Over the past year we’ve watched the ranks of the dreaded term “not provided” rise and rise. In September, Google announced that it had begun its mission to encrypt ALL search data, making 100% “not provided” keyword data a reality.
Chart by Not Provided Count shows increase in “not provided.”
What Does Not Provided Mean in Google Analytics?
If you log into Google Analytics today, you’ll likely see the term “not provided” eating up the majority of your keyword data.
Google is choosing not to show you the keywords that have been driving organic traffic to your site. But why Google, why? The official answer is that it’s done in the name of online privacy, to protect the vulnerable users. Some theorize that Google is trying to hinder third-party software that makes use of Google keyword data, and others believe it’s a move by Google to get more marketers to sign up for AdWords (since keyword data obtained through AdWords is not hidden).
Whatever the reasoning is, the “not provided” fiasco has a lot of SEO’s enraged, and for good reason. Keyword data about what organic keywords are driving traffic to your site has been essential for online marketers, so they know what’s working and where to go next.
Yes it stinks. A ton. Instead of crying on our keyboards though, we will remain ever optimistic, providing 9 ways to get your “not provided” keyword data back. Kind of. Alright, well, we’ve got workarounds – tools and techniques that will help you with keyword research and vital marketing data. You know what though, you might not even need that data as much as you thought. We’ll explain. Read on!
1. Google Webmaster Tools: A Handful of Keywords
Google Analytics won’t cough up keyword info, but Google Webmaster tools still provides some, albeit not a ton. Still, in the middle of a desert, even a teacup of water can save your life.
2. Enable Site Search: See What Users Search For on Your Site
Setting up site search lets you see the queries visitors have used in the search box on your site (assuming you have one).
To set up site search, first go to Google Analytics and select the Account and Web Property you want to work with. Use View to select the view you’d like to use. From there:
- Open View Settings
- Click “Site Search Settings”
- Choose “Do Track Site Search.”
For Query Parameter you need to type in the word that designates an internal query parameter. If this all sounds like a foreign language don’t worry – it’s easy to figure out.
To find out what your query parameter is, visit your site and conduct a search with your site search box. Once you’ve conducted a search, you’ll see the URL change to something along the lines of:
Whatever comes after the “?” is your query parameter. In this example, the query parameter is “q.” Add your query parameter to the Site Search Settings.
Next you’ll see the option to “Strip query parameters out of URL.” Choosing this option will prevent your search from showing up in your Content reports. You’ll also see the option to add category parameters, which you can use if your site search engine allows for it.
Now you can head over to Behavior>Site Search>Search Terms, and lo and behold, you can see what folks are searching for on your site. This is pretty prime info – you’re learning what users are hoping to find on your site, which can launch a lot of ideas for SEO content you might want to add in the future.
For example, imagine you run a mattress company or bedding supply store, and you write a blog post called “Top 5 iPhone Sleep Alarm Apps.” You may peek into your site search report and find that users have searched “android alarm apps.” Maybe they saw your post about iPhone apps and are looking for the same info for Android apps. Suddenly you have a great new topic to write about that you know will resonate with audiences. Very cool!
3. Bing Keyword Data
Google may have turned its back on you, but Bing is that awkward kid on the playground who is desperate for friends, so no WAY it’s going to turn you away.
Bing doesn’t get nearly as much search traffic as Google, but at least it’s sharing. The only issue here is that because Bing gets so much less search traffic than Google, you’ll only find useful data if you get a lot of traffic, making it an unrealistic option for many smaller businesses.
4. Google Keyword Planner: The New Keyword Tool
Google axed the keyword tool that once made it easy to conduct hearty keyword research, and its disappearance has left many SEOers with long faces.
Not all is lost though – you can still use the Google Keyword Planner for keyword recommendations and brainstorming. Using it is more of a nuisance than the old keyword tool, since in order to use the planner you need to have an AdWords account.
Creating an AdWords account isn’t a huge deal though – no credit cards are required. Just choose your Google login, set your time zone, and you’re basically all set.
Once you’ve logged in to AdWords, to find the Keyword Planner, go to Tools and Analysis > Keyword Planner. From there, you’ll have the option to:
- Search for new keyword and ad group ideas
- Get search volume for a list of keywords
- Get Traffic Estimates for a list of keywords
- Multiply keyword lists to get new keyword ideas
Today we’ll stick with searching for new keywords. Click that option and you’ll be brought to another page where you are prompted to provide some info. The only info you really need to give is your product or service. Feel free to ignore anything else you don’t understand or don’t want to provide.
Click “Get Ideas” at the bottom of the box and you’ll soon be swimming in keywords.
Toggle between “keywords” and “ad groups” for further segmenting. Don’t forget to take advantage of the traffic estimator and search volume tools as well – even though Google has robbed us of keyword data, they still offer a handy set of marketing tools for SEOs.
5. Google Related Searches
Need more keyword ideas? Never fear – Google’s recommended searches that appear at the bottom of SERPs are the easiest way to discover related keywords.
The cool thing about these suggestions is that you are guaranteed that the related searches are popular – that’s why Google is displaying them in the first place! Focusing on those related searches and semantically similar queries will definitely boost your chances of crafting an efficient, searchable, traffic-driving page.
6. Google Trends: Brand Monitoring & Topical Ideas
Google Trends is a great tool you can use for brand monitoring. Just type in your brand and see how searches for your business have changed over the months or years.
Google Trends can also be used to research possible timely topics. The “Hot Searches” category shows the popular search topics of recent days.
Another powerful section of Google Trends is the “Top Charts,” which shows the most popular search topics by category. See top search topics for everything from musical artists and politicians to software technologies and medications.
Use Google Trends to monitor your branded keywords and brainstorm topical blog posts subjects.
7. Google Analytics
But wait, I thought we were hating on Google Analytics! What gives? While Google Analytics is no longer a good resource for discovering what keywords are driving people to your site, it still provides a ton of other valuable data – even data that can help you decide what subjects will drive traffic.
The landing page report shows your most popular landing pages. What are these pages about? If you create a new piece of content that is related or inspired by a strong-performing landing page, chances are the new content will also do well.
You can also add the secondary dimension: source in order to see where that traffic is coming from. That’ll do Google Analytics. That’ll do.
8. Join the PPC Side
If you really miss that old keyword data, it can be yours – for a price. Google doesn’t “not provide” data if you participate in paid advertising on Google via AdWords.
Google claims that they’re hiding keyword data as “not provided” for privacy purposes, but it’s hard to support that argument when paid users are given access to that “private” data. Some have gone as far as to label Google as an extortionist, but no matter how you feel about it, the plain truth is that AdWords users get that sweet keyword nectar while others don’t.
Some reasons to consider switching to PPC:
- PPC users get keyword traffic data.
- Organic SERPs are getting smaller and smaller, while paid advertising gets increasingly more prime real estate.
- Google focuses a ton of effort towards advancing PPC. With awesome ad extensions like Offer Extensions and Click-to-Call Extensions, Google works hard to make PPC work for advertisers. If Google’s focuses on it, chances are you should be too.
Did we pique your interest? Check out our PPC Beginners FAQ. We’ve got the answers!
9. Use Your Expertise: Create Great Content & Abandon the Keyword Obsession
Don’t despair about not having as much keyword data from Google Analytics as in the golden years of days gone by. Maybe we’re trusting technology too much as it is – after all, isn’t your brain the most powerful analytics tool of all?
Remember, Googs doesn’t know your audience like you do. What does you audience enjoy? You know this better than anyone else, so take pride in that and use your insider knowledge to your advantage.
You bet you are!
The web is plastered with articles about why marketers need to focus more on creating great content than adhering to old school SEO practices. While the reality is that a lot of SEO work goes hand in hand with creating (and promoting) quality content, some SEO practices are holding marketers back, one being the obsession with keywords.
Google has already been moving away from keyword power and instead focusing more and more on semantics and the power of relationships. With Google putting more value into features like author rank, knowledge graph, personalized results, and social sharing, successful marketers won’t be spending all their time focusing on keywords.
Remember, 15-20% of Google searches have never been searched before. This means marketers have to get creative, imaging new queries and audience desires that Google could never give you, even if it wanted to. Ultimately, it will be your know-how and inventiveness that will result in excellent, top-notch content and rankings. So don’t get hung up on the “not provided.” We’re moving past keywords anyhow!