Combating the Google Analytics (Not Provided) Panic

There has been a lot of chatter about Google’s move to enable SSL search (and therefore, search encryption) across its services, which started in October 2011. This essentially hides the search sources of its registered users who are signed into their Google accounts and therefore, does not show the organic keyphrase anymore.

According to Google, this was introduced as a means to protect the privacy of its users by shielding those users’ search terms, thereby making it more difficult to produce targeted internet marketing to those users. The search query would show up in Google Analytics as “not provided.”  Google Analytics still recognizes the search as organic, but does not display the keyword that visitors used to reach your website in the analytics apps.

Google also claimed that this change would affect less than 10% of search; however, this has been steadily increasing over the past few months, with reports of up to 39% of organic keyphrases being hidden on some US-based websites.

Since the switch, a great deal of SEO hysteria and suggested technical workarounds by analysts, marketers, and webmasters has emerged. This panic has resulted in a variety of “hacks” that try to solve the problem and a great deal of noise among brands and marketers. In recent months I have seen it all:

  • Multiple profiles
  • Hidden redirects
  • Magic formulas
  • Double tracking codes
  • Redirects to paid links
  • Even emailing Matt Cutts at Google!


There’s also been a huge uptick in articles with such words as “SEO is dead” and “we can’t do SEO without this data.”

I disagree. And I state without hesitation that this insanity and constant swirl has to stop—because all is not lost.

What you can do

Although search analysis and organic search as we know it are becoming harder, the actual results—and actionable data to be mined—are not.

So here is my advice: stop panicking about SSL search because it’s here to stay, and remember we still have valuable tools that will provide what we need for SEO work. And while many people get hung up on the myriad of little details involved with search engine marketing and search engine optimization, I suggest taking a step back and looking at the entire picture instead.

  • Look at the landing pages. You’ll get a good idea of the theme of each page and the quality of your visitors. Landing pages, visitor frequency, and interaction with the page clue us in that our SEO work and content are successful. Bounce rates still tell us when the page is not working well. Common sense tells us that if you have 10,000 visits to a page called /how-to-bake-beans/, the keyphrase theme, audience, and user intent are pretty obvious. You have to assume site visitors landed there through obvious search terms. Look at this from the overall theme perspective and don’t sweat the small stuff.


  • Use Google Webmaster Tools. You actually can see the search data you seek in Webmaster Tools—it’s all there. You can view the top daily search queries and the top landing pages, but you won’t be able to tell the conversations and engagement.


  • Think Personalized Search: Since the secure data is mostly from logins (and therefore, personalized SERPs) it will not give you an accurate picture of intent.   Google’s personalized search for registered users has changed the way keyphrases drive website traffic. It’s highly individualized search and more generalized data. You just need to know how to look at it differently.


  • Engagement metrics tell a story. Tagging, form submissions, click-through rate, and time on a page are all good indicators of your search marketing and website success. When monitored and managed, these metrics will deliver meaningful, actionable information for your brand.


  • Paid search provides viable results. “Not provided” only applies to organic search; paid search still delivers full results in the reporting and can help to test and inform.


The bottom line: don’t panic. There is a wealth of important data available. As a leading national search marketing firm, we analyze, visualize, and interpret this search data every day—and develop amazing insights and action plans for our clients’ brands as a result.

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