Surviving in a World of Keyword (Not Provided)

Noticed a lot of keyword (not provided) in Google analytics?

You are not alone. Here’s an overview of why keyword (not provided) is increasing and what you need to do be less reliant on keywords and rankings.


In October 2011, Google announced it was moving to secure search.  As a consequence, searches became encrypted and concealed when users searched on Google while being signed in to their Google accounts.

So if a user was signed into any Google account – be it Youtube, Gmail, Analytics, AdWords etc, the search query data from organic searches is hidden in Google analytics.

Since then the number of keywords (not provided) in Google analytics has increased significantly to a point where in many cases very little data is available.

In September last year, Google quietly switched all users over to secure search (SSL) regardless of whether they were logged into Google accounts or not.

So in the future, no keyword data will be provided for organic searches within Google analytics.  Nada. Zip.

How this impacts SEO?

Keywords have traditionally been the lifeblood for SEO.

With Google’s recent Hummingbird algorithm changes, personalised search and the increase of keyword not provided, the shift from focusing on keyword rankings to other metrics is becoming mandatory.

The measures may vary depending on your website and your objectives.

However, some of the possible measures may include website traffic, engagement, conversions and even revenue. We’ll cover off some more measures later in this article.

What the loss of keyword data means to you?

It’s time to have a conversation with your SEO provider about the goals you want to achieve and how these can be measured.

The way SEO has been done in the past has changed and keeping things the same and expecting them to work simply won’t work.

Other impacts are:

  • Differences in the measurement and reporting of SEO
  • You won’t be able to differentiate visitor traffic between brand / non branded queries meaning the contribution SEO makes to your bottom line is less clear
  • You will also get less insight into keyword opportunities from organic search queries
  • A different set of metrics will be required to effectively measure SEO performance
  • PPC data from Google AdWords is critical to validate which keywords actually drive conversions

What can you track and measure?

  • Total organic search visitors – did your traffic go up or down over a period of time?
  • Conversions from organic traffic – did your revenue increase or decrease over a period of time? Did the number of leads increase or decrease over a period of time?
  • Increases in website traffic at a URL level – are there some pages which are more strategically important to get traffic on than others?  Did the more important ones go up or down?
  • Webmaster tools data – did your average keyword positions increase or decrease?
  • Google AdWords data – this is a great source for mining data and understanding user queries. Data from Adwords can help give you an insight into your best converting keywords and can also be used to help develop a content strategy.
  • Historical data and trends – if you are fortunate you have sales data where you can compare your sales history, including any seasonal trends.
  • Search rankings – data can still be obtained for now but there is a question on how reliable this data might be in the future in since browsers like Firefox and Safari also moving to secure search.
  • Non Google keyword data from Bing or Yahoo.

A few caveats:

  • Traffic differences over one month are much less noticeable than traffic differences over three months. Therefore, it makes sense to not only provide monthly reports but also quarterly reports so you can gain an insights into trends.
  • Ensure you take seasonality into account when comparing previous periods. For this it makes sense to measure not only quarter on quarter results but also year on year.

Where else can you get data for researching keyword opportunities?

  • The new Google Keyword planner tool which replaced the Google Keyword Tool in 2013
  • Google AdWords & other paid search data
  • Developing buyer personas and understanding the customer journey from research to purchase and then developing a content strategy around that journey
  • Analysing your competitors websites in the Google Keyword Planner tool or other 3rd party tools
  • Configuring “site search” within Webmaster tools where user searches within your your own site are captured (obviously you need to ensure your search box is highly visible)
  • Using third party tools like SEM Rush and Wordtracker) – although data from third party tools will become increasingly distorted
  • Google Trends
  • Google Related Searches
  • Speak to your sales and customer service teams – ask them what questions they are frequently asked – create content that these faqs

Have you noticed that the number of keyword data in analytics has significantly dwindled?