‘Not Provided’ Google Keywords

Posted by Justin Rondeau | Posted in Opinion, PPC, SEM, SEO | Posted on Dec 06, 2011

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Let’s Complicate SEM Even Further

What percentage of your traffic is 'Not Provided'?

I know that I am a little behind the ball on this update, but after researching what/why there is a section for ‘Not Provided’ keywords in my Google Analytics, I am extremely frustrated. Google announced this change to their analytics feature back in October (Read the full article here), and it seems like something that has gone unnoticed by much of the blogosphere and Twittosphere.

Google is the leader in Search Engine Marketing, both in paid advertisements and SEO. Google has also been a huge advocate of privacy on the web. It is no secret that companies would have data about the traffic that comes to their website. This data is general and does not focus on an actual individual, sure you get demographic information, device used, operating system, keyword that caused the click to your website, and a whole bunch of other data that is relevant to your SEM efforts. You never got the search data of an individual user such as all the search queries by any given user that visits your website.

In an attempt to promote security, Google made it so any click by a logged in Google user does not send the individual keyword that lead to that click. Though you still get the information of the user’s visit, i.e. that user is counted as a visitor via Search Engines, you do not get the most important information – the search term that brought them to your website.

This adds a huge grey area in SEM, and undermines a lot of rationale for your company’s SEO efforts. With Google continually making it easier to be a logged in user via Gmail and Goolge+, companies are losing transparency in search. I completely understand privacy, but in my honest opinion there are other motives for this change. The other motive is for companies to adopt an Adwords campaign that is seemingly immune to this ‘Not Provided’ issue. If you haven’t been paying attention to this issue I would recommend looking further into this, here is a good read I found on practical ecommerce and some more discussion in this infographic.

Here are just a few ways this update will hinder your SEM efforts:

Less accurate view of how many visits were generated by target keywords

This is a pretty straightforward repercussion of this change. You get the data of how many people are visiting your site, but without any data of how they got there. This is simply unacceptable, and data like this is really not all that helpful. Personally, I think industries in the Social space, e.g., Social CRMs & Social Metrics Tools, will feel this change a lot.

Our Social Page Builder tool is searched by many people who are very involved in social media. Many of these peopel will have a Google+ account and are likely logged into Google when they are searching. Since the keyword data is not passed on in Google Analytics we see that people are visiting our site from search engines, but we will never know what 22% of our visitors clicked to reach our website .

Unclear picture of your SEM ROI & ROE

Simply put:  You no longer  get an accurate portrayal of whether the money or time spent is actually worthwhile.

Efforts to accurately target/test new key phrases are completely undermined

After adding this it seems as though it is a subset of the major problem outlined above. Whether you are analyzing a current campaign or are working on a new project, you cannot test accurately. Ambiguity is a huge problem for SEM, by adding this new layer of ambiguity, Google is making it increasingly more difficult for companies to be found online.

What do you think of the addition of ‘Not Provided’ keywords?