If you’re dealing with the growing Keyword Not
Provided problem, you're working in the dark
In late 2011, Google implemented a major change,
forcing search engine optimization professionals
to work in the virtual dark, as keyword-level data
from users logged into and searching on Google
was no longer available to them. While the change
has benefits to users (improved privacy/security,
faster speeds and an improved overall experience),
it has been a significant problem for digital media
professionals. The issue is only getting worse.
The problem is these professionals no longer have information
on why Google search engine users are showing
up at their websites. This is particularly detrimental for
SEOs, as that data is essential to running any halfway decent
optimization campaign and driving traffic to websites
from natural/organic results.
As Tad Miller, vice president of accounts at Search
Mojo, puts it, “It makes it harder to justify your existence
as an SEO.”
The Growing Epidemic
When Google first announced the change, it impacted less
than 10 percent of queries. The situation has gotten much
worse leaving many to wonder if Google knew exactly
how far reaching the implications would be for websites.
“I think that Google definitely underestimated the impact
this would have,” said Shannon Welch, the director
of Web analytics at Terakeet Corporation.
According to Welch, keyword not provided has had a
“pretty huge” impact on her work, and it is currently affecting
the company’s top-three keyword searches.
“It makes our job to improve searches for users
more difficult,” said Welch. “It’s hard to come up with
concrete answers with a large percentage of branded
traffic not provided.”
Miller, whose company works with a mix of B2B and
consumer brands, has noticed similar problems. He reports
that Search Mojo has “some clients with 50 percent
of their traffic encrypted, so obviously that makes it completely
impossible to do any year-over-year analysis.”
But this isn’t an isolated problem, as Optify released a
study in late 2012 showing that 39 percent of Google
search terms are shown as “not provided,” and that 64
percent of companies are now seeing between 30-50 percent
of their traffic displayed as such in Google Analytics.
Before It Gets Better
Anxiety about the future of keyword not provided is getting
more intense thanks to an increasingly tech-savvy customer base for many online companies.
According to Welch, one of the biggest
problems “has to do with what your audience
is. If your users are generally Googleheavy
or younger and likely to have a
Gmail account, it’s more of a problem.”
Adding to that concern is a recent
change to the Chrome browser (v25),
as all searches that are conducted in the
address bar (or Omnibox) will now
also be encrypted, even if users that aren’t logged into
Google accounts conduct them.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any way to
slow down the adoption of Google’s online services, all of
which require users to sign up for a Google account. “The
problem is only going to get worse as Google tries to push
people to get involved in Google+ because of the personalization
it provides in the search results,” said Miller.
How to Deal
To date, there hasn’t been much that Web professionals
can do to combat the keyword-not-provided problem, but
that doesn’t mean they’re not trying.
“Our work around has been to look at the yearover-
year traffic on a page and gather from the history
what data is provided and what keywords drive the most
traffic to a page,” said Miller. “Say a homepage has a 20
percent drop — [from that] we can usually assert that
searches for a brand name are down.”
Meanwhile, Welch has been creating custom filters in
the Advanced Segments section of Google Analytics and
rendering landing pages for not provided keywords to see
just where those particular searchers are trying to go.
Creating landing pages and custom reports have so
far become some of the industry’s best (and only)
practices for dealing with this issue, as they are
one of the only ways to fill in the gaps left by
missing keyword data. For now, it’s just a temporary
solution to the very big problem.
“We can do work arounds, guess and assume,
but we’re still missing a lot of data,” said Welch.
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