(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?