Google’s “Not Provided” Referrals Growing In Percentage?

Data indicates average has jumped nearly 8% since changes

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Last month, Google announced that it would begin encrypting search queries with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) as the default experience at Google.com for users who are logged in to their Google accounts.

As a result, there is a lot data that was once available in Google Analytics for webmasters is now hidden. “When a signed in user visits your site from an organic Google search, all web analytics services, including Google Analytics, will continue to recognize the visit as Google ‘organic’ search, but will no longer report the query terms that the user searched on to reach your site,” said Amy Chang on the Google Analytics blog. “Keep in mind that the change will affect only a minority of your traffic. You will continue to see aggregate query data with no change, including visits from users who aren’t signed in and visits from Google ‘cpc’.”

“We are still measuring all SEO traffic. You will still be able to see your conversion rates, segmentations, and more,” she adds. “To help you better identify the signed in user organic search visits, we created the token ‘not provided)’ within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting. You will continue to see referrals without any change; only the queries for signed in user visits will be affected. Note that ‘cpc’ paid search data is not affected.”

Naturally, SEOs were not thrilled with the move. WebProNews talked to a handful of well-known industry vets about the subject recently:

Conductor has put together some research (hat tip: Search Engine Watch) indicating that the percentage of sites’ natural search traffic that is being labeled “not provided” by Google has grown dramatically since the change was announced.

“The percentage of traffic (not provided) grew from less than 1% in the week immediately after the launch, to 8.875% of traffic from Nov. 18-Nov. 20th (although not a full week.),” says Conductor’s Nathan Safran.

Conductor Research

As you can see, that’s a pretty significant jump, especially considering that Google downplayed the change’s impact as “affecting only a minority of your traffic.” Although technically, 49% would still be a “minority”.

It’s worth noting that Google is doing everything in its power to get people using actual Google accounts. Namely Google+. The more Google can grow the amount of people with accounts and profiles, the more likely people are going to be using Google signed in, so it would be no surprise whatsoever to see that percentage of “not provided” keep going up.

A second graph from Conductor shows that while the number has gone up significantly since the change was first made, that growth does seem to have slowed down a bit. This graph references what Safran calls “5 high traffic websites – 2 online retailers, 3 service providers”.

Conductor research

While the first graph shows that overall, the percentage is close to 9%, the second graph shows that it clearly varies from site to site. Safran points to a recent survey from SEOmoz, which had the number as high as 12% for the average.

Google’s Matt Cutts had estimated the effects to be in the “single-digit” percentages.

Google’s “Not Provided” Referrals Growing In Percentage?
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  • http://www.cigarinspector.com Cigar Inspector

    This is ridiculous. Yesterday, (not provided) was responsible for 13.72% of my search engine traffic. Looking at Analytics has almost no use now since most long tails worth going after will not be displayed…

  • http://www.webtrooperz.com Internet Marketing

    This is absolutely bummer for website owners, webmaster, and SEOs. I don’t now why Google implement this feature in Google analytics.

    I clients’ website getting 10% traffic from “Not Provided” how can i show my client that your getting relevant traffic or not.

    If Google really wanted to do SSL search then why not applied in Adwords.


  • http://www.searchengineoptimizationjournal.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    It really depends on the industry and your target audience. If you are catering to a professional audience that is likely signed in to their Google account all day, it will obviously have a more profound effect. It’s unfortunate as this data guides SEO decisions and business decisions overall.

  • http://www.moxby.org.uk/seo-inverness-scotland.html Martin Oxby – SEO

    Just been putting together data for a client of mine and the 5th most used keyword slot is taken up by ‘not provided’. It is not helping them to know what judgements to make on keyword choices or us to show how the SEO efforts are being rewarded.

    I’m not interested in knowing the data for my own sake, but how are webmasters supposed to make conversion choices?

    Moreover how is hiding the referring keyword protecting the users? We cannot identify them personally whatsoever so I really do not see the value in hiding these keywords.

    • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steven

      That’s not exactly true. You’re forgetting about the internet providers that spy on us all the time and for sure know who we are. See, I would have favored if Google made it so that the information was still made available if you were using Google Analytics, but would not be transmitted to your web server directly. I don’t know how exactly that would work as Google Analytics gets a lot of it’s data from the visitor’s browser, but I’m sure the smart people at Google can figure that out. I suppose through the use of cookies which they already use.

      So a secure way to insure that the data is only going to be available to the website owner and not anybody that’s a middleman (such as internet providers) of the traffic would be welcomed by me. However, the affect it is having is harming a lot of websites to the point that if you ask around, publishers are wondering what else can Google do to harm their website.

  • http://www.PlacesToEatOkay.com Steven

    How could logged in searches not increase over time? I mean Google is pushing for users to log into any one of their many services, Gmail, Adsense, Adwords, Google+, the list goes on and on. And so who’s going to make sure they’re logged off of a service before they do a search on Google? So the more that users are using one Google service or another that requires them to log in the more that vital information is going to be withheld.

  • May Be It’s Me

    I’ve had, so far today:

    (not provided) Visits = 5179 Percent: 11.28%

  • http://wordswordsseowords.com/ Christopher Skyi

    I think the more important question is what to do about it. My guess is that Google wants website owners to stop focusing on keywords and ranking and more on content that serves customers. There’s still plenty of data that lets you see what are your best pages in terms of traffic and conversions, and through Google’s keyword tool, you still have access to all the search queries occurring through Google. And Google is still telling us which pages are the landing page for these suppressed keywords, and so we can at least infer what those keywords are.

    In many ways the game hasn’t changed, unless you’ve been focused mostly on keywords (and rankings). You can still do “keyword analysis,” but you can’t (as much as before) tell how much traffic those keywords created. Instead you need to look at the traffic and conversions your getting from any page you’ve created. That’s entirely different (and I think more productive) focus. In short, this is forcing you to look into your analytics and look at traffic and pages and conversions in order to better try to understand what your website visitor needs and wants, which always made more sense to me anyway.

  • obin

    If the statistics is true in percentage then it is ridiculous. But I think there is some misunderstanding in the information. Thank you for an important post. It topic should be now in most considerations.

    Harvest Hills dog walking

  • http://www.allenstrategies.com WordPress SEO

    We started out at 19% the first month it started, then dropped to 14% and have consistently been growing and are at 21% now. So, a fifth of our traffic keywords are “Not Provided”.

  • Bill

    This is nuts. We built Google, that is to say that we made them what they are. Now they presume to tell us “we don’t need you any more. Or, is it that they are simply looking for more add revenue (pay-per-click).

    The idea that security is now a concern is a smoke screen.

  • http://www.finalroof.com Metal Roofing

    We were seeing around 3-6% which I was sort of ok with, because we were getting the numbers back through a couple of reverse engineering techniques from various blogs, but now our percentage is this: (not provided) 10.1% 121 visits!

    How can anyone run a success business online with out knowing what your top converting keywords are? HELLLOOOOOO GOOGLEEEEE? you have cut your own throat here!

    Not with Google at ALL on this one. Basically they are trying to hide there network from other 3rd party sources that are trying to utilize Google for there own products and tools, however they have almost completely wiped out the hand that feeds… their CUSTOMERS!

    Bing anyone? anyone? Bueller?

  • http://www.sociablweb.com/ Kate

    I am getting 40% as ‘not provided’ keywords in my “keyword conversions” custom reporting section. Is there any other free analytic software where i can track proper keyword conversions.

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