The Pros and Cons of 100% (Not Provided)

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So a week has passed since The Powers That Be took our precious keyword data away from us. I will be honest, I was absolutely terrified to begin with, and then I entered the five stages of grief for our dearly departed – not a completely original take on this situation, I found; there are a couple of great posts that talk about this phenomenon here (Ben Goodsell, from way back in 2012) and here (Stacey Cavanagh, from way back this morning).

This article is not about the grieving process. I’ve tried to take a considered look at both sides of the not provided argument. Below are the pros and cons of this shift from Google. Let’s take the bad news first, straight up, always best:

Cons of 100% (not provided)

1. Marketing value of individual keywords – It’s made reporting on the performance / traffic / conversion rate of individual organic keywords really bloody difficult! No longer will we be able to say with absolute certainty, “We should build links around / add a more focused landing page for the keyword ‘interrupting starfish’, as this has already driven enquiries. If we got it to position 1, it would drive substantially more enquiries.” Those days are sadly gone.

2. Client expectations – It’s made managing our clients’ expectations even more difficult! Just when you’ve turned them all on to the idea of SEO being one of the more measurable forms of marketing, with clear stats to base your projections on, and attribute the site’s performance to, at least at the keyword level, the goalposts have been moved.

3. Adwords keyword data still intact – It’s made us all a bit envious of our PPC cousins. They’ll still have loads of keyword data to play with. It’s not fair! Why do they get to play with the keywords and we don’t??

4. Potential reduced marketing budgets for SEO – Another thing on the PPC side, as keyword data will always be available for this channel, companies may choose to favour it over SEO. Google clearly stands to make more money through Adwords from this change, and we all know that money is the root of all evil. Whatever happened to Don’t Be Evil, eh Google??

I’m sure there were far more cons to speak of this time last week, but we’re all getting used to this now, right? What about the pros?


Pros of 100% (not provided)

1. Greater privacy for the user – This (not provided) business means that, as a user, your keyword data is no longer being passed through to webmasters. This means greater privacy for you as an individual, means marketing departments and agencies can’t base their strategies on something you did, in organic search that is.

Of course, as mentioned above, paid search is another matter. If you click on a sponsored ad, that data will still be passed through.

Companies will still be able to market to you based on your past online activity. And your search queries will still be tracked by Google, and reported on to webmasters via Webmaster Tools, which they can then use to base commercial decisions on.

So not a pro, then, at all. Hang on, I will think of some.

2. See The Bigger Picture – This change forces SEOs who were thinking one-sidedly about their strategy, basing it on the performance of ‘hero keywords’, stuffing keyword variants into meta data just because the research says so, to adopt a more holistic approach.

I’ve been reading the responses from some of the more prolific SEOs to this change; the general consensus seems to be “If you’re worried about this, you’re doing it wrong”, which obviously isn’t *exactly* true…

Implying that keyword data doesn’t matter to an SEO is just as ridiculous as stating that we shouldn’t be tracking rankings anymore. These stats are still immensely important, it’s really odd for people to imply otherwise. I guess sometimes we as SEOs say things to make ourselves seem above mere ‘tactics’. But it is true that keyword data is not the be all and end all, and we can all stand to learn a lot from this change, so thanks Google.

3. One Big Happy Family – This happens every time there’s a major update, it’s lovely to see. The SEO community is a caring, sharing community in general, but we particularly pull together in times of hardship. Triumph in the face of adversity and all that. Some fabulous ideas can come out of the brainstorms / moaning sessions we’re having with our fellow SEOs.

4. Actually using the search query data in Webmaster Tools -The clicks and impressions data in Webmaster Tools has always been there, but I’ve personally never really knew what to do with it. And now I do, so it’s not all bad.

5. A move to improved user experience – Will Critchlow made a really great point in his most recent Whiteboard Friday, before the (not provided) change occurred, about how hiding keyword data may be a statement of intent from Google around the subject of search no longer being keyword-led. Obviously this is a much more rational and less stress-y way of looking at things than “HOW DARE GOOGLE STEAL MY DATA???”.

Will, you’re not alone by the way, I’ve also Googled “breakfast”, and delicious it was too ;)

So these are some of the pros and cons of the (not provided) situ, are there any that I’ve missed off? What’s been your biggest challenge following the introduction of (not provided) across the board? Or are you a fan of the change? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

photo credits: <a href=””>Helga Weber</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a>


<a href=””>Nicholas_T</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a>

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Natalie Mott

Natalie Mott

Natalie Mott is the SEO Manager at Bolton-based marketing agency Bring Digital. She loves maps: Tube maps, Ordnance Survey maps, but particularly site maps.
Natalie Mott
Natalie Mott

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  • John Theofilis

    I agree that keyword data and rank tracking is important. Anyone claiming this is no big deal is just being smug in my opinion. That said, SEO is continuing its evolution to an overall online marketing position. Social, Content, Branding, Partnerships, Trust, etc are all important factors in SEO as we all know. That still doesn’t change the fact that Technical SEO is as important as ever and with big steps to semantic search, it is imperative to properly implement proper meta content, rich snippets, social tags, headings, navigation, sitemaps, and all those basic SEO 101 goodies. Organic keyword visibility helped greatly with this.

  • Mark

    No one cares about privacy, it us all about PPC. simle as that. ūüôĀ

  • Kamlesh Nishad

    As someone who runs an internet marketing company that knows SEO & PPC, I would say SEO is dying and will soon be dead. And not because of the algorithm changes and the lack of shortcuts. It’s because of two reasons. First the dwindling ROI. We’re almost at the point where the actual results from SEO aren’t enough to justify the cost. Second, and this is the biggest reason, SEO’s brand has been taking a major beating with small businesses. What I mean is that there’s a growing number of small business owners that continue to have one bad experience after another with SEO’s that don’t know what they’re doing and produce absolutely nothing in results. I’ve found that doing PPC is way more profitable and consistent. The industry is going in this direction mostly because Google wants it to and because there’s not enough skilled, competent SEO’s to help the millions of small businesses out there.

    • Keith Eneix

      Yes, The death of SEO… I thought SEO has been dead for a long time??? BTW, I found this post while searching in Google on this topic.

      I think it’s safer to say, SEO is not dead…whew… but Google is definitely preferring PR 7+ sites in the SERPS to a much higher degree for ranking. This lends to a much stronger presence with a 3rd party validation strategy (PR and guest posting). The change was sort of subtle before penguin 2.1. It was quite apparent after penguin 2.1 that the SERP results of Bing lend greater weight to the small guys and Google lends greater weight to the big guys… Not that I’m saying Bing is better… just something I’ve noticed.

      • Kamlesh Nishad

        Yes. Google always updating their algorithms and makes better search result they have even remove keyword stuffing.. and EMD domains they are more focusing on quality results and because of this SEO is becoming more challenging and more difficult to do.. with the new update of hummingbird user even don’t know which site is ranking for which keyword which is a problem in SEO company

  • Igor Mateski

    Yes, WMT and PPC do come up great for keyword research, but on the other hand, I do agree with the comment that Google does pull away from keyword-powered search. We’ve seen how search queries increase in length, and we’re now looking at average search query hovering around 5-6 words. With synonyms, keyword-powered search (and SEO) is out the window.
    Pages now should be optimized around user/reader intent and as part of a larger conversion funnel. Writing good texts that convey the wanted marketing message now (I hope) will move from ghost copywriters that only hash up bland text around sprinkled keywords on a page toward subject mater experts that create valuable content.

    • Matt O’Toole

      Igor, speaking as an SEO tool provider, Google making these changes continually throws challenges in our way and essentially causes us unplanned dev work (although in this case, it looks like the (Not Provided) issue will lead to our platform having a unique ISP as we’ve figured out a “solution”).

      Regarding content quality, I hope you’re right. I personally have to sift through requests for guest posts on our own blog and a lot of the submissions link to example articles which are exactly what you mention – bland generic spun c**p sprinkled with keywords and a link to their own or their client’s site. Terrible. Ironically, one of the ones I was looking at this morning sent me a link to an example article, which quite frankly just consisted of around 300 words which essentially said “Social Media is good.. you should do it!” Where was this published? On this very website.

  • Gururaj Mahale

    If they have applied (not provided) for organic traffic, why can’t they add (not provided) in SEM? Why Google does not think about SEM as a privacy killer?

  • Nikki Johnson

    Great post, Natalie! The main thing I’d add to the discussion here is that — toward the end, even before the official announcement was made about 100% encryption — that section had become so debilitated, because more and more keywords were falling into that “not provided” category, that I’m almost relieved that they put it out of its misery. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to work with the incomplete list of keywords appearing there; we already needed to shift toward using metrics in other sections to see the full story and substantiate the value of our sweat and tears, even before they officially pulled the plug. I do miss the days of the full data set available back in early 2011, sigh….

  • Ralf Seybold

    I unterstand this article on a sarcastic way otherwise I should think about how useful it realy is.

    (not provided) is just another step into moneytizing google technology. As with all big companies we will sooner or later see a regulation of the market thru gov. This is not only moneytizing, it is monopolizing.

    Didn’t the Google search engine become a sort of “community interest” that need to be protected from Googles money Run?

  • Tanya

    Haha, “The clicks and impressions data in Webmaster Tools has always been there” makes me feel old – I remember the excitement of when they added this data to GWT!