How Many (Not Provided) Keywords Are There Really?

Nov 18, 2011   //   by Kristi Hines   //   keyword research, SEO  //  19 Comments

It’s been about the month since Google made the switch to SSL search for users signed into their Google accounts. With this change came the loss of receiving keyword data from organic search which now shows in your Google Analytics under Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic as (not provided) keywords.

Initially, Matt Cutts said webmasters would only see (not provided) keywords in single-digit percentages which made it sound like it would be something that would be hardly noticeable. Maybe what Google didn’t factor in was how many people would be staying logged in to their Google accounts thanks to Google+, but regardless of whether it is a single-digit percentage or not, it is noticeable.

After a month, I decided to take a look at my own analytics. Compared to the keyword data you are still getting using an Advanced Segment for (not provided) traffic vs. all visits, it doesn’t look so bad and is as promised, a single digit percentage of 4.59%.

What bothers me is this…

The fact that (not provided) is now my top referring keyword. That’s 1,129 visitors in the last 30 days that I cannot analyze correctly. That’s 1,129 keywords whose bounce rate averages out to 83.97% that I won’t be able to work on.

Is it really about privacy?

Another thing that gets me is that this doesn’t really seem to be about user privacy. For one thing, if I was paying for Google AdWords, I would still get to see the keywords that users searched which led to paid search results. So if I was paying for it, I’d get it.

Then there’s the fact that Google is still logging your search activity. Sure it’s just for your own “personal” web history, but I’m sure whether or not you turn this setting on or off, they are still keeping tabs on your organic searches.

According to the Google’s document on Web History and Privacy

“Over time, the service may also use additional information about your activity on Google or other information you provide us in order to deliver a more personalized experience.”

To see your web history since you first logged in to your Google account, click on this link when logged in. This is where you can “pause” and remove all web history items if you so choose to.

Of course, if you read further into the Privacy FAQ

“You can choose to stop storing your web activity in Web History either temporarily or permanently, or remove items, as described in Web History Help. If you remove items, they will be removed from the service and will not be used to improve your search experience. As is common practice in the industry, Google also maintains a separate logs system for auditing purposes and to help us improve the quality of our services for users. For example, we use this information to audit our ads systems, understand which features are most popular to users, improve the quality of our search results, and help us combat vulnerabilities such as denial of service attacks.”

Want see more real not provided numbers in Google Analytics?

The following are additional articles with real Google Analytics numbers related to the (not provided) keyword.

How has the new SSL search for logged in Google account users affected your Google Analytics? Do you believe privacy is the real motivator? Please share your thoughts on not provided in the comments!

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Kristi Hines

Kristi Hines is a freelance writer, professional blogger, and social media enthusiast. Don't miss her Web Domination Review on Kikolani. Follow her on Twitter and Google+!

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  • Steve Jones says:

    It’s all about injecting a little more business life back into the adwords model, Google were losing out big-time to advertisers who were using analytics data to retarget ads on websites. Part of me understands this as Google is a business (and why should third parties profit from their data?), but as a webmaster it’s a kick in the teeth. They say it will only be “single digit” whilst continuing a drive to extend Google products across the web, thereby increasing the amount of users staying logged into a Google profile. Plus I’m seeing some sites with “not provided” accounting for as much as 16% of organic traffic – those with big long tail raech are really going to suffer.

    As you say – how can you address bounce rates (and Google’s Holy Grail of relevancy) if you don’t know what your visitors are looking for? Unless you pay Google, of course . . .

  • Andy Nattan
    Twitter:
    says:

    That’s quite surprising. (not provided) still isn’t generating any traffic for me.

    Then again, most of my traffic is from the UK, and we’re normally a few months behind American search trends. Not sure why, as the Internet was supposed to be the end of this “culture lag” nonsense.

  • Gerald Weber
    Twitter:
    says:

    I find it hilarious that you can look up just about any geographical location (usually in street view) on Google maps, but when it comes to search query data they are suddenly soooo concerned about privacy. LOL

    Yeah right! C’mon Google.

  • Ileane
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Kristi, I just looked and my stats are similar to your’s and a huge chunk (almost 80%) is not provided. So I added the Landing Page parameter and at least I can “assume” that they searched for a similar keyword. But you’re right, that is a big assumption. I’m sure Google is also trying to push people to invest in the paid version of Google Analytics and I’m sure a lot of businesses will go for it. They may even replace their current paid analytics tool with premium GA.

  • Paul says:

    I would be more than willing to opt-in to sharing my search data. How about that as an option google?

  • Ann Smarty
    Twitter:
    says:

    “Not provided” is also #1 referring source for me as well. And it’s a huge number.

  • Vernon says:

    I had a hard time on reading this, Its been awhile that I left blogging and surfing in the net. Its been 3months, lots of changes and I find it really amazing.

  • Darren
    Twitter:
    says:

    ‘Not provided’ is my primary referrer. Seems like a pretty big loss of a service that used to be ‘free.’

    Darren

  • Lew says:

    Hey Kristi,
    As a blogger, same time a googlemail user. I would really not know that errors and things like this exist, thanks for the news. After reading this stuff, I am so eager to test it out if this is really true. Thanks anyways. Gonna sneak for your future posts.

  • Kevin says:

    (not provided) is also my #1 referring keyword source – fully 15% of my organic traffic inthe last month…privacy, what a joke.

  • Hey Gerry

    I don’t know how you arrive at 4.59% – 1129 out of about 10,000 visits = 11%. You have to calculate it as a percentage of organic search traffic, not total traffic. Otherwise if you’re doing really well with other traffic sources it obscures how much data you’ve lost.

  • We’re seeing more and more people coming in with the keyword “Encrypted”. It’s effecting the keyword monitoring that we do. I also can see this in the “Not Provided” in GA. This is not good and degrades the analytics.

    My “Not Provided” is about 20% of my keywords now. This is not good.

  • Matt says:

    Talk about being misleading. I think that a large percentage of this information is to get you to upgrade. We can’t think that Google is not concerned about making money. Google is a business. They have they eyeballs; they have the audience. Thus, unfortunately, you can’t say I am going to go away from Google. That is not an option. Google can say whatever they want, at the end of the day, they know what power they have. It is foolish to think that Google has the bloggers/marketers best interests at heart.

  • Dennies says:

    same thing here ! my top keyword is that ‘not provided’ .
    Recently only i came to know that these are encrypted searches by the users.

    Google is making everything better for their users!

    nice post thanks!