Study: 39% Of Google Search Referrers Now “Not Provided”

google-not-providedIt is just over a year since Google began encrypting search by default for signed-in users. A new study finds that as a result, 39% search-related traffic from Google to web sites now has search terms withheld.

Optify conducted a study over eleven months with 424 web sites, involving 17,143,603 visits and 7,241,093 referring keywords, to see how serious the “not provided” issue is.

“Not Provided” is what Google Analytics shows in cases where Google no longer reports a search term due to encryption (other analytics programs may use other phrases).

The study found that 39% of terms are withheld:

The study also found that 13% of companies see rates at high at 60% of terms being withheld. Here’s a breakdown, which shows that most are in the 35% range:

The study is available through Optify’s press area.

To understand more about why Google withholds terms and some of the impact this has had on search marketers, see our one-year retrospective story:

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Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Features: Analysis | Google: Analytics | Google: Privacy | Google: SEO | Google: Web Search | Google: Webmaster Central | Legal: Privacy | Top News

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • http://twitter.com/alisammeredith Alisa Meredith

    This is a real pain! However, looking at top landing pages can help you at least figure out why people are finding you, if not the exact key words used. Just takes a little more work this way.

  • http://twitter.com/incrediblehelp Jaan Kanellis

    I HATE not having this data….

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Okay, anyone using Google Analytics has absolutely no business whining about the query data. If you call yourself an SEO and you’re not connecting your Google Analytics account to your Webmaster Tools account so that you can see all the data you just need to get out of the business.

  • http://vision-advertising.com/ Laura Briere

    Alisa, that’s real good advice. Although it’s a roundabout way to find the data you’re looking for, it’s a clever strategy considering what we’re facing (aka, the unknown!).

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    Connecting doesn’t archive the data. You still can’t go back further than 90 days. A lot of history is being lost.

  • http://twitter.com/ledermanu Uri Lederman

    you got to love Google.. :-) this shows how quickly Google+ is expanding.. :-) also great way to get people into their pro version of analytic which I do believe does NOT withhold this data… Hats OFF to them..

  • cjvannette

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but GWT has MUCH less data, no? For example, I can’t isolate conversion rate based on keyword, right?

  • farhanfawzer

    Clear indication of more people using Google services.

  • http://twitter.com/iamatechie Sanil Subhash Chandr

    This is what you called exploiting Privacy Laws. No issues referring keywords using Adwords. What does that mean? Google Adwords conspiracy.

  • http://twitter.com/deanpeters Dean Peters

    I suppose one could grab data via the Google Analytics API and archive it themselves — or better yet, use the API to push it back up into GA?-)

  • http://keepkalm.com/ Kyle Alm

    Danny, is it safe to assume that Google just isn’t providing access to more than 90 days of GWT data? They don’t really delete data.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Danny, I agree that Google could make life easier by archiving the DOWNLOADABLE data but the point is that SEOs are whining about not having access to data to which they actually do often have access.

    It’s an imperfect solution but one which is not credited by people who act like they know nothing about it. That is an embarrassment to the profession.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    cjvannette, GWT data is not analytics data — in some ways it’s much better and in some ways it’s quite frustrating. But it IS the data that many people are complaining they don’t see any more.

  • cjvannette

    Except it’s not. Most people who are worried about (not provided) are well aware that they can access a list of recent keywords in GWT. What we’re complaining about is that so much keyword data is missing from analytics. I want to know how bounce rates are for different keywords, which keywords are converting, whether traffic has dropped off for a particular keyword, and I can’t do any of that when 30-50% of my keyword data is missing in GA.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carrie-Morgan/558596071 Carrie Morgan

    It’s a huge issue – when we cannot track almost 40% of our traffic back to a specific source, SEO and marketing professionals cannot connect specific keywords and strategies to actual results. If we can’t show ROI, our clients are unhappy and it diminishes our credibility. It completely hamstrings our efforts and our ability to show success. RIDICULOUS.

    I wonder if it isn’t intentional, it is simply that Google has a glitch in their algorithms and tracking that they are trying to repair. Things are changing rapidly in a social media world, Google still struggles with real-time search, and I’ve noticed many, many disconnects between website traffic, Google Analytics and my content management/development efforts.

  • http://borasky-research.net/about-data-journalism-developer-studio-pricing-survey/ M. Edward (Ed) Borasky

    Google Analytics, Google Webmaster Tools and SEO are too complicated to be of value to the average small business.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    “What we’re complaining about is that so much keyword data is missing from analytics. ”

    You really need to spend some time exploring what Google Webmaster Tools has to offer you.

  • cjvannette

    Be happy to. Any pointers, or links to blog posts with pointers, or even search terms to find my own pointers? :)

  • http://anthonygoodley.com/SEO Anthony Goodley

    GA is rather worthless without the “Not Provided” keywords I get 29.68% of the time and steady rising. Not Provided is my #1 keyword for a quite some time on one website. Since Google is encrypting this data at search time for logged in users there is no way for any program or service to capture the data. Should Google+ really become popular both webmasters and searchers are totally screwed.

  • http://keepkalm.com/ Kyle Alm

    It has impression data that isn’t available through GA. It doesn’t track anything onsite, just SERP impressions and CTR.

  • http://keepkalm.com/ Kyle Alm

    So is a website, but they all seem to have one.

  • http://www.v2interactive.net/ Josh

    How is it not fair? Google can view the data, but you cannot. Kind of like the middle class has to pay higher taxes than the wealthy class. Welcome to Digital Classes.

  • Guest

    I hate that socialism is vogue now. How blind can our society be?

  • http://www.v2interactive.net/ Josh

    You must hate sarcasm as much as you hate socialism.

  • http://searchengineland.com/ Danny Sullivan

    It’s safe to say they have all the data and could make it available if they wanted to spare the machines. So far, they don’t.

  • http://www.delivra.com/ Cody Sharp

    “Privacy for our users is really important…unless someone pays us to eliminate it. Then it isn’t important.” Google on why they allow keywords to be seen on PPC…

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    This is a Bit.ly link to a Google sitesearch of SearchEngineLand: http://bit.ly/STwjeA They have plenty of articles about GWT. But I think just logging in and clicking on everything clickable is the best way to learn about it. The reports can be resorted by clicking on column headers, you can expand or contract the windows, download the data, look at clicks by query or by page, etc.

  • http://changingtheworld.me/ Vadim Mialik

    Wait …. there is a paid version of Google analytics where this is available?

  • fran farrell

    Kind of like sneezing and coughing all over your host and being surprised by lack of future invites. 39% of sites that prefer to use insecure communications have no right to complain if they are to gross to protect your search.,

  • http://www.day1charitydonation.com/ Hal Fast

    Another infamous google “brain suck”. :) HF

  • http://www.facebook.com/johnmartinbr John Martin

    Just try to help folks: If your webmaster tool is in touch with analytics you can´t see the words of search BUT if you click on “Not Provided” link, you can find the pages the “Not Provided” words will land… I made a excel spreadsheet to compare the words I know for those pages and then I can accept the “Not Provided” should be proportional. Sounds crazy?

  • Jeremiah Fowler

    Dear Google,

    Why are you trashing the internet for a temporary boost in your ad revenues or some advanced features for your top corporate clients? This strategy will fail you and nearly everyone I know is already looking to alternatives because of your new “Do Evil” policies and updates that really did little but boost your PPC revenue and make a landscape where many small businesses can no longer compete with the monopoly brands online.

    No love for Google here,

    *J

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=621458913 John Smith

    I cant understand what strangling search related traffic and blocking search terms hopes to achieve, it obviously robs webmasters of valuable data to have on hand when planning strategies, I must be missing something

  • Jamie Saddler

    Totally appreciate GWT offers the digital marketer another platform for analysis but I do find it incredibly frustrating that this search traffic is being registered as having originated from an unknown term, especially when trying to offer consultancy to a small business, it’s frustrating to have to go round the houses and open various different platforms which often just ends up with glazed eyes and looks of slight confusion!

  • http://www.verticalleap.co.uk/ Kerry Dye

    No that makes complete sense, but it is a lot of extra work for data we used to have at our finger tips?

  • http://www.verticalleap.co.uk/ Kerry Dye

    http://www.google.com/analytics/premium/index.html But it’s a serious monthly cost!

  • http://www.brickmarketing.com/ Nick Stamoulis

    I know exactly how you feel Carrie. It’s incredibly frustrating to have to explain to clients why we don’t have a complete picture for their SEO campaign and try to back up our insights and recommendations when the data is missing. I know we can still make educated guesses but soon I wonder if we will even have enough data for that.

  • Durant Imboden

    If Google wants its SERPs to be as organic as possible, with minimal influence from SEOs and marketers, doesn’t the “not provided” approach make sense? (I’m not suggesting that SEOs and marketers should welcome the change; I’m merely pointing out what should be obvious.)

  • http://www.analytics-ninja.com/ Yehoshua Coren

    @Michael_Martinez:disqus I disagree with your statement that SEOs should stop whining. The data from GWT is relatively lame and the GA integration is just an archive of said data, but it isn’t connected to the users web analytics session. Yes, I understand that by looking at landing pages more so than keywords helps with analysis some. Nevertheless, sites experiencing 40-60+% of their Organic traffic as (not provided) is more than just an inconvenience. I think that the complaints out there are quite justified.

  • http://www.analytics-ninja.com/ Yehoshua Coren

    Folks, there is NO way around this issue. It isn’t limited to Google Analytics. It is an across the board withholding of search query information from all analytics platforms.

  • http://changingtheworld.me/ Vadim Mialik

    Thank you so much for this Kerry. I had no idea this existed. But yes $150,000 a year is definitely enterprise.

  • http://twitter.com/JuiceMarketing Mark Badran

    When Google first announced this change, it seems to me that they mentioned something like “fewer than 20% of searches will be affected.” Almost immediately, ours was higher. Now we’re at about 38% and I’ve wondered what others were seeing … so, it’s good to see some data about the larger trends and that we aren’t the only ones!

  • http://twitter.com/ChrisLoDolce Christopher LoDolce

    Lot’s of great comments here! For those of you who deal with organic/keywords on a daily basis, do you find your clients with a stronger brand tend to have higher rates of keywords (13% of companies see rates as high as 60%) that can’t be tracked?

  • http://twitter.com/ledermanu Uri Lederman

    that is true for all google products, I checked with the premium version.. to no avail.

  • http://guigo.eu/ Guigo

    Umm, Google are smart, there is no glitch. It’s done with a purpose. Remember how that handy “Sign out” link from Gmail top right corner was eliminated? (put few more clicks away) Well, turns out it just kinda forces users to stay online forever. Which is handy when it comes to tracking what they search, what they buy, what they want to buy, etc etc :)
    Google forces these “improvements” upon us, and we have to accept them – there is no real other player out there big enough where we could run away from G ;)

  • http://www.candleforex.com/ CandleForex

    This is really annoying and makes metric gauging difficult. Its not that hard to strip all info away and only show the keyword in google analytic’s.

  • lindajust

    Of course, it’s intentional! I’m just glad I don’t pay SEO people! Content is what I’ve been told counts.

  • daveintheuk

    Simple question for Google: How would your business change if you lost 39% of YOUR data overnight? Think about it, now imagine the impact on every single business with a website. You did that.

    And don’t play the “protecting users Privacy” BS card – everyone knows that is a lie, you do not care about anything but your shareprice and profits these days (don’t worry, it is not your fault, corporations MUST be greedy).

    Just be honest, you are doing this to restrict competitors access to keyword data; and to add to further muddy the waters so it is harder for webmasters to understand exactly how you are shaping, controlling and throttling traffic to their sites.

    If you are going to be corrupt, you may as well be up front about it – you spend enough on lobbying that the governments won’t do anything about it; and your shareholders will love it… so what have you got to loose? The public will keep using your services regardless of if you spin the story or not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Carrie-Morgan/558596071 Carrie Morgan

    I
    pulled a fresh Google Analytics report today for a client, and 89.16%
    of the traffic is keyword (not provided). Almost 90%!

  • http://twitter.com/ItsHogg Jon

    notprovidedcount.com is keeping track

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