Keyword Not Provided: What does it mean, and what can I do?
In October 2011, Google announced that they were beginning to encrypt search queries for users who were logged into Google. This meant that from an analytical perspective, if you visited your keyword report in Google Analytics (or any other reporting platform), you would see (not provided) at the top of your organic keyword list instead of the actual organic keywords. This only applies to organic keywords and not to paid keywords.
Back in the day, SEOs liked to report on these things: where do you rank for a keyword, how many visits did it bring, and how much money did it make? Knowing this kind of data was useful in SEO strategies so that SEOs knew what keyword groups were best to continue to optimise for, and which ones brought in most financial value.
In those days, SEO practises tended towards improving rankings for specific keywords, rather than improving organic search performance overall. As such, seeing keyword data disappear made SEO Managers confused and slightly angry, as it was more difficult for them to prove the worth of their campaigns to clients.
Above is a graph of the percentage of Not Provided keywords that Branded3 has seen since 2008. In November 2011, after Google announced they’d be encrypting searches, Not Provided keywords immediately became 7% of the organic traffic.
Only 8 months later, this became 50%. In June 2014, we hit 90%, two years and eight months following the announcement. Last month, Branded3’s organic traffic was at 97% Not Provided.
This will never reach 100%, because there are plenty of unencrypted search engines that will happily send organic keyword data to analytics platform. Yahoo and Bing both moved onto the Not Provided bandwagon alongside Google, although they didn’t make the move until 2014 and 2015, respectively.
In 2017, some of the only unencrypted search engines are Ask, AOL, Lycos, Dogpile, and those malicious toolbars that find their way onto your parent’s computer. In the future, I imagine some of those will become encrypted and send “not provided” data to Google Analytics, but others may never bother.
What can I do about Not Provided Keywords?
If you’re still concerned about retrieving information from your keywords, you can use Google Search Console to get information about clicks and impressions for your website. You can find this in the Search Traffic > Search Analytics section.
Search Console data only goes back to the past 90 days, so if you want to record how you’re performing, you’ll need to export the data (use the Download button at the bottom of the page) and keep it.
PROTIP: Use the API or a software like Supermetrics to get much more data than the 999 rows that is served within Search Console.
By using this data, you can split your keywords into Brand, Non-Brand, and whatever else you consider useful (e.g. Long Tail and Head terms). You can create your own Click-Through Rate model and apply this to your keyword rankings, or use a brand/non-brand to analyse your current traffic. Be aware that although you can get a rough traffic split, it’s still difficult to infer if specific keywords converted higher than other keywords.
However, the above data is only collected from Google Search Console, so applying it to “all organic traffic” may be presumptuous as all search engine users behave differently. You can also use Bing’s Webmaster tools (Reports and Data > Search Keywords) to get information about how your website performs in Bing and Yahoo.
Yandex and Baidu also have webmaster tools if the majority of your traffic comes from those search engines. It’s worth noting that Baidu’s webmaster tools are exclusively in Chinese. Here is a really good guide to Baidu’s webmaster tools.
If you don’t want to build your own model for keywords, tools like Keyword Hero are able to connect your Search Console data (and transform the data using magic) to your Google Analytics account to import keywords directly into your Google Analytics organic keyword report instead of “not provided”.
If you’re concerned about Not Provided and want to understand how to best report on your SEO efforts, contact us and we can help.