Goodbye keyword data, hello ‘(not provided)’

The day that the SEO community has been dreading has finally arrived: Google has confirmed that it has begun encrypting all Google searches — and that means no more keyword data for us.

Currently, we regularly run keyword reports for our clients that indicate what search terms people are using to arrive at their website. This helps us determine potential traffic volumes to a website, and, in conjunction with other conversion reports, allows us to assess whether someone has completed a site goal, like a purchase or enquiry form completion.

Previously, users who had signed into (or only recently signed out of) a Google account, were using Firefox 14 or above or who had consciously opted to use secure search would be listed in these reports in the ‘(not provided)’ category, meaning Google isn’t pass on information about which search term has been used.

Until early September, about 60% of the keyword data that we gathered for our clients listed the keyword as ‘(not provided)’; in the past month, though, we’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of search terms listed as ‘(not provided)’ for all our clients as Google rolls out its new policy — one example is shown below:

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This is a clear indication of the way things are going now; given Google's new policy, 100% of the keyword data will soon disappear (some predict this could happen as early as December 2013). Not good.

As you'd expect, there are numerous disadvantages to not having access to this data, but the real commercial impact is that businesses won't know as much about their audience.

Predictably, there has been a lot of uproar surrounding Google's decision, with many believing it's unfair that Google will still give AdWords advertisers access to this data but won't provide it to organic search results (so there is a wider ethical debate here, of course).

My opinion is that Google has decided to introduce this in order to increase AdWords spend, and also to hold on to information about your business so they can to learn more about targeting of customers.

<h2>The timeline of ‘(not provided)’ keyword data</h2>
<p>• <em>October 2011: </em>Google announce that they’re changing to SSL search. This means if you are logged into [” />, then you are routed through Google secure search and no referrer data would be passed through in keyword reports. The reason Google give for this change is to “protect privacy”.<br />
• <em>March 2012: </em>The log in secure search is branched out to other Google properties beyond <a , such as international domains.
July 2012: An update by Firefox in version 14 automatically uses Google secure search for all searches.
September 2012: Safari in iOS6 begins using Google secure search.
January 2013: The next version of Chrome (version 25) uses Google secure search for those searching from the address bar.
September 2013: Google announce they will be encrypting all searches.

The website, which shows you data from 60 website’s Google Analytics pages to track the decline of actual keyword data, is a useful tool when it comes to investigating the rise of the ‘(not provided)’ phenomenon — a frustrating reality that we’re going to have to adapt to cope with.

What can we do about it?

Although this is a massive blow for SEO, it’s important to remember that it’s not the end of the world… In fact, if anything it’ll be a way of distinguish the good marketers from the bad ones!

With this in mind, we’ve put together some pointers on how to prepare for the day that ‘(not provided’) hits 100%:

• Focus efforts on analysing page level data and relaying progress in SEO daily work, e.g. if we are targeting ‘Keyword 1’ to page then we monitor the organic traffic to this page (because we won’t be able to see what traffic ‘keyword 1’ is now delivering).
• Improve on-site optimisation for the main keyword, e.g. If page X isn’t ranking well, then focus efforts on what we can do to better optimise the page, such as integration of multimedia, social buttons, text content, imagery, etc . This is something you should be doing anyway, of course…
• Track rankings and increase the keywords we monitor to be able to see what is having the impact, e.g. break out what keywords we monitor from short tail generic, to long tail niche keywords. This will give us more visibility of what is moving up and down and we can then gauge which type of keyword is having the most impact. A good tool for this is Advanced Web Ranking software.
• We recommend you create PPC campaigns for brand traffic — this is so you can determine the exact impression data for your brand and so be able to segment out ‘brand’ and ‘non-brand’.
• If you manage the PPC campaigns, then review reports to understand which keywords convert and their actual impression data.

Want to learn more?

There are some great posts on this subject out there, including an analysis of the approach marketers should take from Moz, a good summary by Barry Schwartz on ‘(not provided’), and also a post by Danny Sullivan.