The mysterious (not provided) keyword tracking in Google Analytics

In the past few months at PICnet, we’ve been focusing heavily on increasing our marketing efforts, particularly in our blog.  Just as we do for most top-level programs, we’ve set goals, take regular measurements, analyze the results in detail, the rinse and repeat.  Our tool of trade for building our metrics for success is Google Analytics, and it’s been serving us amazingly well.

As we’re seeing further increases in traffic, we’re interested in knowing what people were searching when they found our site.  Knowing that information allows us to better define our content strategies for the future, and give us a sense of what content is most interesting to those searching for answers online.

It seems, however, that the most popular search keyword, by huge margins, is “(not provided)”.  And when I say huge margins, I mean it’s 58x more popular a keyword than number two.  What is this “(not provided)” keyword in Google , and why are we getting so much traffic from it?

Google Analytics (not provided)

After some research, we learned about the secure and encrypted SSL-enabled searching that Google allows visitors to do on their website.  Whenever you’re logged into your Google account, any default Google searches you do on Google properties (say, is encrypted.  It’s effectively Google’s way of protecting the privacy of their users when they’re logged into their services.

On the flip side, it’s also making it impossible for content providers to see the search terms that people have used in their search before landing on your website.  Some have even called it “Dark Google“. That obviously has a big affect on content creator’s ability to do keyword research related to their websites, except for one caveat:  Google Ads.  If you’re paying to have an advertisement displayed through Google’s ad network, the keywords from those clicks are recorded in Google Analytics.

At first, Google had noted that it believed this would likely only affect about 10% of their total search traffic.  However, now that the Firefox search bar by default is using the SSL encrypted search, and with Google Chrome likely to go in the same direction too, it seems that the increase in (not provided) keywords in your Google Analytics is only  going to increase.  The challenge, even with the left-over data, is that the population of the actually found keywords are likely going to be very small for most organizations.

In short, the secure search functionality in Google will likely make the keyword analytics nearly useless.  Instead, it’s likely that more non-profits should get the best data they can from the value in Google Ads, which might be cost-effective (free) via the Google Grants for non-profits.

What strategies are your organizations using in lieu of keyword tracking in Google Analytics?


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This entry was posted on Thursday, January 24th, 2013 at 11:52 pm and is filed under Google, nptech. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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