Dealing with Google Analytics (Not Provided) Data



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The (Not Provided) Outlook

Since October 2011, organic keyword data from logged-in Google users is not visible in Google Analytics. Google explained its new policy as an effort to protect privacy, but as keyword data continues to be available to Google advertisers, one is left to wonder whether privacy or profit is behind the move.

Whatever the reason, this lack of keyword data presents real problems for the SEO industry. Since October, most firms have seen the percentage of (not provided) data grow, currently averaging around 23% according to some estimates. 

Making tactical decisions 23% in the dark is hard enough, but things are going to get worse. Firefox, with a hefty 35% market share of browser usage, recently announced that it would default to HTTPS Google search. Whether other browsers follow suit remains to be seen, but browsing privacy would seem to be an area where Firefox competitors fight for the high ground. Google, too, is making strong moves to encourage people to log in, most noticeably its rapid expansion and integration of the Google+ social network.

Branded vs. Non-Branded Traffic

Strategically, one of the biggest (not provided) problems for SEO is differentiating branded and unbranded search traffic. Estimates can be made based on percentages of branded and non-branded traffic that are reported over a given date range. For instance, if 60% of a site’s reported organic traffic is non-branded, then one could assume that 60% of the (not provided) site traffic is non-branded.

One difficulty with this approach is that one must assume the search patterns of logged in users are identical to those of non-logged in users. While it may be a safe assumption, there is no way to really know for sure.

Another difficulty is that the landing page distribution of (not provided) traffic can have a big impact on the branded/non-branded mix. While it’s possible to drill down to the page level in Google Analytics for a closer look, estimates still must make assumptions such as most home page traffic is branded and most product page traffic is non-branded.

Using estimates for comparing one period to another puts us on even shakier ground. First, inherent in the assumption that the branded/non-branded mix going forward is identical to what it was in the past, is the assumption that SEO is not demonstrating relative improvement over time – which is exactly what SEO programs are designed to do.

Second, these estimates do not take into account other marketing initiatives that affect branded and non-branded search traffic in a given time period. For instance, a widely anticipated product launch could set off a flurry of branded searches during the first few months of its release.

Third, these estimates cannot easily factor in traffic changes resulting from new site pages or new content added to existing pages. For instance, a new site section launched in support of the hypothetical new product mentioned above could have a substantial and perhaps long lasting impact on the branded/non-branded traffic mix.

In short, estimates of (not provided) traffic will have a hard time keeping up with real-world business changes. The severity of the problem will vary, in large part based on the nature of the business. For example, small business owners searching for a credit card processor like BluePay figure to be logged into Google to a greater degree than plant managers searching for a metal fabricator like NMF.  But as mobile search mushrooms, even that assumption could fly out the window.

Current Options

Whether or not data is visible, people are still conducting searches – 17.8 billion in January 2011 to be exact. So abandoning or scaling back on SEO on account of an analytics setback would not be smart business. First and foremost, firms should press forward with activities that improve visibility:

  • Ensuring that site content is easily crawl-able and properly interpreted by Google
  • Creating high-quality, relevant and useful onsite and offsite content
  • Promoting content through social media and other means to attract natural backlinks

While on the one hand Google is hiding data, on the other hand it is becoming more open about explaining its search algorithm. Whether or not you like the recent Panda and Penguin updates, they were pretty clear, as evidenced by this representative communication from Google. By staying up to date on what to do – and not do – firms can outperform less attentive competitors and be reasonably confident that their SEO efforts are continuously improving.

by Brad Shorr, Director of Content & Social Media for Straight North, an agency providing SEO services in Chicago.

Image via Beatrice Murch.

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Nick Stamoulis
Jun 27, 2012

The not provided issue is so frustrating.  Google initially said that it would only affect a small number of searches, but I've seen that number grow for clients across all industries.  SEO is still extremely important, but we just need to do the best that we can with the data that we have. 

Brad Shorr
Jul 03, 2012

Yes, as I recall it was announced rather casually, as if it were no big deal. We saw a pretty significant impact right away, and are also seeing steady growth. 

Jun 30, 2012

Well, this was exactly what i was looking for.  I always wondered what the not provided data was and it always annoyed me that I could not get that data.  Thanks

Jul 01, 2012

I agree, Nick. :(

Jul 02, 2012

If Google hides what people search for, I might start to get paranoid about Google Adwords.We trust them to be honest about the clicks, but it's nice to have the opportunity to check the search data to compare.I hope they go back on the "not provided" s****! 

Jul 12, 2012

Really Trond ,I agree with you

Mobile Marketing
Jul 12, 2012

Thanks for such a great post!

Tom Bailey
Jul 25, 2012

I had been looking for ways to fix this issue on my site, however it looks like something which cannot easily be fixed - Hopefully Google come up with an alternative or a solution soon!

Jul 29, 2012

We've been seeing this same problem in Stat Centric. I was relieved to see that Google wasn't just hiding the data from other vendors and still making it available in Google Analytics. This problem has gotten so bad. I logged in today to see that 35 of the 36 search queries in the report I ran were (not provided). While Google Webmaster Tools gives you a way to see the search queries, the inability to correlate this data back to your conversion and other performance data makes it almost useless. I find it interesting that Google Adword searches will still show up even if you are logged in to your Google Account. Just shows you that Google is greedy and only cares about privacy when it doesn't keep them from making money.

Jul 31, 2012

Ok, I will be controversal. I am happy for this and I hope this will go even futher. Yes SEO will be tougher and tougher but it will push us all to make more content and not silly linkbuilding.Imagine a world without analytics! Yes, millions of webadvisers will have really tough life because they can not prove anything to clients. Hard life, but the best will know how to deal with it.

Aug 15, 2012

I'm getting over 50% 'keyword not provided' search traffic on my website! This is really frustrating, as the site is new and I'm still testing which keywords work and which don't - with more than half of the results in teh dark, there's little I can do in terms of optimizing for specific keywords:(

Black Hat Forum
Aug 17, 2012

I am slightly confused by this action by Google. Surely Google Analytics will suffer as a result?At first I thought they will actually show the secure data on Google's products (analytics) and remove it for 3rd parties, essentially forcing everyone onto their products. But it seems like they are hiding it even from themselves and will contrinue to do so?

Linko G.
Aug 28, 2012

Looking at my Analytics account, my site has 41% of search terms under "not provided."  :(

Aug 31, 2012

I want to ask a dumb question:  What does it exactly mean when the article states  "logged in Google users"? which is the preface for the entire "not provided" scam. Does that classify everyone who logs into their gmail account first thing in the morning and any searching they do isn't counted?Looking at my site, I get a mismash of landing pages for "not provided" therefore, I don't really see a true patternwith the exception of perhaps my georgraphic name.

Elisa Gabbert
Aug 31, 2012

Anyone with a Google or Gmail account is usually logged in all the time on their home (or work) computer, so yes, those "logged in" users are not having their search queries reported. Also now all Firefox users are not tracked, I believe.

DoFollow Forums
Sep 04, 2012

We are facing the same problems. A high percentage of our search engine visitors come up as not provided. This can become really annoying because you don't know which keywords you are actually ranking for!

Sep 18, 2012

I also suffer this situation.My potential website buyers always ask me about it and I have to explain what it is.Some even think that my reports are wrong with "not provided" data.

Tom Sizer-James
Sep 21, 2012

Affected by “keyword not provided”? Please spend 3 seconds voting in our super sexy survey -

Oct 08, 2012

You can see what keywords were used if you go through Webmasters Tools. There is not a lot of analysis you can run on this data thrugh Webmasters but it does tell you what organic search brought the user to your website. Even with this workaround it's really frustrating though. 

Nov 06, 2012

This sux so hard, 52% of my keywords in analytics "Not provided"! Why the hell do Google think we use analytics, referrals an goals a sida the key feature is the keywords list.
Nov 06, 2012

You can take this a step further by looking at Landing Pages vs. Keywords and seeing what keywords are driving traffic to each landing page.That is to say if I know KW A lands on Landing Page X and I know that 92 visits landed on Landing Page X then it's very likely one of the same keywords that was actually reported. You could then apply a percentage based on actual data to all the visits on the not provided section of the landing page based on the actual keyword data reported. If 40% of the keywords landing on Landing Page X are KW A then apply that to the total of not provided visits.Granted it's not perfect but it is scientific. 

Kick Speed
Nov 29, 2012

Thanks for the article Brad. Yep, I get nearly half (45%) of visitors arriving to my martial arts website from unknown sources, which makes it increasingly difficult to manage.My other businesses and work sites also have 40% (and growing) traffic from unknown sources. Very annoying!!

Jan 03, 2013

Around 40% of my Google traffic search terms is not provided. It's really, really annoying.I wonder what will happen, if Google finds a way to get all Google searchers being online. So you have to log into your Google account in order to do a search. Fun analytic. Search terms: Not provided. Amount: 100%...

Colchester Web Design
Jan 10, 2013

GA anonymous is painfully fustrating!We use statcounter as an alternative to GA.I hope this helps.

Merkeleon Software
Jan 25, 2013

 Ling (not verified) Said:I wonder what will happen, if Google finds a way to get all Google searchers being online. So you have to log into your Google account in order to do a search. Fun analytic. Search terms: Not provided. Amount: 100%... Pretty much agree...Sadly, Google is dictating it's own rules. Unfair, that it makes SEOs' job much more difficult, cause the sphere is a huge one in IT business right now. 

Mar 05, 2013

Thanks for the information

Sep 13, 2013

Excellent entry! I'm been looking for topics as interesting as this. Looking forward to your next post.

Rohit Roy
Mar 25, 2014

Google Analytics keywords not provided is big problem.....Now going to try fix the issue.Thanks for this post...

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