(Not Provided): Google Analytics Search Term Suppression Explored
Our clients and friends reach out with questions regarding their digital assets all the time. One of the queries we’ve received lately has to do with the changes made in Google Analytics that suppress keyword search data. The section that would normally show the term that was entered in a search and brought a visitor to your site has been replaced with the ominous phrase, “(not provided).”
First, let’s explain the changes made.
Google decided in the fall of 2011, according to Danny Sullivan of SearchEngineLand.com, to protect any search term data that is performed while a user is logged into Google products, such as Gmail, Drive or YouTube. For example, let’s say I’m searching for “unicorn tear dispenser” on Google, after checking my Gmail. UnicornTearsUnlimited.com would not see the search term I used to arrive at their site. It would be lumped in under the term, “not provided.”
Here is the rationale for the decision, from Google’s blog:
“As search becomes an increasingly customized experience, we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users.”
As for the reason why you see the term “not provided,” here is the explanation from the Google help section:
“When you sign in to Google.com, your organic search is conducted in a secure context. If you visit a site from those search results, the visit is still categorized as organic, but your query terms are not available in the report. The label (not provided) is used in place of the query terms.”
Now, I can imagine you saying, “what’s wrong with that? Isn’t it good idea to protect personal information?” It is, indeed. However, for those of us running a business and trying to get the most from our SEO efforts, seeing a LARGE amount of organic search traffic protected from view is a huge obstacle.
As a business, we are not able to discern how visitors arrived to the site organically. We can’t understand how to gauge their interest on your product, or even know for what they are searching. Imagine if you’re a big box store like Target, and nearly half the terms you have received on your site are protected from view. The amount of market data hidden away from you is ridiculous!
Unfortunately, this is a policy that will most likely not change. In fact, a new site is tracking the incremental growth of (not provided) traffic. NotProvidedCount.com tracks 60 sites to chart the rise of the keyword “not provided,” and posits that, at its current rate, unknown traffic will reach 100% by July of 2015.
However, thanks to the ingenuity of knowledgeable industry veterans and custom filters, hacks have been created to retain some of that information. These perform a series of sophisticated formulas to pull more data from (not provided) searches. They are easy to implement into your Google Analytics system, and will report data within 24 hours of implementation. The best part: it isn’t against the rules to use them! It’s your data, so augment it the way you see fit.
Check out these great resources:
I’ve implemented these into our clients’ accounts as well as our website, and found them to be really helpful. You will NOT be gaining all of the search term data within (not provided), but you can decipher how the unknown traffic you received interacted with your site and which landing pages they visited. Here is the art and science of digital marketing coming into play, this leaning more heavily on the art. It will provide more insight than what you would have had otherwise.