Insights to Ignite Your Mind
Benjamin Spiegel

Director of Organic Search

Don't Panic- Combating the Google Analytics Not Provided Panic

Combating the Google Analytics (Not Provided) Panic

There has been a lot of chatter about Google’s move to enable SSL search (and therefore, search encryption) across its services, which started in October 2011. This essentially hides the search sources of its registered users who are signed into their Google accounts and therefore, does not show the organic keyphrase anymore.

According to Google, this was introduced as a means to protect the privacy of its users by shielding those users’ search terms, thereby making it more difficult to produce targeted internet marketing to those users. The search query would show up in Google Analytics as “not provided.”  Google Analytics still recognizes the search as organic, but does not display the keyword that visitors used to reach your website in the analytics apps.

Google also claimed that this change would affect less than 10% of search; however, this has been steadily increasing over the past few months, with reports of up to 39% of organic keyphrases being hidden on some US-based websites.

Since the switch, a great deal of SEO hysteria and suggested technical workarounds by analysts, marketers, and webmasters has emerged. This panic has resulted in a variety of “hacks” that try to solve the problem and a great deal of noise among brands and marketers. In recent months I have seen it all:

  • Multiple profiles
  • Hidden redirects
  • Magic formulas
  • Double tracking codes
  • Redirects to paid links
  • Even emailing Matt Cutts at Google!
  • There’s also been a huge uptick in articles with such words as “SEO is dead” and “we can’t do SEO without this data.”

    I disagree. And I state without hesitation that this insanity and constant swirl has to stop—because all is not lost.

    What you can do

    Although search analysis and organic search as we know it are becoming harder, the actual results—and actionable data to be mined—are not.

    So here is my advice: stop panicking about SSL search because it’s here to stay, and remember we still have valuable tools that will provide what we need for SEO work. And while many people get hung up on the myriad of little details involved with search engine marketing and search engine optimization, I suggest taking a step back and looking at the entire picture instead.

  • Look at the landing pages. You’ll get a good idea of the theme of each page and the quality of your visitors. Landing pages, visitor frequency, and interaction with the page clue us in that our SEO work and content are successful. Bounce rates still tell us when the page is not working well. Common sense tells us that if you have 10,000 visits to a page called /how-to-bake-beans/, the keyphrase theme, audience, and user intent are pretty obvious. You have to assume site visitors landed there through obvious search terms. Look at this from the overall theme perspective and don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Use Google Webmaster Tools. You actually can see the search data you seek in Webmaster Tools—it’s all there. You can view the top daily search queries and the top landing pages, but you won’t be able to tell the conversations and engagement.
  • Think Personalized Search: Since the secure data is mostly from logins (and therefore, personalized SERPs) it will not give you an accurate picture of intent.   Google’s personalized search for registered users has changed the way keyphrases drive website traffic. It’s highly individualized search and more generalized data. You just need to know how to look at it differently.
  • Engagement metrics tell a story. Tagging, form submissions, click-through rate, and time on a page are all good indicators of your search marketing and website success. When monitored and managed, these metrics will deliver meaningful, actionable information for your brand.
  • Paid search provides viable results. “Not provided” only applies to organic search; paid search still delivers full results in the reporting and can help to test and inform.
  • The bottom line: don’t panic. There is a wealth of important data available. As a leading national search marketing firm, we analyze, visualize, and interpret this search data every day—and develop amazing insights and action plans for our clients’ brands as a result.

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    8 Responses to Combating the Google Analytics (Not Provided) Panic

    1. Clayburn says:

      Panicking is a lot of fun, though.

    2. All good points, Ben. I couldn’t agree with you more. I think people tend to take for granted all the great data and tools Google still provides to webmasters / marketers free of charge. SEO is certainly not dead, it just keeps evolving, and online marketers need to adapt.

    3. Pete says:

      Great post! This type of logic should be applied to many of topics that suggest “SEO is Dead”. This industry will continue to change and some changes will make are jobs harder and others easier. Stay smart and don’t panic….Oh, and keep working on those “Magic Formulas”.

    4. Excellent post and it’s almost humorous how we can go into webmaster tools and find the same data, thus really eliminating any concern whatsoever.

      There are numerous tools to bring all pieces of the puzzle together and your recs provide great insight!

    5. eddie says:

      Here’s a great article from searchengineland on how to implement a filter to identify the landing pages within the keyword dashboard of GA. It has helped me identify a likely iteration of the term for that page while maintaining an opportunity to filter keyphrase categories without having to create a separate customized dashboard
      http://searchengineland.com/turning-not-provided-into-useful-actionable-data-135800

    6. Another great source of search query intent and interaction can be gathered by filtering “Google Suggest” data in your Google Analytics Profile. You will know what people were searching for and what they actually clicked on to get to your site.

    7. freedom jackson says:

      Good one Benjamin,

      However when you look in google webmaster tools it doesn’t match up either.

      I checked my stats for last month jan 2013 and Google webmaster tools shows 17 clicks while google analytics shows 70+ during the same month.

      Remember the old Google phrase don’t be evil. Are they doing that now?

    8. True, no reason to panic (ever — usually), but the loss of organic search keyword data creates a very real problem for marketers. Search marketers use keyword data to see what terms searchers use to arrive at their site. With this knowledge, marketers can adjust search strategies, develop content, optimize pages, and generally understand what is and is not working for them.

      The above suggestions are great (esp. the personalized search suggestion) but there are some up and coming 3rd party tools that may soon be able to at least help fill in the breach.

      Raven Tools can now directly important GWT query data. Once imported, Raven saves all the data — GWT only saves the last 3 months (but Google may soon increase the amount of data they save). What Raven Tools could do, but currently doesn’t (but it’s apparently on their docket) is marry the GWT landing page (“top pages” in GWT) to the query data in an integrated report. That would effectively recover much of what’s going to be lost in Google Analytics (GA).

      I work on a lot of lead generation sites and slowly I’ve been losing the ability to see which keywords are generating the most leads. Raven Tools won’t be able to make up for that loss, unfortunately — but if I set up conversion funnels, I am able to use the ‘reverse goal path’ report in GA to identify starting converting pages and then go back into GWT (or Raven Tools) and see what keywords are taking people to those pages; while I can’t know if the starting converting pages were landing (entrance) pages, this at least gives me some clues about which keywords may be driving conversions.

      In the end, Ben is correct. There are many difference sources of data left to us, and this puts us in a position not too different from the scientist in the laboratory — rarely is the scientist’s data so clean that a clear simple story emerges. Instead the scientist must use several different data sets, from different parts of an experiment, and pull together “converging evidence” to tell a story. In research, this is the rule, not the exception. If that’s good enough for scientists, it should be good enough for creative marketers.

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