Since 2011, Google had been encrypting searches and hiding organic search terms by default in their referral data, meaning marketers do not have access to keywords their organic users used. Yahoo made the same move in 2014, and for years western markets have gotten used to the lack of this information. Chinese marketers on the other hand had scarcely been affected because domestic search engines like Baidu, have not been encrypting their searches. However, this has changed recently when Baidu announced that they will make a similar move as Google and Yahoo had to protect their users privacy.Baidu first warned webmasters in mid-May that the search engine will slowly begin to hide organic search terms in their referrer strings.
We observed from analytics data available to us that Baidu had actually started rolling this change out since mid-April, even before the first communication to webmasters, but it had been a slow ramp up process. The analytics data below is of a Chinese website with 10,000 organic sessions per day. We used this data to compare the primary brand term versus “(not set)” from organic Baidu traffic. By June 26, it would appear that Baidu had made a complete switch, as you can see our sample analytics data shows a sharp drop of primary brand term traffic.
Baidu had made a similar announcement on June 28 via its webmasters’ platform that the company had fully complete the encryption change and all keyword data removed from referrer. Baidu suggested that any marketers interested in their organic keywords should refer to that data from Baidu Webmaster Tools or Baidu Analytics platform.
As westerns markets have had to deal with this for years from Google and Yahoo, we expect Chinese markets will be quick to adapt to this change as well.
As of July 2015, we can confirm that Haosou and Sogou, the number 2 and 3 search engines in China respectively, are still providing search term data in referrers.