Keyword Not Provided – What Is the esrc=s String in Google Analytics?


This evening I was doing some SEO research, digging through some web server log files and came across a bunch of weird HTTP referrer fields like this one:

I couldn't figure out what the q=&esrc=s string was because:

  • The q= parameter was empty
  • I had never seen this esrc=s parameter.
  • There were literally thousands of HTTP referrer strings from Google containing the string:  q=&esrc=s parameter set.

I did some digging and figured out that "esrc=s" has to do with the Keyword "Not Provided" issue in Google Analytics.

What is Keyword = Not Provided in Google Analytics?

Last year Google announced that they would start hiding the user search queries from the HTTP referrer field. Web analytics programs such as Google Analytics, which used to be able to display a user's search query, would no longer be able to do so. Instead, Google Analytics would show as being a keyword not provided, as shown here:

google analytics keywords not provided

Initially, the keyword = (not provided) issue affected as little as 2% of our organic searches, but as of February 2012, approximately 30% of our organic search traffic is being obfuscated by Google. You can see the steady rise of keyword not provided searches to the website in this figure:

Keyword Not Provided - Google Analytics

It appears that at this rate, the majority of organic searches will be become keyword not provided by the middle of the year!

What is the q=(empty) and esrc=e Parameter?

It appears that whenever Google encrypts a user's search in the HTTP referrer field, they change the q= parameter (which used to contain information about the user’s actual search query) to be empty, then add some other parameter esrc=e.

Google Analytics Keyword Not Provided

I think Google's decision to hide user searches from Website owners is a bit frustrating because:

  • Webmasters loose visibility into how people found their site
  • It makes SEO increasingly difficult to measure

Thankfully, this issue only affects organic search query data - You can still access all user search query data from paid search, including Google AdWords!

Still, I think someone ought to start a keyword not provided petition!

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Feb 25, 2012

Correct me if I'm wrong, but in that URL string you found in your logs, q= is empty then esrc=s. The ampersand is the query parameter separator.

Larry Kim
Feb 27, 2012

You're right. q=empty, esrc=s. sorry about that. i've edited the post to reflect that correction. Thanks!

Feb 26, 2012

I'm now at over 44% not provided and climbing.. shocking that all paid data is there.  Very frustrating not knowing how almost half of your users got to your site..

Jim Bath
Feb 27, 2012

I haven't come across this much myself yet, but you do have me a little worried now! Useful to have found this blog - I've never myself know how to decipher referrer fields!

Matthew Diehl
Feb 27, 2012

If you are interested in a keyword not provided petition, there is one at more tweets than petition signers, probably because of the lack of ownership transparency.  Nonetheless there is an attempt being made but having somewhat of a lackluster response.

Elisa Gabbert
Feb 27, 2012

Thanks Matthew!

Feb 27, 2012

It's a great post with very important information! I really never faced it before so didn't have the idea. Anyway thanks for sharing!

Feb 27, 2012

This is degrading our keyword research. We're seeing more and more people coming in with "Encrypted" search queries...

Mar 04, 2012

Call me a cynic but this move to hide keyword information may be more about devaluing content optimization in response to  organic search and increasing the reliance on paid search than privacy.

Mar 08, 2012

How funny... I am watching three sites with piwik, and although two of them present the "keyword not provided", the site that has an Adwords account associated does not have this problem.Does it mean that I need to subscribe an Adword service for the other two sites in order to get Google send me the query words?I will do the test and see what happens...

Ian Smith
Apr 16, 2012

This is mind-blowing.Is there a more definitive assessment anywhere as to what Google is playing at?

Ian Smith
Apr 16, 2012

From Google Analytics Forum: Unfortunately, Google made a change in November 2011 that hid keyword data from visitors who were logged in at the time, citing privacy issues. Visitors using their google accounts from Google search always show as (Not Provided).  There is nothing you can do about this - and no other analytics software is any better, as the data is simply not available. It's a very odd move: the information could never identify a specific visitor to begin with (as least in GA), and the loss of this data can be really annoy, as you have found out.

May 01, 2012

I am getting 40% as 'not provided' keywords in my "keyword conversions" custom reporting section. Is there any other free analytic software where i can track proper keyword conversions.

May 18, 2012

Correct, the % of keyword not provided is evolving fast. Some website owners still think this is an error caused by not correctly linked accounts within the Google Analytics and AdWords admin settings. I am in for the petition :)

May 18, 2012

Ill second that keyword not provided petition!!!!!!

Aderson Oliveira
Aug 28, 2012

You can still have all keywords available in the Google Webmaster Tools. I know it is not a full solution but they are all there.

Jennifer Wong
Dec 11, 2012

Hi Larry,We recently conducted a study and found that Google’s “Not Provided” Keywords have increased by 171% over the last 12 months.Here's the full study - key takeaways were:- Google “not provided” now accounts for almost 40 percent of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171 percent since originally introduced a year ago.- 64 percent of companies analyzed in the study see 30 to 50 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.- 81 percent of the companies analyzed in the study see over 30 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.- Recognized referring keywords from organic search declined by 49 percent.Thought you might be interested in the new data!Jennifer@Jenerationy

Feb 20, 2013

Yes  indeed , never bother me till now , as i want to develop a local script to trace SEO stuff.Looked into server logs and strange thing is that some queries got keywords and  some ( most of it ) does not.type in and will redirect to  then make a search  like linux-romania and there it is,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.42661473,d.d2k&fp=afdf3882e7edc785&biw=1280&bih=665However , is useless as long as most of the users use  blank and not /webhp insteead wich is unusual !Got to do some mode digings and will post ya later as soon as i got some real results.Cheers !

Jul 13, 2013

This is just prove that Google is not working for the people, but to make rich a small group with whom share their same interest.We HAVE to destroy Google and all they do against serious publishers like us.

Oct 15, 2013

Looks like Google is scroogling lots of us now. They are on their way to the "dark side".  They are maybe even scroogling themselves, If I can make my website bring in more hits by adjusting its content to what people want, that means more traffic for Google, doesn't it? Oooohhhh, but wait; more traffic for others too!!! Well now, we can't have that can we?? Wealth and absolute power - impossible to resist. Money - a lot like fire: a little bit in the right place keeps you warm and comfortable; too much, and you burn youself andothers. I'd say Google's on fire right now. Reminds me a lot of another big computer enabled monopoly . . .   hmmmmm!!???

Insignis Sites
Mar 04, 2014

Thanks for the explanation! It helped me a lot since I was wondering big time why most of the http-referrer-strings of the visitors coming from google didn't have a value for the q parameter.

Jun 11, 2017

Thank you for explaining .. I also had confusion with the problem, after reading this I get new knowledge

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