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If you’re a digital marketer or SEO aficionado, you likely have noticed the rapid disappearance of organic keyword data available in Google Analytics. What was once a reliable source of information has become replaced with the term “(not provided) as the most popular referring keyword, representing upwards of 80% of the total organic traffic. So why is “(not provided)” showing up in the keyword report?

Where did my keyword data go?

It all goes back to Google’s decision to encrypt search. Originally touted as a security boost to prevent hackers from potentially spying on searches or manipulating results, Google initiated this process back in 2011. At the start, it only represented Google users - anyone logged into a Google account (Gmail, YouTube, etc.) while performing a search. The keywords these users typed into Google while logged in were no longer passed through to Google Analytics. Instead, they were displayed as “(not provided)”. Recently, Google made the move to encrypt ALL searches. That means every search query typed into the Google search engine is done over “https”. The result is that organic search keywords are disappearing from Google Analytics faster than fudge brownies at a picnic. Interestingly enough though, should your search query result in you clicking on a paid ad, those keywords will still get reported in Google Analytics.

Why is this important?

Organic keyword analysis has been a cornerstone of SEO for nearly as long as analytic tools have given us the power to do so. The unique number of keywords helps determine breadth and relevance. Being able to view and analyze keywords helps you see how people are finding your website and how effective your SEO is. The number of unbranded organic keywords driving visits, especially when calculated as a percent of total organic visits has long been considered a key metric of SEO success. So if the ability to see these keywords in their entirety disappears, what are you left with?

How We Reacted

We found ourselves asking the very same questions. While our first temptation may have been to raise a fist to the gods of Google and cry “NOOOOO”, we quickly realized that this was not the end of SEO. SEO has remained a moving target since its inception. In fact, SEO might more aptly stand for Search Evolution Optimization. So, instead of finding ourselves staring into the “(not provided)” abyss, we regrouped. We oriented ourselves to opening a dialog instead of looking at it like closing a chapter.  We took stock of our own situation as well as that of our clients. And you know what we found? When it comes to SEO, change is often another word for opportunity.

What to do? Tools and Resources

Google Webmaster Tools (GWT) has become more essential than ever, as it is unaffected by the “(not provided)” issue. Reliable individual keyword data can still be extracted from here but there are some limitations: only 2,000 unique keywords can be analyzed, and there are fewer filtering options than what is available in GA. Moreover, overall keyword volume metrics such as exact number of visits per unique keyword are not available in GWT.  There are other tools that do provide the full set of information, such as SEOClarity, WordTracker, Keyword Discovery, and SpyTracker. Here’s a sampling of how we’ve been using Google Webmaster Tools to track beyond just keywords for a Primacy client. It should be noted that this is a rather labor intensive process since we tracked actual keywords, overall organic keyword volume, impressions, clicks, CTR and landing pages every week and then aggregated the data over months to establish a trend line for each. The end result is you get a well-rounded picture of organic traffic that is not solely dependent upon tracking every single keyword.SEO keyword reportSEO keyword report

Ranking Reports

Keyword ranking reports are unaffected by changes in Google Analytics reporting and are helpful because they show your average keyword ranking in Google search results. These reports can be run via different online tools, but be aware, they should only serve as a guide and not the actual rankings for everyone.  Ranking results will vary based on localization, search history, and personal search results. GWT in fact, offers good information on average position of each keyword listed.

Identifying KPI’s

Use this as an opportunity to rethink your KPI’s – what is the most impactful action someone can take on my website? Does your measurement system measure this from visit to conversion?  What other information do I need to optimize my site for Search Engine rankings and traffic?

Test, Explore and Validate

Diving deeper into your own data can be illuminating and help you understand what reports you use to make keyword-based decisions. This allows you to explore possible alternatives. Plus, testing is as important as ever. It remains the single best way to validate new approaches.

Our Recommendations

Here at Primacy, we found there is no one-size-fits-all approach. We help our clients address challenges like this on a one-by-one basis. And remember, you are not alone in this! Everyone is affected by Google migrating to 100% of organic keywords to "(not provided)". The internet is abuzz with many excellent blogs, resources and articles that can be extremely helpful. Here are some great resources:For most, even seasoned veterans in the industry, SEO can be a daunting task. Many just simply don’t have the time and resources to stay current on a constantly moving target. It may be time to consult an expert. Primacy can help. Connect with us today and let’s talk about improving your SEO strategy and driving better business results.