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

April 11, 2018

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:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=5&ved=0CF4QFjAE&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wordstream.com%2Fblog%2Fws%2F2011%2F07%2F18%2Fmost-expensive-google-adwords-keywords&ei=WjhFT_yFGqW0iQKJ_u3aDg&usg=AFQjCNH6jAtufiEV9QQ4URJCPcqKj60iuA&sig2=R881GkyXe-xIhCnCm6pxaQ

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 WordStream.com 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!

Hit me up on Twitter

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Larry Kim

Larry Kim

Larry Kim is the founder of WordStream and CEO of MobileMonkey, a chatbot building platform.