(Not Provided) and the Google Story


“Not provided” is the term Google coined when it told search marketers that if users are signed in when performing searches, the keywords used to find a website would no longer be provided in analytics in order to increase user security. SEOs use keyword data to better understand what users want to find when they reach a website.

Take the following example: a young, single adult in Atlanta is looking to find a nice restaurant to take a coworker out on a date this weekend. If he uses Google to help make his decision, he will probably perform queries similar to “nice restaurants in Buckhead,” “top Atlanta restaurants,” and “best restaurants for a date.”

As a restaurant owner, these long-tail keywords give me valuable information. If I see a large volume of queries similar to these leading potential customers to my website, I may want to create a page detailing the quality of my restaurant’s food, write a blog post about etiquette when on a date in a five-star restaurant, or create a pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaign built around those terms in order to take advantage of user interests.

As you can see, it’s frustrating for somebody who works in SEO—like myself—to be denied these keywords and be left to wonder what terms users are searching for to reach my website and find my business organically. All I have is “(not provided)” staring me in the face.


How (Not Provided) Went From a Small Annoyance to 100%

As many frustrated SEOs shook their head in disbelief and frustration, they could at least find some solace in the fact that Matt Cutts—head of the search spam team at Google—mentioned that the percentage of keywords that would fall under the “not provided” designation would not exceed 10.

But as time went on, the data didn’t line up with what the search giant said. Blog posts everywhere detailed how their (not provided) keyword data percentage was already double, sometimes triple the amount Cutts mentioned just weeks after the initial announcement. Creative tools like this one were created to track the percentage of keyword data that was being blocked in the name of privacy. Webmaster World forums discussed what Google was really after, as conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory was cited claiming user security had nothing to do with it. The real reason, the conspiracies claimed, was to help the company make more money, as the only way to get keyword data is by signing up for AdWords and running PPC campaigns.

The debate raged on for more than two years about how SEOs could overcome the lack of data, find additional insights and clues about what keywords people were using to get to their websites, and what Google’s real purpose for doing this was.


That Fateful Day: Monday, September 23, 2013

This was the day that anyone in the SEO industry might refer to as “(not provided) Day.” On Monday morning, it became apparent that any time you visited Google—logged in or not—you were automatically redirected to the https version instead of the public http. By automatically redirecting users to the secure version of the website, Google was treating all visitors as if they were logged in, meaning they had flipped a switch that would eventually increase (not provided) keyword data to 100 percent.

While “not provided” hasn’t reached 100 percent for all queries yet, the confirmation of that happening has and there’s no going back. With such a valuable dataset now gone, how does a SEO continue doing his or her job at the same high level? Despite the loss of data, this really shouldn’t have a large negative impact on a search marketer’s ability to find insights through keyword data.

Being a SEO means finding data insights any way possible. While (not provided) isn’t the end of the world, it does make my job more difficult. Looking at metrics like the pages visitors are landing on the most, third-party ranking tools, AdWords keyword data (where keywords are provided), spikes and dips in branded search volume, and other key performance indicators can present valuable clues about a website’s keyword data.

In almost any industry, evolving with the changing times is the norm if you want to stay ahead of the curve. That fact is especially relevant if you work in the search industry. In the future, we’ll be talking more about these strategies and tactics, as well as how to obtain additional search insights in order to overcome Google’s recent change. What percentage of keywords are (not provided) for your website? And what are you doing to overcome it?

Link Building the Right Way: Questions to Ask Before Getting Links for SEO



Link building is a buzzword in the search industry and for good reason. What many believe to be the most powerful correlation to ranking higher in search engine results, the art of link building has transformed from something automated to something highly specialized and unique. The story of link building itself and its transformation has been written a thousand times over, and we simply don’t have time to cover the entire history in this post. That’s what summaries are for.

The short and sweet of it is: Google – and to a lesser extent other search engines as well – has cracked down on examining the quality of links pointing back to your website. Spam websites or directories, techniques that involve hiding links, and article spinning are just a few examples of links that may result in your website receiving a manual penalty. Major losses in organic search traffic will ensue, and if you’re not careful, you could lose your business. There are countless examples, so let me know which ones I’ve forgotten and should’ve included instead in the comments.


There Is a Right Way to Get Links

If you’re attempting to acquire links to your website the right way, here are 15 questions to ask yourself before getting a link to your business’ website.

Did I pay for the link in any way, shape, or form?

Paying for links used to work. Now, Google and other search engines have been extremely clear: paying for links will get you penalized. It’s pretty easy to tell if you’ve paid for a link, and your business isn’t worth risking traffic and business leads through organic search. If you paid for the link in any way, shape, or form, it’s not a link you’d like to acquire.

Is the content linking to my page relevant to my customers?

The page the link comes from should be relevant to your local business. If you make blue widgets, it probably makes sense to receive a link from a blue widget manufacturer’s page or a blog post that reviews blue widgets made by your company and your competitors. If your customers are unlikely to be interested in the content that’s linking to your website, they’re probably never going to care about the piece of content linking back to your website.

Is the link site-wide?

One notoriously “spammy” link tactic that will trigger a red flag with Google is getting a site-wide link. Site-wide links are from domains that link to you from every single page of their website. There is literally never a reasonable use for this and you should never pursue acquiring a link that is site-wide.

Can the webmaster of the site linking to you be contacted?

“Contact Us” pages are extremely popular across websites of all shapes and sizes. If there’s a relevant industry website that you’re thinking about getting a link from, but can’t find any information on how to contact the business or where the business is, you should pass on this opportunity. It’s almost definitely a spam website.

Recognizable brand name?

The popularity of the company’s brand name you’re hoping to get a link from is something to take into consideration. Now, you can’t only seek links from major national sources like Mashable and the New York Times. What about the local and regional communities? If the brand has credibility and owns a powerful online presence, that should reinforce your hopes of getting a link back to your website from them.

Would you still want to acquire the link if search engines didn’t exist?

This is a really cliche question in the SEO industry, and I didn’t want to include it because of that reason. However, the logic behind it is good. Search engines use links as one of hundreds of different identifiers to determine which websites are most relevant for a particular string of keywords. You should be getting a link from another website because it will produce sales leads, is good news coverage and exposure, or will grow your business in any way — not because you think Google will rank you higher. Another way to ask this question is, “Would you acquire this link with Matt Cutts or Duane Forrester looking over your shoulder?”

What’s the catch?

Reciprocal linking is the act of (essentially) trading links. If acquiring a link from a relevant business requires reciprocal linking on a large scale, requires payment, or anything else the search engines may deem unnatural, the catch probably isn’t worth your trouble.

Where is link located on the website?

This won’t necessarily stop you from acquiring a link, but rather help you understand which links are more valuable than others. Links included in an article that appears above the fold, for example, are typically more valuable than links included in the footer. If a link to your website is included at the beginning of a blog post that was inspired by a piece of content currently on your domain, the link is essentially acting as a source, giving that webpage extreme value from both a user and search engine’s perspective. On the other hand, a link in the footer speaks to it being an afterthought, unimportant, and may even be the result of poor linking practices.

What other websites does the domain link to?

The SEO community is blessed to have so many wonderful free tools that help us do our jobs better. There are several tools — free and paid — that help with analyzing the link profile of websites. One effective way to evaluate the legitimacy of the website linking to you is by seeing what other websites they’re linking out to. Do they link to and source other industry leaders? Or do they link out to almost any website regardless of industry and business type.

Does the website have active social accounts?

Social media went from being a fad to having a major impact on search results seemingly overnight. But I don’t want to talk about the impact of social media on search results, rather just common sense. If the company has active social accounts that produce a lot of great, unique content for their followers to share and engage with, that’s a positive sign about how the company operates. If no social accounts exist or, even worse, the accounts exist but there’s no engagement or following to speak of, that should prompt you to dig deeper about the company you may be receiving a link from.

Would your competitor want a link from this domain?

Put yourself in your competitors’ shoes and stop thinking about it from a search marketing perspective: if your competitor wouldn’t really care to receive a link from this website, then your business shouldn’t be worried about it either.

How easy will it be to acquire the link?

Other than dMoz, I’m not sure there’s a truly difficult link directory to get your website into. Hence why search engines began looking at directory links in mass quantity as a possible spam warning. Getting a link from the New York Times is difficult, but it would also be an excellent opportunity for a business to pursue. Links that are naturally difficult to acquire are difficult for a reason: they’d be incredibly ideal.

How likely is it that traffic from this link will result in revenue?

Now we’re drilling down to what really matters. At the end of the day, search marketing is about increasing your business’ revenue. Acquiring a link shouldn’t be about getting to the number one position in Google — which is barely even measurable in 2013. As an SEO, your goal should not be to increase traffic to a certain number per month or stabilize a website’s ranking in the top three for over 100 keywords. The goal is to grow the business through relevant traffic, sales leads, and revenue.

Would the link acquisition “win” be short-term or long-term?

A link that provides short-term value is far less superior than one that provides long-term value. Let me explain: a humorous, viral piece of content that comes and goes as fast as twerking did will drive a large amount of traffic to your website, but how likely are those visitors to become customers? On the other hand, creating an informative tutorial video that details and explains intricate problems within your industry and how to solve them is an evergreen piece of content that people will come back to again, again, and again. That content also establishes your brand as an authority, and will almost certainly attract business based on people seeing your video, understanding their unique problem, but not having the capacity to be able to solve the issue by themselves. That’s good business.

Will acquiring this link help me grow my business?

This. Ask yourself this question before you start any link building effort.

From Selling to Storytelling: 10 Useful Content Marketing Quotes


Successful content marketing starts with good storytelling. Consumers may have grown more savvy at ignoring advertising, but audiences will always crave stories. Brands should think of themselves as publishers, and think of consumers as audiences.

The following quotes from storytellers and marketers (and both) discuss that shift and why it’s important:

  1. “The greatest story commandment is: Make me care.” – Andrew Stanton
  2. “One of the key qualities of all stories is that they are made to be shared.” — Marco Tempest
  3. “Content is anything that adds value to the reader’s life.” — Avinash Kaushik, Google
  4. “Create content that reaches your audience’s audience.” — Ann Handley
  5. “Content builds relationships. Relationships are built on trust. Trust drives revenue.” – Andrew Davis
  6. “Consumers [decide] to buy or not to buy [based on] the content of your advertising, not its form.”— David Ogilvy
  7. “I realized the importance of having a story today is what really separates companies. People don’t just wear our shoes, they tell our story.” — Blake Mycoskie, CEO, Tom’s Shoes
  8. “The technology will change, but the primary tenets of content marketing will not. Technology doesn’t change human nature, although it may amplify it. People have problems and desires. They want information that helps them with those problems and desires. That will never change.” — Brian Clark
  9. “As marketers, we should be changing the mantra from ‘always be closing’ to ‘always be helping.’”– Jonathan Lister
  10. “Just. Be. Useful.” – Jay Baer