On the official Google blog there is a new announcement that the Beta version of an encrypted Google search is ready for use by general web users.
In a nutshell, by visiting https://www.google.com (rather than http://www.google.com) an encrypted connection is put in place which means third parties are not able to see the search terms you use and search results you view.
Immediate differences between the standard and more secure versions of Google are highlighted in the blog post: “The service includes a modified logo to help indicate that you’re searching using SSL and that you may encounter a somewhat different Google search experience, but as always, remember to check the start of the address bar for “https” and your browser lock indicators: Today’s release comes with a “beta” label for a few reasons. First, it currently covers only the core Google web search product. To help avoid misunderstanding, when you search using SSL, you won’t see links to offerings like Image Search and Maps that, for the most part, don’t support SSL at this time. Also, since SSL connections require additional time to set up the encryption between your browser and the remote web server, your experience with search over SSL might be slightly slower than your regular Google search experience. What won’t change is that you will still get the same great search results.”
The article also states “Google will still maintain search data to improve your search quality and to provide better service. Searching over SSL doesn’t reduce the data sent to Google — it only hides that data from third parties who seek it. And clicking on any of the web results, including Google universal search results for unsupported services like Google Images, could take you out of SSL mode. Our hope is that more websites and services will add support for SSL to help create a better and more consistent experience for you.”
This has been implemented after Google suffered recent criticism over data security when it collected information from open Wi-Fi connections. How the general public will react to encrypted Google search and how large the uptake will be is anyone's guess, though it is easy to see, even within a day of release, that this will make life more challenging for website owners and search engine marketers.
Early tests show that in the website analytics data, the referrer field isn’t complete when vistors come from the https version of Google. This means that the more people use encrypted search, the less you know about where they came from and the keywords used to bring them to your site.