The Rise Of Google’s “Not Provided”

Batman’s got the Joker, Spider-Man’s got the Green Goblin and SEO practitioners have got Google’s “Not Provided”.

Ok, this might be a bit too dramatic, but you get the idea. In October of 2011, Google announced their decision to use SSL search for signed-in users. That’s when the evil started.

First, what is “Not Provided” and what does it mean? The term “Not Provided” can be found in Google Analytics (Google’s website analytics tool) in the keyword overview of organic site visits – visits through natural search results. With the use of encrypted search data (SSL) Google made it impossible for webmasters to track the search queries that visitors used to get to their website. Instead, Google only shows the term “Not Provided” in Analytics, which gives anyone who wants to analyze their organic site traffic a serious headache.

google analytics screenshot of not provided organic traffic

Matt Cutts, head of webspam at Google, said in an interview that the impact on the search data would be in the single digits. Well, in this case it would hurt just a little like a mosquito bite. The prediction was true, however, only for a little while. Today, “Not Provided” accounts for almost 40% of all organic search keywords. This fact was published in a study from Optify.

Before we get into some of the main findings of the study, let me say some words about SSL. If you are familiar with that term, you may skip the next part.

What is SSL?

SSL stands for Secure Sockets Layer and is a protocol that secures or encrypts internet communications. You can find this protocol in web browsing or email, for example. SSL ensures that services that act as an intermediary can’t view your encrypted data.

When you are on a website that uses SSL you can easily see it in your URL field. Instead of the usual “http” you would see “https”, which means that you’re data is currently being communicated encrypted to the website’s server.

https url field

Key Findings of the “Not Provided” study

  1. “(not provided)” now accounts for almost 40% of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171% since originally introduced a year ago.
  1. 64% of companies analyzed in the study see 30%-50% of their traffic from Google as “(not provided)”.
  1. 81% of the companies analyzed in the study see over 30% of their traffic from Google as “(not provided)”.
  1. Recognized referring keywords from organic search declined by 49%.

Source: Optify

In the graph below you can clearly see the rise of the “Not Provided” Rate, which reached 39% in September 2012. 

Diagram about google's not provided rate in analytics

What does that mean for you?

  1. It’s gonna be very difficult to effectively measure your website’s performance and SEO by comparing search queries with performance metrics, such as visitor behavior or conversion rate.
  2. Since all “not provided” traffic comes from the organic Google search, it is still possible to measure the overall performance of your SEO efforts, but it won’t be possible to point out which keywords contributed to that. Therefore, a breakdown of an overall SEO performance in single keywords is not possible anymore.
  3. It won’t be possible for you anymore to tie a specific keyword to customers to see where your high value customer came from.
  4. There might be the question now, if a SEO practitioner will be necessary in the future because of that, but let me assure you – the answer is yes! It is still possible to do SEO just like before, it will only be a more difficult challenge to measure the performance.

How about you? How much does “Not Provided” traffic affect you and what ways are you using to get useful data out of this rising villain?

Charts made with
Cover image courtesy of Mehul Antani.

  1. w.jno-Baptiste says

    Hi Marc
    The thing is will get even worse. As Google continue to push users to towards its own social platform, more of them will be searching while signed in.

    We are already looking for analytics software other than GA.

    1. DanielBulygin says

      What percentage of your organic traffic is (not provided)?

    2. Marc Knoll says

      Hi! I know, I think the rate will increase pretty significantly. Google attracts more and more people to creating an Account. Best example are Android phone owners, who need one to leverage the full potential of the OS.

      Have you already found a good alternative to GA? If so, which ones?

      1. w.jno-Baptiste says

        We are still in research stage.. but cost is also a huge factor, will happy to share once finalised

        1. Marc Knoll says

          Thanks, I’d appreciate it!

    3. Improvely says

      Switching analytics software is not going to help at all. Google Analytics isn’t hiding anything — the data is simply not there to show you. The search term is not in the referrer, so no tracking code you install on your site can pick it up, just like GA can’t anymore.

      1. Marc Knoll says

        That is absolutely correct. However, there are ways to make the hidden data at least a little more helpful. Carrie Hill wrote a good article about that:

        Maybe there are paid analytics tools out there which can get more out of (not provided), but I doubt it to be honest.

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