What does Keyword (not provided) mean in Google Analytics?

Posted 24/08/2012

The keywords searchers use in Google to discover your website is a key performance indicator for many of our businesses. But have you noticed that in addition to your business keywords, that you are getting more and more visitors with the keyword reporting as (not provided). Do you know what this means?

Taking a quick look at our data, you can see that (not provided) is the top “keyword” driving traffic to our site, and that it amounts to about 40% of all our search traffic.  I suspect it may be the same for your business, too.

 

Google Keyword Not Provided

 

And the (not provided) is getting worse.  Since January most businesses are seeing a steady  upward trend in keyword not provided

Analytics keyword data not provided trend

 

What does Keyword (not provided) mean?

Quite simply, it means Google is choosing not to share the key word data with you. The searcher did use a key phrase, obviously, but Google is not providing you with the information.

This  is a result of Google personalising our search experiences based on our behaviour, and this change has been implemented in the interest of protecting the privacy of the searcher.

 

Why can’t we see the keywords?

There are two ways to use the Google search engine.   The first is to use Google securely which appears with the extra “s” in the URL, for example  https://www.google.co.uk. And the second way to use it, and the way most of us assume, is the normal non-secure version.

When a user is logged into a Google service, like Gmail or using their Google account, the secure version of Google search is used, and in order to protect user privacy no search keyword data is tracked and the phase (not provided) is reported in Analytics.

Likewise, if you search using the Firefox browser it defaults to the secure version of Google to prevent eavesdropping on your search behaviour, and Chrome can be configured to default to secure browsing.

 

What can we learn from this  (not provided) key word data?

If you can’t see the keywords, then you will need to find a new metric to help you to understand if Google is sending you high quality traffic.

Consider instead the landing pages the (not provided) keywords are driving traffic to.  The content on the first page the visitor came to from Google, the landing page, is a good indicator of the searchers’ intention.

Taking a look at our data for our not provided data, the filenames are a pretty good clue as to what the searcher wants.  They are worried about their LinkedIn password being hacked, interested in our free social media calendar, wanting to learn how to use Facebook for their business. In many respects, this content  landing page data is just as valuable as the actual keywords used in Google.

not provided landing pages

 

What’s the big deal?

Clearly, if you are trying to get your website to rank well in Google, you are not able to measure the traffic results accurately any more, and you can be losing up to 40% or even more of your organic traffic reporting.

But there are even bigger issues to consider.

1.  Google is continuing to provide complete keyword data for it’s AdWords advertisers. In other words, you pay your money, you get your data.  Google is in the business of selling advertising and cannot afford to alienate their paying customers. The harsh reality is that  Google doesn’t really care one way or the other about reporting the full data to the web site owners receiving traffic. So if you don’t advertise, you lose.

2. Google is not protecting the privacy of visitors who click on adverts.  Google has introduced the (not provided) in the interest of protecting user privacy, but clearly some Google users are more equal than others.  In this case, visitors foolish enough to click on Google ads are having their privacy violated.

3. Google says only a small proportion of data will be keyword (not provided). The amount of not provided data will vary from industry to industry, but we are regularly seeing 30-40% of visits can’t be racked back to the original keyword search.  Google may not have any obligation to report this data, but given its monopoly on the search market think of the ramifications if it decided to withhold all search query data?

 

Do you want to get help understanding your Google Analytics?

The Hallam Analytics experts can help you to make the most of your Analytics data. Get in touch if you want us to provide guidance:

  • determine the key performance indicators for your business
  • identify how well your current marketing efforts are working
  • plan for improvments on your website based on how your visitors behave
  • set up management reporting for you to use in growing your business


 

 

 
 

 
 
Comments
  1. Hi Susan,

    Even in AdWords G do not always give totally accurate keywords data.
    On a search query report, of 32,000 clicks, one of my clients has 592 where it says “other search terms”
    I know it is only 1.5% but their answer as to why is vague!

    The search term resulted in an ad impression but didn’t receive any clicks in the last 30 days.
    so why are they included, this is a search term report after all, if there where no clicks why include them?
    The search term wasn’t entered by a significant amount of users.
    D’uh I have in the same report, keywords that only attracted one click
    The search term triggered your ad within the past 24 hours.
    This one I do get!
    The user has blocked their referrer URL from being passed on to the destination website.
    What has this got to do with keyword?

    I know I am being very picky!

    On another point, do you know, if we do not use Analytics and use one of the alternatives, does G still get data that could affect SERPS, eg bounce rate, time on site etc.

    Great post and many thanks for another great article, retweeted, shared and the like!!

    Damien

  2. When i am at the not provided step how do i get to the landing page data you mention?

    JK

  3. Which part of the analytic report is the image above can be found? Mine doesn’t show the landing pages. =( Andrew

    Cebu Web Design

  4. You can find the above data on the landing pages by clicking on the following path on the left menu in your analytics account:

    Traffic Sources> Search Engine Optimisation> Landing Pages

    Saiful Alam

  5. I am thinking of how this not provided data to be tracked, now I got an Idea and its simple to track the data. Thanks for sharing this good information.

    Newspapers List

  6. I always wondered what “(not provided)” meant. It covers almost half of my traffic and it does give me a bit of trouble shaping my content with keywords. Thanks for sharing.

    karl

  7. Thanks for a good explanation of this. I’ve just been reviewing some stats for the first quarter of this year, and was slightly shocked/confused to find nearly 2,500 keyword referrals “not provided”. Not very useful! Your solution should help make some sense of it.
    But you’d think there would be a way to show the search terms while still keeping the searcher’s info private…

    Auto Review Blog

  8. Hi, thank for this great article.

    Don’t you think that it is possible to get the keyword if you add a backend script on the landing page that looks for the referer url “?q=xxx” parameter ?

    netissima

  9. Hi, I am running a 3g modem unlocking site & I always wondered what “(not provided)” meant. Now I got the answer. Thank You for very very helpful article. You saved lot of time!!!!!

    huawei unlock code

  10. I have several seo clients who have experienced a significant increase in the ‘not provided’ traffic, I know google has a business model to protect but I can’t help thinking they seem to be going out of their way to make life difficult for us seo guys, the little ones at least.

    SEO Bolton

  11. Hi Susan,

    We are also seeing the same percentage of not provided data as you are.

    We recently conducted a study and found that Google “not provided” now accounts for almost 40 percent of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171 percent since originally introduced a year ago. Also 64 percent of companies analyzed in the study see 30 to 50 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.

    Here is the link to the full study if you’re interested: http://www.optify.net/press-releases/optify-study-googles-not-provided-rises-to-almost-40-of-organic-traffic-for-b2b-sites

    Jennifer

    Jennifer Wong

  12. Great article, thank you for helping us!

    oglasi online

  13. Google Analytics isn’t really much help these days for tracking keyword searches.

    Although it’s a bit clunky, I use Statpress on all my WordPress sites, it tells me ALL the Google keywords searches and in real time too.

    Sleep Junkies

  14. Thanks for the expl. of (not provided)

    Morten Pedersen

  15. Agreed with your points about google, Susan. We’ve been working on http://keyseo.io which is a solution to provide ‘not provided’ keywords. It’d be great if we can get your opinions regarding the software.

    Andrew

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