Google Analytics “Not Provided” is a Double Standard

Back in October Google rocked the world of SEO with their announcement that they intended to make search more secure by encrypting search data. When someone who was logged into their Gmail account searched in Google, their search query wouldn’t be sent over to the site owner whose site they visited, protecting their privacy. Site owners and SEO professionals alike where less than thrilled with this announcement. Without accurate data regarding visitor search behavior and what keywords they used to find our sites, how could we make accurate SEO recommendations and updates?

Google assured us that the encrypted data would only impact about 10% of our analytics, which was something I thought I could manage. Having 90% of the information isn’t perfect, but it still allows us to make reasonable SEO recommendations and insights. But lately I’ve been noticing that for some of my clients that “Not Found” data is nearly 40%! That’s a far cry from the 10% Google promised us. How is any site owner supposed to judge the effectiveness of their SEO campaign and target the right keywords if so much information is missing?

However, where I really take issue with the “Not Provided” is that is ISN’T happening when a searcher clicks on a PPC ad. According to the Google blog,

If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.

I find the fact that Google will still pass the data along provided someone clicks on a PPC ad (which the advertiser is paying for!) and not from the organic listings to be a double standard. If Google is so committed to making search more secure, shouldn’t they be encrypting the data from all sources? Why do PPC campaigns get to pass unscathed by the effects of encrypted search while Google Analytics for organic data is compromised? It has made me wonder if Google is considering rolling out a paid version of analytics in the future—would they charge users for all the information they used to give away for free? If that is the case then how many site owners would bite the bullet and pay? Or is Google trying to drive more site owners to create PPC campaigns (AdWords is Google’s biggest stream of revenue) in order to use that data to bolster their SEO?

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While there are analytics alternatives, many of these are very expensive and out of reach for the average small business owner. They, like much of the SEO industry, rely on the information gleamed from Google Analytics in order to run their SEO campaigns. With so much of the data being “not provided,” how are they supposed to create and monitor an SEO campaign? I doubt many site owners want to take a shot in the dark when it comes to their SEO. It leaves many site owners stuck between a rock and a hard place.

What are your thoughts on Google’s “Not Provided” data? How has your site been impacted by encrypted search and what measures are you taking to counteract the loss of information?

Comments: 13

  • They launched Analytics Premium back in late Sept in 2011, a month before search results would be encrypted providing the np (not provided) info. See . Cost is $150,000 per year. By the way, there is a way to steal back some data: check this for applying a filter on the np result >

    Good luck.

  • Sarah Morrow says:

    Found your article on the web – with Google’s help :) It had some good information, thanks for publishing it.

    I think Google will always keep some version of analytics free, if only because the results show so graphically that Google dominates the web. In the last 16 days, for example, I’ve gotten 445 visitors to my site who found it on Google, and 32 who found it using Bing (who came in second, as far as search engines.) Google’s not going to try to hide information like that.

    I don’t mind their charging more for a premium version of analytics. They provide a valid service; what’s wrong with charging for it? I mean, you charge for your services, right? We all hate paying for things, but we want to be paid as much as possible ourselves.

  • Marcus says:

    You hit the nail on the head with the fact that they can show it for PPC but not organic. If it was about security, they would show it for neither. I realize they have the disclaimer, but they could add that disclaimer to their organic results as well. In the future we will have to buy the data through PPC campaigns.

  • I think very soon Google will show only PPC adds on the first page of search result and the organic search result on second ad the amount of add is increasing. In future each site owner will have to buy Webmaster, Analytics and PPC from Google. So the sit owners should start paying for PPC not for SEO because Google will make them to do this very soon.

  • Shaun says:

    ‘Not Provided’ makes up 30% of my search traffic. Google pretend to ‘do no evil’ but they effectively just do what they want and users have no input or say. Same as how they can ban an Adsense account with no reason or warning

  • sudipseo says:

    I have set up “keyword conversions” in custom reporting section where i am getting 40% as ‘not provided’ keywords. Can anyone tell me any free analytic software where i can track proper keyword conversions.

  • Muy buen articulo, gracias por la informacion, me estaba volviendo loco con este tema

  • Jakub says:

    This just proves that people shouldn’t be using Google as much as they do. They should be using bing and yahoo much more. It’s us that are making this money sucking 2nd largest company in the world grow. They haven’t got enough and they will aim for more.
    We are not far from the point when the word Internet will dissapear from all dictionaries as everybody will call it Google. That is so sad and I am surprised that media are quiet and don’t do anything about it. Google recently completely changed their algorithm and ruined lives of thousands of people.

  • Across the sites we manage, we are seeing (not provided) for about 40% of traffic, which is just a nightmare!

    As everyone mentions, this doesn’t happen for PPC ironically.

  • Jeff Weiss says:

    I’m showing between 15% to 28% of NP traffic across ~50 websites. But the number has been increasing for every site since November. Considering NP didn’t exist at this time last year, if the numbers keep trending upward, in a year or two, tracking keywords in Analytics could be worthless. Thanks for the link Remy.

  • On one site I am getting nearly %65 not provided organic keyword results. That blows.

  • Gracias por la información, ya me estaba yo mareando con esto, ya que en mi pagina suponen una media del 9% de mis visitas.

  • Hi Nick,

    We recently conducted a study that showed that Google’s “not provided” keywords have increased by 171% over the last 12 months.

    Some other stats from the data were:
    – 64 percent of companies analyzed in the study see 30 to 50 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.
    – 81 percent of the companies analyzed in the study see over 30 percent of their traffic from Google as “not provided”.
    – Recognized referring keywords from organic search declined by 49 percent.

    Pretty surprising results!


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