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Google Analytics Term Clound Not Provided ImageIt has been about three months now since SiteLab first wrote about Google encrypting search results for users logged in to a Google account. Many search marketers were troubled by the news and wondered how this would impact the overall measurement of organic search traffic to websites.

Before this change you were able to see not only what keyword/query was used to reach your site but also data showing how traffic from each term performed; a very valuable insight when determining strategy, optimizations and overall success.  Read the official “Making search more secure” blogpost from Google.

Google software engineer Matt Cutts stated that only single digit search volume would be impacted by this switch, meaning no more than 9.9% of searches would essentially be “hidden”. We’ve been monitoring this closely and have some stats that show the percentage of searches being impacted and what steps can be taken to minimize the loss of data.

Client Case Studies – % of Organic Traffic Identified as Keyword Source, “Not Provided”

  • Client #1- 14.35%
  • Client #2- 13.05%
  • Client #3- 12.92%
  • Client #4- 14.27
  • Client #5- 13.24%
Google Analytics Keyword (not provided)

Top 10 Keywords for Client #1 with 14.35% "Not Provided" Shown in Blue

You can see the trend is almost at the 15% mark in each instance. These clients were simply chosen at random, but it’s also important to note that during our research we observed cases where up to 29% of incoming organic traffic was all grouped under the new (not provided) keyword source.

The trend sure seems to indicate that this figure won’t be getting smaller in the foreseeable future, so what are some ways you can gain back the insight lost from this missing data?

First of all, you’re not going to get this information back, at least not through Google Analytics. There are a number of ways for you to break down the value and importance of this new (not provided) group, but there’s no way you can get the invaluable information back that has been taken away. That said, what you’re losing is only currently a small portion of data, 10-15% off the top. For now, the impact is relatively low but the takeaway should be that now is the time to diversify your analytics sources and end reliance on a single source of data. Here are a few other venues to get analytics data and ideas for how to track these types of metrics to help with strategizing, optimizing or measuring success of an organic campaign.

Other Analytics Sources

    1. PPC - If you run any PPC accounts, whether through Google or another platform, you can see performance indicators through the reporting features on those programs. A tactic sometimes used when starting an organic campaign for a new client or a new business altogether is to launch a low-end PPC campaign to test your keywords before devoting too much time and effort unknowingly on the terms. This testing will show which keywords are the highest converting, most valuable sources of traffic and be a good indicator of organic keyword performance once rankings are attained. Google currently does not encrypt keyword referral data in paid search campaigns, creating a situation where you can essentially “buy” more performance data where you might be lacking insight.
    2. Site Search DataIf you have a site search option you have a great source of information showing what topics are most important to your site visitors. Looking at the types of searches, terms used and how they speak about the product are all valuable tools in assessing the value of a term.
    3. Webmaster Tools – If you use Google Analytics, you should also have a Google Webmaster Tools account setup and synced with the analytics platform. If not, you should do this immediately (link?). It’s free and will add a whole new level of insight to your site management and optimizations. Webmaster Tools shows data for which search queries resulted in an impression and how many clicks were generated. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite as useful as the lost data, but this information can help fill in some gaps.

In summary, it’s really a sad state of affairs that this data has been taken away from marketers by Google. Especially when considering this information is available for paid advertisers of Google’s AdWords product and this information essentially helps Google’s search results be better by allowing marketers insights into what users want. The best way to combat this loss of data is through a multi-faceted approach to diversify your data sources. Also, don’t forget to continue analyzing the stats for your (not provided) traffic in order to gain insights into how you may be able to better serve that increasingly large segment of traffic.

Anthony  (2 Posts)

Hi, my name is Anthony Miller. I'm an Account Manager here at SiteLab and you might recognize me from posts like Analytics in a World with Google Secure Search or Review of SEOmoz 2011 Search Engine Ranking Factors. If you don't catch me in the office, I'm probably scaling some granite, crawling some rocks or bagging a mountain somewhere with my wife and our Catahoula Leopard Dog. Follow along with me on my personal and professional happenings at Google+.


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