Not Provided

The term “not provided” appears in tracking systems, such as Google Analytics, since the Google Secure Search was introduced in October 2011. It refers to any page views which are no longer provided by Google. In the Secure Search, an input phrase is encrypted using SSL and therefore sent via a secure connection. Google considers the request as personal information and therefore keeps it concealed. The website operator will only get the notification “not provided,” although Google itself knows the search terms.

Reason

Google considers the terms being searched personal and therefore worthy of protection. In a Secure Search, requests get sent via a secure SSL connection. Thus they cannot be intercepted and read by unauthorized persons. Data protection also means that the requests are not forwarded to third parties, which is why the existing data is no longer being forwarded by Google to webmasters. Instead, “not provided” will be displayed for searches that have been conducted over an HTTPS connection.

Consequences

The number of “not provided” keywords depends on visitor behavior. A visitor who is logged into Google, automatically uses Secure Search and the keyword is replaced by the website operator with “not provided.” Visitors with a high security awareness specifically use the Secure Search by visiting Google via the “https” address.

Keyword optimization is therefore being made more and more difficult because search terms entered by users are less known. In terms of SEO, the Secure Search and “not provided” poses a challenge for webmasters.

Useful practices

Depending on how big the percentage of “not provided” keywords is, alternative routes must be used to compensate for the loss of information. In the future the percentage will rise because Internet users are increasingly becoming security-conscious. Something foreseeable as the loss of additional data provides the opportunity to seek alternatives and new options to collect information by other means early on.

Filter in Google Analytics

  • Through a custom filter in Google Analytics (see graphic for details) you can get the requested URL displayed instead of “not provided.” Such filters work only for new traffic, though.

In case of the URL for a homepage, likely a brand keyword was searched. It can be roughly estimated which terms have been entered to get to the page.

  • A new approach, which came about because of Secure Search, is based on the referral string. It includes hidden information that can be specifically analyzed. Specific filters are used in Google Analytics for this purpose. The ved parameter, which is included in the referral string, gives information about the vertical search, as well as the absolute and relative position of the links. The exact procedure on how to analyze the information is described in the article Referral String. It can also be determined where in the snippet the link was clicked. This in turn restricts the possible keywords.

Google Webmaster Tools

  • One way to get information about keywords is the Google Search Console. Information on the top 1000 searches and the top 1000 landing pages of your website is stored there for the last 30 days.
  • The Google Search Console also provides a keyword performance list. This also includes information on the click-through rate of each keyword. The approximate number of search clicks on the keywords is provided. Thus the important keywords will be displayed.
  • If Google Analytics and your Google Search Console account are linked, further conclusions can be drawn. Google Analytics contains information under “Traffic Sources -> SEO -> Searches.” From this you can conclude what visitors have been searching. A combination with the data from “Traffic Sources -> Sources -> Search -> Organic” enables a conclusion with regard to the needs of the visitors.

Surveys

Surveys are a great way to find out how a visitor arrived to your website. “On-site surveys” can be configured so that they only appear when the visitor came from a search engine. Qualaroo is an example of a provider. It also allows you to select just Secure Search users. The “on-site survey” may consist of a single question, for example, “What term did you search”? A single question is usually quickly answered by visitors, which is why the return is quite usable. The results of such a survey corresponds to a part of the “not provided” keywords. The information that is withheld by Google can be asked for to the visitors themselves.

On-Site Search use

If your website has an internal search function, then it would be recommendable to assess the entered terms there with Google [1][2]. Visitors on your website search for similar terms that get entered by other users in search engines. They also give an impression of what site visitors expect from your website. Thus, the internal search allows a conclusion concerning the terms and phrases users have in mind.

Miscellaneous

  • Another idea is based on the general classification of the requests and advanced segments in Google Analytics. Visitors are divided into different groups depending on their intention. The relative proportions of these groups is used to determine the “not provided” keywords. A description of the technical procedure can be found in the following reference:[3].
  • Indirectly, it is possible to buy a part of the data. The paid search results on Google are not affected by the consequences of Secure Search as it does not concern organic traffic. The keywords that precede clicks on paid links continue to be provided. Thus, the data of the paid traffic can indeed be obtained through Google AdWords, but not the data on the organic traffic.
  • For small sites, the traffic source data provide a good source of information. They can be found, as mentioned earlier, under “Traffic Sources -> SEO -> Searches.” They provide an overview of the organic traffic to a website. However, this data is not very detailed and only available in limited amount. Therefore, it is not suitable for the best possible optimization, but only for an overview.

Relevance to SEO

Search queries that appear as “not provided” can pose a problem. The data that is no longer available, limits the options for on-page optimization and keyword research. SEO measures that are based on keywords are therefore complicated by the Secure Search. The procedures described above can help reduce and compensate for the loss of information. In the future, the number of users of Secure Search will steadily increase. Therefore, it is important to test alternative ways and assess their functionality early.

References

  1. Set Up Internal Site Search Analytics blog.crazyegg.com. Accessed on 05/19/2014
  2. Set up and configure Site Search support.google.com. Accessed on 05/19/2014
  3. Making sense of Google (not provided) data searchnewscentral.com. Accessed on 05/19/2014

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