bing doesn’t force https, even for logged in users. I tested this by logging into both my old Hotmail account and also by logging into Bing via Facebook. Under both circumstances I was allowed to perform non-encrypted searches.

In fact, it seems the only way to perform an encrypted search is to manually enter https into the address bar.

This means that for the vast majority of Bing users, search remains unsecured. (How do you like that, NSA?)

Will Bing become (not provided)?

One thing that has always separated Bing from Google is the free availability of all keyword data. Google has moved towards encrypting as many searches as possible and refusing to pass keyword referrer information to website owners. These Google keywords show up in analytics reports as (not provided) and worldwide now account for over 78% of all Google searches.

Bing, on the other hand, has always provided webmasters with their actual keyword data when available. Marketers could sometimes get a sense of their missing Google data by looking at Bing instead.

Now, if Bing moves towards encrypted search, will keyword data go dark with it?

I’m not a technical expert, but if Bing was passing keyword data through secured search, then it should show up in my Google Analytics reporting.

This doesn’t appear to be the case. When performing searches through the https version of Bing, not only was I not able to see the keyword referrel data in Google Analytics, but the visits didn’t even register as organic search visits. Instead, they registered as ‘Direct.”

A Bing https Keyword Experiment

I tried various searches through Bing – both secure and non-secure in different browsers, to see what type of data was passed to Google Analytics.

For the non-secure searches, I used keywords that identified the visit as originating from the regular http search experience.
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At the same time, I opened another browser and performed a similar search using https in the keyword.

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After this, I clicked through to my website through Bing’s search results, and then watched the visits through Google Analytics Real-Time report.

The non-secure http visits showed the keyword, while the secure https visits did not.

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Weirdly, the secure https visits also didn’t register as organic search, but showed up as ‘direct’ visits instead. Perhaps this is a quirk of https being new with Bing, and Google simply doesn’t recognize it as an organic visit yet.

Perhaps when everything is sorted out we’ll begin seeing keyword data for these https searches again. Also, as I said my technical abilities in this area aren’t perfect, and perhaps someone with better skills than myself can determine if keyword data is being passed in the referral string.

Even if Bing does hide keyword data through secure search, right now this shouldn’t have a big impact because most searches will still go through non-secure http. On the other hand, if Bing decides to force https more in the future, does this mean that marketers will lose that keyword data as well?

Let’s hope not.

Update:

Joost de Valk has written an excellent explanation of what is happening with some suggestions around referral data and web security: Should we move to an all HTTPS web?

 

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