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

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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Comments

  1. says

    Cyruss, thanks for amazing study in this article. I’ve just test whether in the referrer is passing also keyword. But in HTTPS there is an empty refferer. This is the reason why Google Analytics determines visits from HTTPS Bing SERP as direct and why it is unable to collect keyword data.

    You can check HTTP refferer in browser on any page inserting following JavaScript code into address line: javascript:alert(document.referrer)

    • Cyrus Shepard says

      Thanks for checking Martin. Appreciate the insight. Hopefully this means it’s just an oversight as Bing just introduced https support, and this will work itself out. Cheers.

  2. says

    Providing keywords data is a way,for Bing, to gain popularity among webmasters,so they probably wont hide keyword data atm.But in the future.when entities will replace keywords that’s inevitable.Similar to page rank fate.
    I read moz posts,usually not you’re personal blogs.But now i’m tired,need lighter texts so i read you’re life story (how a $79 SEOmoz…).Cool story,i can see my self in you’re beginners days.But i’m disappointed,you left moz.I really liked you’re posts there.And this is not influence the influencer comment.I finally decided,my first site will be about movies,so,well,no offense,yo’re not influencer in that industry.
    One more thing,don’t know if something is wrong with my Firefox or with you’re blog,but the page wont stop loading.
    Cheers,waiter,beer for all (do you miss those days sometimes?).

  3. says

    A little technical knowledge of how the HTTP protocol works would help you a lot here Cyrus :)

    If you go from https to http, the referrer is never carried along, simply because you’re going from encrypted to unencrypted and passing the referrer could leak data. This is as it should be by design in the HTTP protocol and nothing Bing does, but something your browser does. If you go from http to https or from https to https, the referrer is kept intact.

    If you go from https Bing to an https page, the referrer data is kept and you will see it show up in your analytics. The above remark about doing alert(document.referrer); ( or console.log(document.referrer); ) is right and will show you this if you search from https Bing and go to an https page.

  4. says

    Just tried this out on an http & https site; unlike Google, Bing still appears to pass keywords if you’re going from https to https.

    As you mention https to http results in the visit being counted as direct. However Duckduckgo and Google have got around this by using either a redirect through a non-secure URL (Google) or using the meta ‘referrer’ tag to pass on the referring domain (DDG), so I’d expect Bing to follow suit before using HTTPS by default.

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