Not Provided: Investigating the Impact of Google's SSL Enhancement
Quick! Open up Google Analytics, go to Traffic Sources. Click on Search and then select Organic from the drop down menu. Chances are the first item in a long list of keywords will be “not provided.” But what exactly does that mean? Recently we spoke with Doug Wheeler, Optify's chief marketing officer for an eye-opening account of the impact that Google’s “not provided” keywords have had on referring traffic.

Organic Search Not Provided

Last October, Google announced that it would begin encrypting search queries for users who were logged in to their Google accounts. This meant that visits from organic searches no longer included information about each individual query, but instead showed “not provided” as the referring keyword.

At first glance, this might not be such a big deal. But let's consider the following: there are 350 million people using GMail and Chrome has over 200 million users. Assuming your users are amongst those who have Google accounts and use Google to do most, if not all of their internet organic searches, you've probably been impacted by these changes.

The Impact of Google’s SSL Enhancement on SEO Data

By making SSL search the default search for signed-in users, Google sought to protect user privacy. However, it did not block paid search visit data “to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.” But paid online advertising isn't always the most effective means of marketing. Many companies rely on organic search results to help tailor website content so they can better optimize search results.

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“(not provided)” rate up to 39% of organic visits

To investigate its impact, Optify conducted a study to see the effect that these keywords were having on organic search results. The study, released today, shows that after analyzing visits from Google US only, and including only “.com” websites with 100 to 100,000 monthly visits, “(not provided)” now accounts for almost 40% of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171% since originally introduced a year ago.

Additionally, the study showed that

Learning Opportunities

  • 64% of companies analyzed in the study see 30%-50% of their traffic from Google as “(not provided)”
  • 81% of the companies analyzed in the study see over 30% of their traffic from Google as “(not provided)”
  • Recognized referring keywords from organic search declined by 49%

Tips & Tricks for Handling "Not Provided" Data

If this is the data one year after, what can marketers expect from Google in the future? The study outlines what you can and can no longer do with your Google Analytics info:

Marketers Cannot:

  • Measure the performance of your SEO efforts by connecting a search term with website metrics such as traffic, conversion rate, leads, engagement (page views and time on site) and revenue.
  • Use referrer data to customize/personalize your user experience.
  • Score visitors and leads based on their referring keyword.

Marketers Can:

  • Measure overall SEO performance and report on ROI because the visit source will still be Organic Search. Of course, you won’t be able to analyze what keywords contributed to that performance nor will you be able to report ROI on specific SEO initiatives.
  • Practice SEO and work on getting more traffic from organic search.

Ultimately, marketers are not prevented from practicing SEO best practices, but it will be harder to measure their effectiveness. As such, Optify provides a few tips for how marketers can thrive despite these changes.

  • Leverage Google Webmaster Tools: Google has been very strategic in offering a host of new tools and features within the Google Analytics platform.
  • User other sources of data: While we have learned to rely heavily on Google for a lot of what we do online, it's never a bad idea to diversify your portfolio. Optify says that form submissions, pages viewed and campaign tagging could be used to replace keyword data in your personalization efforts.
  • Use PPC data to estimate keyword performance: Since Google passes referrer data to advertisers for clicks on their sponsored results, marketers can still use PPC to estimate the performance of keywords you are targeting or considering.

In the end, it may be that Google will offer this now unprovided data at a cost. Until then, however, marketers are behooved to take action so that they use the data they have more effectively to offset these recent challenges.