Article:

The Rise Of “Not Provided” Data

In 2011, Google started hiding the search terms that generated visits to a site from secure search pages and for anyone logged into any of Google’s services such as Gmail as result of its updated privacy policy. Thus, the search query would appear in Google Analytics under the label (not provided) instead of the actual search term that sent visitors to a website.

In the past couple of months, the volume of “not provided” data has sky-rocketed to a point that over 50% of the search queries are now encrypted by Google. The graph below which is a summary of “not provided” visits over the past 12 months for one of our clients confirms that Google has made a drastic change. In September, “not provided” search terms have increased by 75% compared to the previous month.

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So why Google has decided to encrypt all search data expect for clicks on adverts?

The main reason according to Google is to provide extra protection for users as some search terms might be too private to reveal. But why such a sudden change? Following the NSA spying scandal, we can suspect that this is a disguised way to calm the recent criticisms.

As they did with the Enhanced Campaigns update a couple of months ago that pushed current advertisers to advertise on mobile, this could be another fishy way to get people to sign in for Google Adwords considering that the search activity will “only” be available for click ads.

What are the alternative tools to track an SEO campaign’s effectiveness?Not Provided Google Data

  • Use Google Webmaster Tools: by linking your Analytics account with Webmaster Tools, you can view the organic search queries directly in Google Analytics. This report adds an extra feature by showing the volume of impressions.
  • Use Google Adwords Organic Report: as announced in August this year, you can now track your SEO performance in Adwords. Again, the account needs to be linked to your Google Webmaster Tools account.
  • Set up Custom Reports: analysing the performance of each page is a good indicator that a keyword is sending a lot of search traffic or none. You can create filter in Analytics to show where “not provided” traffic is coming from. Thus, you can view which pages are or aren’t driving organic traffic.

That being said, we shouldn’t be too worried about how this will affect SEO, as it will still be possible to tell how much traffic your website is getting from organic search.