Not Provided: Now impacting 80-90% of organic traffic

As you know, Google’s removal of keyword data from a visitor’s search history caused havoc for digital marketers. Beginning Oct 2011, keywords used by organic visitors were stripped out of the referrer string that was previously passed onto the receiving site’s landing page by default. The result is that web analytics reports now contain the all encompassing “not provided” instead of important keyword rich data that is used to i.e. what your visitors are looking for that led them to your website.

I have tracked this issue since the beginning – plotting the percentage of organic traffic impacted by not provided. First, only visitors logged into their Google account were effected and hence tech related websites (attracting a more tech savvy audience) were disproportionately impacted. However, Google has since applied this to pretty much all visitors using Google organic search.

The Position Now: Not provided impacts 80-90% of organic searches

Below are three charts to illustrate the position as of 25-June-2014:

  1. The first chart is for a UK university that I have previous used as my “control” site. That is, it receives a great deal of traffic from all over the world and attracts an even mix of tech and non-tech savvy visitors.
  2. The second chart is for a website that targets tech savvy users. This is now only 2.4% different from chart 1 – previously it was much more pronounced (see chart 3).
  3. The third chart compares a range of websites form different sectors (including the two above).

*Read the last section for three tips on improving matters…

university.png software.png group.png

As you can see from chart 3, previously there was a separation of sites impacted more than others by not provided. From my previous post, I put this down to the tech savvy audience being more likely to be logged into Google and in fact having a Google account. However, that is no longer the case. All sites now receive between 80-90% of their organic traffic with no keyword detail.

Why is not provided not 100%?

For my charts, I am including visits from ALL organic search engines – not just Google. Thus, the calculation is simply:

Num. organic visits with keyword “not provided” / Total num. organic visits

Three Tips To Improve Matters

1] The redirect technique Google uses to strip out keyword data affects all visitors to all websites in all countries. It also impacts all web analytics tools. The only way to retrieve organic keyword information from Google users is to use Google’s Webmaster Tools. However, remember this is Google’s data i.e. only search volume and click-through data available – no engagement or conversion information you had in your Google Analytics reports before this change. That is, there is no information on what such visitors do once on your site, or what their value is. Webmaster Tools show data for the past 90 days.

2] Apart from using Webmaster tools, ensure your AdWords account is linked with Google Analytics. This allows you to experiment with keyword targeted advertisements and apply these learnings to your organic tactics.

3] Ensure your internal search engine is working well and capturing the terms used by visitors while on your site into your Google Analytics reports. Site-search data is arguable more valuable information in itself…

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  1. Helen Lindsay

    In your early books you proposed the following metrics. Given the changes to the way GA reports keywords are these methods of measuring a site’s contribution to brand awareness now defunct?

    Number of New visitors that are referred by Search Engines using search terms that do not include the company/brand name

    Percentage brand engagement = (number of visits with search terms containing brand names + number of direct visits) / (total number of visits from search engines + number of direct visits)



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