Not Provided: A Complete Roundup

Not Provided: A Complete Roundup

Search engine marketers have come to rely more heavily on work-arounds in what everyone’s calling the era of “Not Provided.” The beginning of this era was like waking up “Johnny Got His Gun” style and having no arms, legs, or resources to compete in the hunger games of Google SERPS.

Understandably so, Analytics keyword data was helping all of us to make actionable decisions for our companies and our clients. The keyword data was useful because we could see exactly how our clients found us and how differently users behaved when using these intent-rich words. Once this data was no longer available, a new quest began: to fill in the data-gap needed to guide search marketers with valuable insights.

Here’s a complete (non-sponsored) roundup of analytical tools and techniques to help you get closer to the information Google is no longer providing.

The Biggest Loss in SEM History: Not Provided

In case there is one remaining digital marketer who hasn’t noticed the increasing Not Provided proportions in Google’s organic keyword data, let’s just sum it up in a few lines here:

Addendum: Not Provided now accounts for practically 90% of organic search traffic in Google Analytics.

On the ground this means marketers cannot tell their clients which keywords their visitors used to find them:

Google Analytics Screenshot

Screenshot taken 6/22/2014 of data that is increasingly Not Provided per session over time in Google Analytics

Analytical Strategies to Compensate for our Losses:

The tools and techniques to counter the Not Provided keyword famine come from within Google and from outside sources. Funny enough, many of Google’s tools compensate for the loss (kind of). There are also third-party solutions who have stepped up to help provide some of the missing data. Here are the best and most bragged about analytical solutions to all your Not Provided problems:

Google Taketh Away and Google Giveth: Strategies Within Google Products

Google AdWords and Google Webmaster Tools: The keywords that are no longer provided in Google Analytics remain available to a certain extent to anyone generating a Search Terms Report (API version still called search query performance report) in Google AdWords or a Search Query Report in Google Webmaster Tools. While it does seem convenient that the data they took away was still available to paid users on their advertising platform, thank goodness it is!

In April, search marketing blogs were fraught with rumors that Google would soon stop giving keyword data not just to Analytics, but also to their paying AdWords customers. Larry Kim cleared that up pretty quickly and wrote on Search Engine Land that not much has changed for SEMs who were previously accessing search query data in their AdWords reports.

Google Search Terms Video Screenshot

Screenshot taken 6/26/2014 from Google’s Search Terms Report Promotional Video

Larry explained that keywords would still be available in AdWords and even in third-party PPC platforms like Acquisio. The only thing that changed was that the search query would no longer be included in the referring URL string. Remember, though, that the tips included in this section are only for the paying AdWords customer.

Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) and AdWords always offered keyword data but was largely out-matched by Analytics. Now they’re that much more valuable following the phase out of organic traffic keywords. Here is an image of a GWT Search Query Report:

Avinash Analytics Blogpost Screenshot

Screenshot taken 6/28/2014 from Avinash Kaushik’s Epic Secure Search Blog Post

At first glance, the untrained SEM eye may get wide seeing this data. While there is some reason to get excited, this data is not exactly what it looks like. The GWT Search Query Report is showing how many times your site showed up in Google search results for the query searched and then how many clicks you received for that query. This is highly valuable information for any SEM, but doesn’t replace what has been lost in Google Analytics.

First, this GWT data is based on a different dataset than Google Analytics.  The other major difference is that this report says nothing about how those visitors behaved on your site – data you would have used to make major marketing decisions that are no longer there.

That said, if you’re not using AdWords or Google Webmaster Tools, let’s just start with some Google Analytics workarounds.

Landing Page Reports in Google Analytics: Formerly referred to as a hack, the landing pages report technique is more about knowing what you’re doing with filters in Google Analytics.

What is this hack/technique I’m referring to? It is a small tweak in your Analytics set-up and reporting that allows you to connect the Not Provided data to landing pages.

Dan Barker wrote about this Analytics hack on eConsultancy back in 2011 when Not Provided was only up to 33%. He goes through the Analytics setup in great detail, saying the hack looks for the not provided keywords and reports back to the landing page this search visitor landed on, providing a vital clue to site owners. Dan provides an image by image breakdown of what this would look like:

Dan Barker Blog Screenshot

Screenshot taken 6/28/2014 from Dan Barker’s Visual Breakdown of the Landing Page Hack Before and After

Dan Barker Blog Screenshot

Screenshot taken 6/28/2014 from Dan Barker’s Visual Breakdown of the Landing Page Hack Before and After

You can see in Dan’s before and after screenshots above that the inactionable Not Provided data transformed to a list of landing pages that include URL based keywords on those pages. User beware – your site would have to have search-relevant keywords built into the URLs for this to be as easy as it looks above.

Have a look at “np-/cheap-laptops” above for example. If you don’t have clean, search-friendly URLs like this one, this technique hack will require more work. If you have one of those sites with a bunch of “.com/?wuzup+4p-en&prodid=184645” URLS you can still apply this landing-page technique, but you’ll have to go one step further and map the title tags of those landing pages to get the full clue.

You can read the step-by-step break down of the landing page technique written much better than I ever could here. No seriously go to that blog and set up Analytics now so that you can associate Not Provided traffic with the landing pages of your site. What you’ll get is a better branded/non-branded breakdown of your traffic acquisition.

Chandal Nolasco da Silva

Chandal Nolasco da Silva

Account Manager at AOD Marketing
Chandal Nolasco da Silva works at AOD Marketing, with a focus on client strategy. She has consulted and collaborated on a variety of digital marketing strategies, developed websites and written content for a number of brands. Chandal has worked for Canada’s federal government, completed various teaching contracts, is a published author and writes a web column in her spare time.
Chandal Nolasco da Silva
Chandal Nolasco da Silva

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9 thoughts on “Not Provided: A Complete Roundup

  1. “Google is going to keep you on your toes, but you’ll look back one day and thank them for how much you’ve grown over this era.”

    Really? You can’t see what Google’s doing here? There’s absolutely nothing to thank Google for here and if you believe they started this “not provided” thing because of user security you have a rose tinted view on what Google is becoming.

    1. Thank you for reading my article and for your comment SudoRank! Google’s official position is one of user security, but I agree there are agendas at play here that others have spoken out about. This was a roundup post, meant to get away from all the controversy and figure out what we’re working with now to deal with data we’ve lost from Google. At the same time, you have to admit, Google provides digital marketers with incredible tools! What would we do without Google Analytics? All I’m saying is that its not about friends and enemies, its about using what we’ve got to get results.

  2. Not provided data is one of the biggest issue since a long time for online marketers since not showing organic data so it got difficult to calculate the facts and exact figure about traffic sources. Google analytic has changes its way to showing up about search terms and webmaster and awards data.

  3. Hi Chandal Nolasco da Silva,
    Google is favouring those websites using PPC campaign. Websites using Google Adwords continue to receive full keyword data as they always have. What you think about this? I can be wrong but i have a point.


    1. Hi Karan,
      Thanks for your comment. If you would like to know my thoughts on Adwords please read the section of the article above titled: Google AdWords and Google Webmaster Tools. In that section I address the fact that keywords are still provided in Google Adwords and talk about recent controversy in that area.

    1. Hi Ian,
      Thanks for your comment and compliment :) Here is the a copy and paste from the section about onsite search above:
      “Onsite Search: You can also have a look at your onsite searches for keyword discovery (meaning look at what your traffic searched for within your website). Assuming you have a search bar on your website and are using onsite search in Google Analytics, you can get an idea of what types of keywords your site traffic is using to look for your products and services. I didn’t include this technique in the meat of the Google Analytics section because it isn’t referral traffic keywords that led users to the site.”

  4. This is a very informative and well-written article. Thank you for putting the time and effort.
    From all the tips you provide, the take-away for me is the crucial importance of having properly structured website with descriptive keywords that then sheds light in what people have been searching for even though their visit is under the Not Provided shroud.
    Also, the key point of keeping in mind user intent is very important. Content Marketing done right I’d say.
    Now for some off-topic speculations:
    I don’t know why Google decided to do the Not Provided trick on us. Ok, to push many to forfeit organic and opt for paid is one thing, heck, they do want to make more money. But the added benefit is that SEO is now not as simple as it was, so the entrance threshold is higher. This should weed out the tons of wannabe SEOers that rob people from their cash and provide no tangible results.

    1. Hi Igor,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read the article and sharing your thoughts on it.
      I think you’re on to something there with your speculations, but at the end of the day you’re right, the SEO playing field is now much more complex and you definitely need Jedi Warrior skills to compete on it!