SEO | April 10, 2014

What is ‘Not Provided’ in Google Analytics?

If you’re in marketing, you’ll know that you live for insight. Accurate customer information and behavioural statistics are essential if you’re to make the most insightful decisions and get the best possible ROI.

That’s why, if you cornered a search marketer and asked them the worst thing about organic SEO, they’d doubtless reply with two words: Not Provided.

What is ‘Not Provided’?

Before October 2011, you could use Google Analytics to see what visitors had searched for when visiting your website via Google.

Then Google changed the way that it used search data. Anyone signed into a Google account online would from now on experience a secure SSL search and have their searches registered as ‘not provided’ – as will anyone using Google on Mozilla Firefox.

Since 2011, webmasters have noticed ‘not provided’ searches growing and growing. For some websites, ‘not provided’ searches account for more than 97% of their traffic.

The following graph from the ‘not provided’ analysis site http://www.notprovidedcount.com shows how much search data has vanished for a popular shoe retailer with more than 12 million monthly visitors.

As you’d expect, this sustained rise of missing data is a bone of contention for many marketers, as explained below in a gloriously pithy ‘product’ on the fitness site Powerhouse Fitness.

It surely won’t be too long before all user data is kept by Google. That means that many search marketers have to find other ways to report on keyword traffic and analyse search techniques.

Why has ‘not provided’ grown?

The official line from Google was that they were expanding the use of SSL, and by extension ‘not provided’ results, because it believes that, in the wake of the fallout from the controversial PRISM programme, privacy is “a good thing for users”.

However, PPC marketers who pay Google for their ads will note that they can still access all the keyword data that they need. Cynics note that Google is happy to give away search data to the businesses that are paying them.

How to survive ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics

With years of experience in coping with Google’s ever-changing practices, we online marketers are nothing if not resourceful and adaptable. After all, the most successful marketers with the happiest clients are also the most flexible. There are still ways to identify successful and potentially lucrative keywords.

Move your focus away from keywords

However the reality is that, in Google’s eyes, the notion of keywords is becoming an increasingly outdated one. Forward-thinking search experts are now looking away from a keyword-centric approach and towards utilising semantics and relationships to build brands online.

We’re already seeing Author Rank, personalised results and social sharing becoming increasingly important in creating organic traffic and there’s no reason why they won’t continue to do so. Producing great quality content has never been more important.

We’re proud to be an official Premier Google Partner.