Don’t count on Google to provide

google not provided

If you are a heavy Google Analytics user, you’ll know what I’m referring to when I say, “(not provided).”

(This is in reference to the Google Analtyics Organic Search Traffic report. To get there, simply log into Google Analytics, use the left-side menu to navigate to “Traffic Sources,” then “Search,” then “Organic.”)


In October 2011, Google stopped sharing keyword data with websites on how people searched for and found those websites via Google. Specifically, the blackout occurred in cases where a Google user was logged in to his/her Google account, and their keyword searches were encrypted, ostensibly, to protect users’ privacy. I say ‘ostensibly’ because they did this on the ORGANIC side of the business (read: no advertisers) but sure as HECKFIRE did not do this on the advertising side. The ‘Big G’ didn’t want to stop the money train and make its platform less effective for advertising.

So, I should skip the labor and get to the birth: Now, if you log into Analytics, your #1 referring keyword will be “(not provided).”

So what, right?

If you’re a small business, an E-commerce website selling children’s clothes, it would be nice to know which keywords are driving your traffic and sales.

For instance, if “baby boy rompers” drives 15% of your traffic, you might invest in more inventory, have a sale, move a tout prominently to the homepage. In other words, respond to web analytics in such a way as to improve your business.

Why should you have to be one of Google’s paid search advertisers to benefit from valuable data? (…but I think I just answered my own question.)

It doesn’t seem fair. But fair is where you get cotton candy. Google Analytics is after all, a free product.

[pullquote style=”right”]As a marketer, I love search referral data, but I also understand having to lose it to better protect privacy. But if it’s about privacy, then Google shouldn’t leave a loophole that puts advertiser interests over that of its users. – Danny Sullivan [/pullquote]

Here is what you can still extract data from Google Analytics:

  • Leads from organic search by setting up a Google Analytics Custom Report (more on this in a future post).
  • Overall traffic from Organic Search.
  • A Google Analytics Custom Filter to map which pages of your website these “(not provided)” people landed on, which should give you a ballpark idea of what keywords drove them to your site.

Finally, search engine optimization in 2013 is less keyword-focused than ever. We are seeing the death of rank tracking in popular SEO software such as Raven Tools because the SEO practice is becoming more holistic, more focused on what’s called “conversion optimization” (read: driving people to your website and making it more intuitive for them to take an action (the ones you want them to take) — be it buying a baby’s car seat or requesting a quote for services).

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