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How To Proceed With Google Keyword Data ‘Not Provided’
Posted by Cameron Francis on November 22, 2013 in Google Analytics

Undoubtedly, recent Google changes have decreased the accuracy of performance reporting. SEOs do not have the raw data that was once available in order to measure results. As a result, different  trending metrics and performance indicators must be used in order to approximate the data that is no longer available.

Nevertheless, the SEO community has anticipated that these changes would take place, although they did not expect them to occur so soon.  In addition to Google, others are also prioritising ‘secure search’. Browsers, like Mobile Safari and Firefox 14+ have also added features for keyword referral data masking.

Anticipating these changes, many SEO pros have prepared for this data loss. Many have put in place a plan that they know historically correlates to the data that they were able to directly measure in the past. Fortunately, unlike Google’s algorithm updates, like Penguin , these changes don’t have an effect on SEO methods, other than reporting on performance.

We will examine performance reporting utilising metrics that are still available along with some new key performance indicators. This approach should give you accurate performance results for organic search and give you the data you need to have in order to know if your optimisation efforts are driving more traffic to your web pages.

Background Information

The “keyword unavailable” issue has been ongoing since the latter part of 2011. In the ensuing time period Google has redirected an increasing proportion of its users to a secure search page. The result being the blockage of search data that analytics tools utilise to find out which keywords were enter to drive your visitors.

When Google initiated secure search, many webmasters began to see some of the keyword data that they viewed in Google Analytics was in the ‘not provided’ category. At the time this was launched, Google made an estimate that ‘not provided’ keywords would not be more than ten percent of all keyword data.

Not provided Data

When this trend began in late 2011, a searcher needed to be logged into one of their Google accounts for their searches to be private and not provide any keyword data. Keyword data was not fully displayed any longer in analytics as Google provided users some privacy when performing a search.

Nevertheless, the proportion of organic keyword searches originating from “not provided” keywords has steadily grown in the past couple of years. It is grown to the point that a lot of sites were getting more than half of their keywords as “not provided” and some sites are getting close to 80 percent.

In late September of 2013, things again changed and Google initiated changes that entirely encrypted searches. Nowadays, when anyone performs a Google search tat are automatically directed to a search that is SSL encrypted. This affects only organic search. Paid search keyword referrals are still reported.

Going forward, secure search will be the rule, and for scalability and planning we should assume that keyword referral information will no longer be available from the perspective of website analytics.

Summary of The Significance Of The Loss Of Keyword Data

  • Affects how SEO performance is measured and reported
  • Google organic traffic keywords cannot be tracked using analytics
  • Keyword data in Webmaster Tools is limited
  • No visibility into traffic associated with long-tails, keyword groups, brand/no brand
  • Less visibility into keyword opportunities gleaned from analytics data
  • New metrics must be used to comprehend SEO performance

SEO still operates the same as it did before. However, the absence of keyword data affects internet marketers in two ways, as follows.

Measurement of Performance And Success

measure success

Historically, SEO pros have used traffic, rankings, and conversions metrics as their primary SEO performance indicators.  The following metrics remain available after the recent Google changes.:

  • Overall organic traffic – by search engine
  • Organic traffic conversions by URL
  • Rankings for search terms
  • Rankings by Page types/tags
  • Keyword tag rankings

The following metrics are available no longer:

  • Brand / non-brand SEO traffic for year to year comparison
  • Keyword tag traffic for year to year comparison
  • Keyword conversions
  • Keyword traffic per URL
  • Long tail keyword data

Keyword Research

search keyword

Until recently, discovering new keywords has been aided by using analytics data. Long tail derivatives and keyword opportunities that were likely to drive more traffic could be uncovered using this data. Nevertheless, this data was usually used in combination with other keyword tools such as:

    • Keyword Planner
    • Data from paid search
    • Third Party Software (Wordtracker, SEMRush, Majestic SEO, and others)
    • Analysis of competition
    • Market research and demographics

As we move forward, these types of data will be relied upon more in performing keyword  research. PPC data will be particularly useful, and it will be the source of data that is most accurate in identifying keyword opportunities.

Conclusion

The use of data analysis in order to comprehend and identify necessary changes is crucial for those engaging in SEO so the can rapidly respond to changes, report performance accurately, and prioritise the use of resources.

Keyword analytics data has been at the centre of this kind of analysis in the past, and has had a major impact on achieving these goals.  Since this data is no longer available, based on recent changes launched by Google, different metrics must be utilised for these purposes.

The new metrics do not provide the same accuracy as keyword data, however, they do give SEOs a sound alternative to comprehending SEO performance.

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Cameron Francis

Co-Founder

Cameron Francis is the CoFounder & Managing Director of ETRAFFIC, Melbourne's #1 Creative & Digital Marketing Agency. For over a decade Cameron has been providing growth marketing and digital strategies for over 2,000 small businesses, start-ups & entrepreneurs around the country.
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