7 SEO Tips for “not provided” in Google Analytics

Ever since Google announced they would no longer report referring keyword data from logged-in users, webmasters and SEOs have become increasingly frustrated dealing with the dreaded (not provided) keywords.

Google assured us this would impact less than 10% of queries. Although that has proved to be the average, some webmasters have observed 50% of their keyword information wiped clean away from their data.

Funny thing – the same day Google made the announcement, I purchased the domain notprovided.com. It’s been a source of humor that only SEOs could enjoy. The organic keyword report is worth a double-take.

Not Provided Keywords
Keyword Report for notprovided.com

With reports like this, how do webmasters know what keywords are driving traffic to their best pages?

Fortunately, some very smart SEOs and web analytics folk have devised strategic plans of attack to deal with the “not provided” problem. These following 7 techniques not only offer the best ways to determine the scope of your problem, but also provide specific strategies to reclaim your lost data.

Note: these ideas are not mine, but represent the best of the best.

1. How Big is Your (not provided) Impact?

If Google reports less than 5% of your organic keyword traffic as (not provided) then you probably don’t have much to worry about. On the other hand, if you are one of the unlucky few who experienced 25-50% in lost keyword data, then you want to hustle to get that data back.

The simplest way to measure impact, of course, is to look at your referring keyword information. Here you can easily track the percentage of “not provided” keywords.

Not Provided Keyword Impact

If you want to track the impact of “not provided” keywords across more than one Google Analytics profile, or manage SEO for clients with multiple accounts, SEER Interactive has created a Google Docs spreadsheet to compare more than one profile in a single graph. The majority of users see an impact between 5-20%.

2. Take an Accurate Look

Once you understand how much referring keyword traffic is hidden by Google’s privacy veil, now is the time to fill in the missing holes in your analytics.

AJ Kohn of Blind Five Year Old argues that keyword data for users logged into Google is not significantly different from logged out users. His solution is to view keyword information by landing page. You accomplish this by drilling down to each landing page URL, then choosing Keyword as the secondary dimension.

Not Provided Keywords by Landing Page

By viewing your long-tail keywords in this view, AJ uses clustering to gain insight in into the distribution of “not provided” keywords. This works especially well for large sites with lots of data.

3. Get Smarter Data Analysis

Avinash Kaushik, the analytics wizard and Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, took a few hits when Google announced the “not provided” policy in Google Analytics. He responded with generous grace by writing a thorough guide to Smarter Data Analysis of Google’s https Change. Using clear, step-by-step instructions he shows how to:

  1. Establish Macro Content
  2. Understand the Performance Profile of not provided traffic.
  3. Matchup Performance Profile to Brand & Non-brand Visits
  4. Establish Conclusions
  5. Landing Page Keyword Referral Analysis

Kauskik even provides pre-populated advanced segments to easily add to your Google Analytics account. The entire post presents a complete lesson in advanced web analytics.

Cyrus Shepard & Avinash Kaushik

4. Mine Your SEO Report in Google Analytics

Google’s own answer to this predicament is the new SEO reports in Google Analytics. The reports are found under the “Traffic Sources” section. Setup requires a Google Webmaster account.

SEO Report From Google Analytics

Although it’s true that these SEO query reports list most of the keywords searchers used to find your website, they are limited in value by several major drawbacks.

  • The data is limited to the top 1000 daily search queries and top 1000 daily landing pages for the past 30 days.
  • The reports are often criticized for their inaccuracy and confusion they produce.
  • The query reports aren’t tied to landing page reports, or vice-versa, severely limiting their usefulness.

This isn’t to say you can’t glean some good keyword data from these SEO reports, but they are better suited to tracking keyword positions and click-through rates.

5. Got Ca$h? Buy the Data

The same privacy loophole which angered so many webmasters also allows web marketers to buy the keyword data. This is because although Google hides referring keyword query data from everyone else, it does make this data available to customers who purchase advertising through Google.

Adwords Keyword Report

The Matched Search Queries report provides 100% of the referring keyword data, but be careful to note that it only shows data for paid search. The landing pages are not true organic landing pages, but the ones you picked for your ads. Also, the AdWords keyword report does not show you data for organic keyword traffic, so the same keywords that triggered your ad to appear may never generate organic traffic for your site.

Regardless, running an AdWords campaign set with “broad” or “phase” keyword triggers is a tried and true method to perform precision keyword research.

6. Send Google Your Love

…or not. Personally, I love Google and what they have done for our world, but it’s best to let our voices be heard. If you have strong feelings about Google’s “not provided” actions, Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz suggests you voice your concern.

So you can obviously blog about it, write about it. You could even write to your congressional rep. There are several forums. The Google blog post announcing this accepts comments. The Google Webmaster Tools forum certainly accepts comments.
Google Hides Search Referral Data with New SSL Implementation

7. Don’t Worry

Although we find the development of “not provided” keywords troubling, one thing that will always be true is that SEOs are resourceful – incredibly so. Through 1000s of algorithm changes and a rapidly shifting web landscape, savvy web marketers have found ways to keep up with evolving search engines. In fact, the reverse is often true – search engines find themselves keeping up with web marketers.

The “not provided” story is long from over. That said, we’ve been through worse storms than this. By working together for a better understanding of the web, as SEOs do, we will arrive on the other side stronger than ever.

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