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Keyword “Not Provided”: What A Recent Google Change Means for Your Stats

If you’ve been keeping an eagle eye on your web stats, you’ve likely seen an uptick in the organic searches that are tallied under the cryptic little label called “Not Provided” (as in, the search term visitors used to get to your site is not provided).

So what gives?

Well, back in October, Google announced that there would be some changes to how keywords data would be presented in Google Analytics. If a user is signed into a Google product (such as Gmail), and they perform a search, they do so on the secure version of (https://www.google.com/) Google by default. Any of the searches performed on that secure version are still recorded in Google Analytics as organic visits, but the search terms the user types into the Google search bar are — you guessed it—not provided.

So instead of seeing a breakout of individual search terms used by people logged into their Google accounts, you’ll see all of these visits aggregated under the single label of: “Not Provided.”

What it means for your stats

Although Google initially estimated that this change would affect only 2 – 3% of organic search traffic, we’re seeing evidence that it’s having a bigger impact — closer to 15%, in fact. (We’ve even seen estimates as high as 50%.)

It’s not really surprising, considering that people are more and more prone to stay logged in to Gmail, GChat or other Google products throughout the day, entering search terms along the way.

In this example from the November stats of a client site, “Not Provided” searches account for 10.74% of the site’s total traffic, and 14.57% of their organic search traffic.

What you can do

You know how we harp on about keeping a good history of your analytics? This is a perfect example of how that can pay off. If you can see past trends and compare them to your current stats, you’ll probably be able to sniff out a solution to the Not Provided problem.

In the example above, we first reviewed the number of visits referred by branded keywords (those keywords containing the name of the business). We quickly noticed that three of those search terms had dropped precipitously from previous months.

Applying our trusty math skills, we deduced that the three keywords previously responsible for referring the most traffic to the site had dropped by the same amount now attributed to “Not Provided.”

To double check our conclusion, we delved a little deeper, looking at the stats for the keyword used, as well as the page where the visitors arrived on the site, aka the landing page (which you can see highlighted in the above screenshot).

Those same missing keywords had been referring visits to the same landing pages. So we can make an educated guess that the “Not Provided” metric is referring to those lost visits – at least for this month.

Obviously this is something we’ll continue to monitor, using additional information and the history we have with this client to fill in this hole in the data.

Bottom line: don’t panic

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you’re still getting the visits – you’re just not getting the best information about the keywords visitors used to get there. It doesn’t change anything else about your site – you should still be writing good content, creating relevant title tags, tracking your conversions, etc.

It only means that it takes a little more detective work to understand what terms your visitors are using to find you.

Need help?

Unsure what this means or how to analyze your Analytics data? Innate can help. Just contact us and our Google Analytics IQ Certified team will be on the case.

[Photo credit: Kārlis Dambrāns, Flickr Creative Commons]

Lisa Crotty

Marketing Manager

Lisa is a Senior Optimization Specialist at Innate – her friends even teased that she A/B tested her name change. Lisa studied Philosophy of Science & Technology at Virginia Tech and is always asking why.

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