Google Cranks Up ‘Not Provided’ Keywords, Says Ads Aren’t The Reason

    September 24, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

It looks like the percentage of keywords that are listed as “not provided” in your Google Analytics account is going to keep going up, as Google is reportedly moving to switch all users to secure search regardless of whether or not they’re signed in.

Have you noticed an increase in the amount of keywords that are labeled as not provided? Let us know in the comments.

As I’m sure you’ll recall, Google launched SSL Search on Google.com as the default for signed in users about two years ago, claiming it was a move to protect user privacy. This had an unfortunate side effect for webmasters, as it means that those searching with this experience do not have any keyword data to contribute. Google masks the search terms these people use under the “Not Provided” label, and for a lot of sites, this tends to account for the majority of their search traffic.

Google still provides this kind of data in AdWords, however, and is often criticized for doing so. Some don’t believe Google’s more honorable sounding privacy reasoning, but rather that Google is simply doing this to increase its own revenue.

In the early days of the feature, the percentage of queries labeled not provided was supposed to be somewhere around 1%. Reports shortly thereafter had it closer to 8%, with more recent accounts having the number ranging from 40% to 80%. Everyone pretty much seems to agree that the number has been increasing, and it looks like it may increase even more.

Danny Sullivan at Search Engine Land reports that Google is making secure search the default for all Google users, sharing this statement from the company:

We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.

We want to provide SSL protection to as many users as we can, in as many regions as we can — we added non-signed-in Chrome omnibox searches earlier this year, and more recently other users who aren’t signed in. We’re going to continue expanding our use of SSL in our services because we believe it’s a good thing for users….The motivation here is not to drive the ads side — it’s for our search users.

ClickConsult has a site called NotProvidedCount.com, which tracks the rise of “not provided” queries for sixty sites, and graphs the average (via Sullivan). There’s also a live counter, which as of the time of this writing is floating around 74%.

Not Provided Count

“Grouping a large number of keywords under the banner of (not provided) denies site owners fundamental information about how their site is performing in organic search,” the site says. “The percentage of (not provided) traffic Google is sending your site is steadily rising, and will one day hit 100%.”

It certainly looks that way based on Google’s statement and the obvious trending increase.

Google does still provide search terms in Webmaster Central, but as Sullivan noted in a recent article, it’s not great for historical data, though Google is increasing the timeframe. Historical data is not an issue in AdWords.

Regardless of Google’s motive for moving to a full-on encrypted search experience for all users, it’s going to mean that keyword data in Google Analytics is going to become obsolete at worst, and much less helpful at best.

This also comes after Google killed its popular Keyword Tool to get people to use its newer Keyword Planner product. A lot of webmasters/SEOs have been pretty perturbed by that too.

A recent report from MarketLive found that merchants saw “significant changes” in the mix of paid/organic traffic. Paid search visits made up about a third of total search engine visits (up from 26% the previous year). Search visit growth slowed in the first six months of the year, but paid was up 30% while organic was down 3%.

Do you think the “not provided” percentages will hit 100%? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Image: NotProvidedCount.com

  • Jodie

    The frustration is mounting for us as we try to find a work around solution, but to no avail. I want to stop playing Google’s sick and twisted SEO games as everything they tell you to try to get found does not work. It seems Google is forcing websites to pay for Adwords for higher prices $1-5 per click without having any ROI at all! After running all of our cost data and I mean ALL of the cost data, even the cost data Google does not track, such as our cost to obtain the product, free shipping (although it tracks the paid), and discounts, it seems that the overall campaign was NOT a success. As webmasters, we need to stop playing the twisted game with Google.

    • http://www.advantly.com Misty Lackie

      Agreed Jodi! Unfortunately not a lot of businesses pay attention to their ROI or track things at the level you do. They just think they need to be #1 on Google and everything else will work out. It amazes me! If Google or anything else a business is doing to get leads/sales is not bringing them a ROI, budget should be placed elsewhere. There are other advertising channels that do bring a very nice return but too many businesses think Google is the only place. For a lot of businesses Google still does bring the best return but for other businesses it is a money pit.

  • http://milngavietutors.com J Wilson

    Hopefully another search engine will come into force and diminish Google. If, as you are saying, retailers start to have to pay significant amounts for coming high in the search, then maybe this will lead to a return to people selling more through high street shops.
    Or buying via Amazon which exists without the need of Google due to being so well known now.

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/seo-training-workshops Nick Stamoulis

    Looks like we’ll have to use Google Webmaster Tools and some other analytics to fill up the ever-growing holes but it feels a lot like we are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. I need to know how visitors are finding my site in order to tailor my marketing efforts! I want to know from Google how they expect site owners to fill in the gaps.

    • Roger M

      Only novices use Webmaster Fools and Anal ytics.

      In AwStats inside Cpanel, we can still see:

      – number of visitors per month
      – number of visitors per day
      – which countries people come from
      – which pages are viewed more
      – which are the popular entry pages and exit pages
      – browser stats etc.
      – lots more info

      Enough data for real Webmasters to optimize sites.

      Make the site search “usable” and display “search box” prominently on every page, we can collect lots of keyword data.

  • Ted

    The truth is… without a viable alternative you are stuck with google. As google pushes my traffic numbers lower and lower I am finding bing is becoming more and more relevant. 3 years ago 95% of my organic traffic came from google. Now it is about 50% with bing closely behind.

    As website owners its to your advantage to speak to google with the only voice you have… money and behavior… Move your adwords spend to bing and facebook… set your default search to bing… its ok to bookmark google… its probably your job to be on google, but try to give every non-work search you can to a competitor…

    evangelize this movement to others…

    • Mat

      I’m curious–what industry is your website in where Google is about 50% with Bing nearby? I manage numerous AdWords and Analytics accounts across various fields and Google is still in the 70%+ range for all of them, with Bing never having more than 10% (Yahoo! typically then in third, sometimes second, also never having more than 10%)

      • http://www.cruelheartbreakerscinema.com Sublithium

        I’m with Mat, Bing 50%, really?, Bing giving you 50% of your search engine traffic is great, if you can get it, but for me, I am pretty much convince there are only like 5 people in the world using Bing right now…

        • Frank

          I know 5 people is a sever exaggeration, but there are really are a lot of sites, like mine, that get 30 – 40% of their revenue from Bing / Yahoo. A previous poster said this: “Bing users and Yahoo users buy the merchandise if they like it. Google users are like those people in a store who are looking around and then go to find a cheaper deal.”, i tend to agree. Overall, Google provides less than 30% of our sales, 2 or 3 years ago, it was about 70%. Revue has increased ever so slightly. The same thing goes with PayPal, if aren’t using it, you are a fool. My total sales increased 27% the first year on one site. The same applies to Bing and other search engines, use them to your advantage.

  • http://www.mywebsites.it Posizionamento Siti

    it is frustrating that there is a big competitor of Google :(

  • Michele

    Well – a year ago, 28% of my google searches came in with ‘not provided’ keywords. This past month, it was 72%. This pretty much exactly matches the not-provided graph in this article.

    Annoying? Definitely!!!

  • Wendy

    This news is infuriating. I recently came across some old spreadsheets I had distributed, back when I could let the whole team know what keywords were driving people to our site, and which ones had better results. Remember those days?
    If Google is so concerned about privacy, why are they crawling my emails and showing me retargeted ads? Or driving around picking up wi-fi data while collecting images for Streetview? Is someone who clicks on a Google ad less deserving of privacy than an organic clicker? No…Google just wants to make their advertisers happy. Collecting keyword data doesn’t invade anyone’s secret lives. I agree with Ted and have switched to Bing. After reading this I am also going to move away from gmail.

    • http://www.dijitalmedia.co.uk David J

      Hi Wendy. I hear what you are saying but I presume that you made money from knowing the keywords that drove people to your site. Google gave you that service for free. Other solutions such as wordtracker charge for their service. I would be happy to pay Google a fee for keyword information that could improve my profits. I think we all will have to soon.

  • http://webstoreseo.com Jeff Fagan

    “Not Provided” accounts for 40% to 80% across most sites here as well. It does make it difficult to track when there is no “referrer” data that reveals what people searched for to get to the website. A few tools out there that can help get some insights but it is very frustrating without overall.

    I guess the original estimate by Matt Cutts that, even at full roll-out, this would be in the single-digit percentages of all Google searchers on Google.com was a little off.

    That said, from a user perspective, I think that SSL is not a bad thing but I liked the idea of having to sign in as the default.

  • http://www.cardealerscript.com Anton

    It’s because they’re probably going to release that data only to Analytics premium users and in doing so increase their revenue.

  • http://www.cruelheartbreakerscinema.com Sublithium

    This has nothing to do with user privacy it is all a bottom line $$$ scheme for google. The whole NSA thing provided a good cover for them to force you into “premium” products and their Adwords. This goes along the same lines as google still allowing adult blogs on blogger, yet banning adult advertising ( even if you use their blogger platform but host on your own domain and make use of a NSFW age gate). Why, because they have no way of making a buck.

    The very worst part of it is that when google implements such policies it only hurts the little guy. Major companies will be somewhat hampered and it makes things a bit more difficult but the little guy can’t afford to put in place costly programs to ensure their research. But then again google seems to relish killing the little guys with many of their other policies.I wouldn’t be suprised if Google is actually, slowly, getting ready to drop it’s free analytics service sometime in the near future.

    Nothing at all to do with privacy and everything to do with revenue!

  • http://www.seo-watch.net Doris

    Fact is that not even the tracking software we use can retrieve the keywords. Yahoo nor Bing do not hide them, they are all listed.
    Fact is also that lots of users in the U.S. changed to Yahoo and Yahoo was even doing more searches than Google in the second quarter of 2013 simply because the searches for shopping are serving up a lot of bad sites when one searches in Google.
    As far as conversions go: Google produces more visitors but less conversions. I rather have less visitors and more conversions.
    Bing users and Yahoo users buy the merchandise if they like it. Google users are like those people in a store who are looking around and then go to find a cheaper deal.
    The money talks – bullsh.t walks attitude of Google will be one day its downfall. I use Yahoo and Bing more often now and only use Google mail for business stuff, like map keys etc. otherwise I really do not like their attitude nor their arrogance behaving like Kings of the Internet.

  • http://MitelForums.com Ralph

    I’m now seeing 80% of key words as “Not provided”.
    Last month I was at 54% and July was 49%.
    Looking at the keywords is now pretty useless and uninformative.

  • http://www.enviroequipment.com Enviro Equipment Inc.

    While Google Analytics may be the benchmark for the SEO industry, it looks like were going to have to start using another service in order to track how our site is doing for organic keywords. After all, 40% to 80% represents pretty much all of your organic traffic.

  • http://damescribe.hubpages.com/ Gin

    It would seem a bad move for Google. They just may lose out on ‘sectors’ that depend on their tools. They will look elsewhere and G will have to shut down another ‘tool’.

  • Matt

    Yeah right. Im sure we can completely trust an NSA lackey like Google.

  • John Q Siteowner

    It does not pay to follow any rules as they will change tomorrow and you will be penalized. It really is the logical thing to do when Google lies and constantly does this crap we should ALL cheat.

  • Neil

    Gangster google – Gang-um style

    I stopped advertising with the google many years ago.
    (The only advertiser or publisher I have problems with)

    I sell A-Z but if I give examples of just ABC –
    I am not “good enough” to be on google.

    I am “blackmailed” into paying to display my own domain names.
    And anyone can use my name and bid to be above me!
    (Or my customers have to search many pages to find them – even though some domains have been around for 14 years!)

    If google was not around, everyone would be better off.

    Yes they are quick but only focus on what THEY think I need –
    and only the biggest[paying]companies can get top pages.
    This is just bribery…

    (Note I gave a false name and Please don’t give my address or google will kill 14 years of hard work…. because they can)

  • http://www.dmdatasolutions.co.uk Lee

    I’m now at 81% and rising and agree this will be 100% before long and a premium tool will then be available which will provide the keywords but at a cost.

    • http://www.seo-watch.net Doris

      Analytics sucks anyway – as you will never know if the returning user that found your web site 2 weeks ago, buys today something you offer.
      You also do not know if your Adwords user who clicked the ad returns one week later to purchase the piece.
      So hiding keywords plus a bad report that misses out on essential information – yet it’s for free – won’t help you at all.
      So my question why would anybody use it?
      It’s a worthless piece of software if you want to manage your web site properly, because too much info is missing.


  • Shiloh

    Google is a dictator and Cutts is a fool. What’s new ?

    Use Bing and take away Googles power and of course never click on any Google PPC ads.

  • http://www.cheers2wine.com Steve

    The frustration mounts as Google continues to cause obstacles for the small website owner who is trying to do the right thing. It does seem like they are out to get us when in reality I guess they are trying to increase their own profits…

  • http://www.openfaceodds.com Ben

    In the past 3 days “not provided” is at 94%.

  • The SEO Widow

    Quite honestly I have sites with backlinks, sites without backlinks… but the one thing they all have in common is high quality 800 word pieces of content and both are being affected negatively. The most annoying thing is to be very white hat and yet you get treated heavy handed. Outside of SEO if you studied history you will discover that most of the time things get more and more secret no good ever comes out of it and in fact insiders are then able to dominate and game marketplaces. As a species we should never allow one company the power and ability to devastate peoples incomes and businesses worldwide. We created one of the best internet millionaire producers ever seen on the face of the earth and that ability and power is being eroded. Google is not God and a statement like “We want to be the mind of God” has a direct correlation and is evident of absolute power absolutely corrupting. It’s funny how no one ever really talks about Adwords being Google’s biggest revenue generator and if you think a company that makes the majority of its revenue from people paying them actively messing with “free organic results” is a good thing you are mistaken. Every update sends them thousands of people worldwide to start paying PPC because they have been messed with in the organic SERP’s. Good luck everyone.

  • Fred

    I’m now at 96% not provided! Who can believe Google when they justify not provided as a move to protect user privacy? Anyway we have to adapt and find some other ways to analyze our SEO, like analyzing the entry pages.

  • http://www.dollarshower.com/ Ajith Edassery

    I have stopped worrying about ‘Not Provided’ keywords now. At the end, I am fine with the minimal information such as which pages are getting maximum search hits and social hits. Google is playing too much with these tweaks and getting webmasters their slaves – At some point, someone may sue them just like Microsoft was sued for their IE tantrums.