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

Chris CrumSearchNews

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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 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.

Chris Crum
Chris Crum has been a part of the WebProNews team and the iEntry Network of B2B Publications since 2003. Follow Chris on Twitter, on StumbleUpon, on Pinterest and/or on Google: +Chris Crum.