Why Google (Not Provided Keyword) Hurts the Web, Not Just SEO


Google Not Provided Keyword

Playing the saddest song in the world...

Over the past few weeks since Google implemented SSL encrypted search results pages that block keyword data for users signed into their Google accounts, SEOs have been pulling their hair and gnashing their teeth. It’s true, and it’s warranted. One of the best SEO KPIs is reporting on the quantity of organic search traffic generated by highly qualified keywords. Now that between 9 and 20% of this data is generic, it’s harder for us to prove our worth and progress. So we’re justifiably upset.

However, as objectively as I can be, I would say that removing data for organic searches has far wider reaching consequences than depriving SEOs of one of their prime KPIs.

One of my friends who owns a great hip hop dance video eCommerce store and I got into a debate last weekend about how it’s not just SEOs who are affected by this change. My argument, which I could not deliver with any eloquence that night, (Friday at 10pm after happy hour and wine at dinner — you do the math.) I will now present here.

Why The (Not Provided) Keyword Hurts the Web

Let me begin by asking a question: Why do webmasters care about rankings? Because rankings=traffic and traffic=some benefit (either monetary or otherwise.) The only thing that webmasters want to do is get their site ranking for relevant terms that drive qualified traffic. To do so, they optimize their sites for those terms.

It is in the webmasters’ best interests to focus on keywords that drive qualified traffic, and to make their site as relevant as possible for this valuable traffic. But how, you may ask, do webmasters know whether they are optimizing for the right things?

What if someone searching for “vice grips” typically wants to buy and someone searching for “locking wrench” typically wants to find out more about the applications for that tool? Both of those words could apply to the same tool, so webmasters look at their conversion data and engagement metrics to find out how to make their site fit the wants and needs of the searcher.

By doing so, they inadvertently give the search engines exactly what they need and want: a page that matches user intent and is valuable to the searcher — who will then use that search engine again because the results were exactly what they were looking for.

The decision to try to rank a product page for vice grips vs. locking wrench has to be informed by keyword data since Google doesn’t provide exact clickthrough data — even through webmasters tools. This data should be statistically significant.

I would hazard a guess, however, that most sites out there don’t have statistically significant traffic over the short term. So even if the site really IS the best result for a specific search, they are already at a disadvantage. Now, however, about 10 – 20% of their already slim keyword data is generalized.

So, the webmaster makes a decision based on personal preference or the opinions of peers in his industry and optimizes his sales page for vice grips. He manages to rank pretty highly for that and can’t understand why people are bouncing so much.

Google, in turn is ranking him appropriately to his level of optimization, but for the wrong keyword and the result is not what the user was looking for so they loose too.


So, why is Google denying analytics users this important information? There is a lot of speculation that it is in an effort to push site owners to depend more on paid search data… up their paid search traffic since they can’t get accurate data through the organic channel anymore.

If this is the case, it seems really short sited to me. The only reason why most people search Google is to get the organic results. Clicking on a paid result is a bonus. If the organic results decline because webmasters don’t have the right information to make education decisions about their site, then Google looses money because people will start using other engines.

If they really are trying to stave off a privacy issue, either present or future, then why is the data still available for paid search? Have people that click on paid links entered into some type of implicit agreement that their search data is less private than those who click on organic results?

Regardless of their motives, the change will detrimentally affect the web in general, search results specifically, and the ability webmasters to make good decisions.

As an SEO, I admit that I’m personally put out by these changes because they make my job harder and who likes that? (See above image.) However, I really and truly believe that the web as a whole will be drastically and negatively affected, especially if more and more people sign in to a Google account while searching.

Have you seen any (not provided) traffic? Let us know how it’s affected you in the comments.

Christina is a former LunaMetrician and contributor to our blog.

  • amzonthemove

    A great post and points well made. It’s a shame that a search engine that tries so hard to clean up serps and improve user experience essentially takes one of the most effective tools needed to do this away.

  • I agree with what you’re saying but Google doesn’t have a choice. It’s because of the changing Privacy laws in the USA. Google has to show they’re complying with new laws.


  • Christina Keffer

    Amzonthemove, thanks. It is frustrating.

    Darren, all of Google’s data in GA is already anonymous. To which news laws are you referring, and how does this change bring Google closer to complying with them? Especially since the same data is still available for paid search clicks?

  • Christina,

    I’m not sure they are complying. The idea is they’re supposed to prevent personally identifiable information from being leaked. The EU and USA both want further action from Google. Encrypting search is supposed to stop ‘WiFi hotspot leaks’ and other serious breaches by Google. SSL is a good way to prevent third parties from monitoring private information.

    That said, their argument does fall apart when they go ahead and sell the data to people! It appears a bit self-serving as usual.

    To me it appears to be mainly a move to charge for something that once was free and to remove some advantage for SEOs. In the process it ends up being another erosion of services that people got used to.

    I think we’ll see Google pulling back on more and more of their ‘free’ services as their ad revenues continue to mature and contract.

    Now more than ever everyone has to learn to derive traffic from other sources that Google. If not, you’ll be paying out the nose for it!


  • Why is data for paid search clicks available?
    Well, if there was no such data the PPC campaigns would not make any sense. Let me explain: Advertisers need to know the exact words which users searched for and then clicked on the ad. This data is needed for optimazing PPC campaigns = bidding or, if they produce very bad results, not bidding on those keywords.
    That is why the PPC urls (ads URLs) are marked/tagged with the keyword data.

    Also, with this “keyword not provided” Google is trying to sell future “paid” Google analytics… lets face it – Google wants money and if there is possibility for taking it… why not?
    Bad Google, very bad.

  • StevenF

    It’s time for me to give Bing a look.

  • Christina Keffer

    My friend that I mentioned in this article made some great comments in an email to me the gist of which I will share here: His point wasn’t that hiding keyword data wouldn’t hurt the web or search results but that the change would be minute enough that the potential monetary gains from a wider adoption of adwords would more than set off the potential degradation of their core product and that the real question was how far are they willing to go? It’s an interesting and valid viewpoint and I guess the answer will be forthcoming. What do you all think?

  • Can we bypass Google analytics by utilizing our own third party tracking code? It truly believe that we have become too dependent on Google. It seems like Google really despises anyone making a buck online without shelling out big bucks to them first.

  • Christina Keffer

    The omission of organic keyword data is not a Google Analytics specific issue. They are blocking the information at the SERP level. Therefore, no tracking software will be able to see it. So, using a different analytics package won’t really help.

  • what I worry about is people in SEO going off their rocker, trying to have EVERY SINGLE page optimized for long tail keywords / short tail keywords / exact matches…so they know whats converting on what page…which just makes it more work for the SEO and more unrelated pages for the audience (yes they might have the phrase on the page yr looking for BUT is it really worth it to put up different macrosite/pages that are so similiar already?

  • Great article and must say a great violin i like it.so nice. Thanks.

  • I totally agree with you: “why is the data still available for paid search?”. Thanks,

  • I would say that bing is the way to go on all levels. Ill say right here and now that Bing will start to take more business. Have you done a search with both lately? Seems to me that bing has more qualified results now than google

  • Hi Christina,

    We recently conducted a study that found that Google “not provided” now accounts for almost 40 percent of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171 percent since originally introduced a year ago.

    We were pretty surprised by the rapid growth of these numbers.

    Here is the full study in case you are interested: http://www.optify.net/press-releases/optify-study-googles-not-provided-rises-to-almost-40-of-organic-traffic-for-b2b-sites


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