(not provided) – What’s That Mean, Google?
If you haven’t heard, about a week ago Google rolled out a change that affects your data in analytics. I started seeing (not provided) as a natural search keyword. Google has decided to go all SSL on us people who log into Google, and based on how they built it, that hides the keyword data from our analytics. They’re telling us it’s for privacy.
Let’s put it this way – if you have 100 natural search visitors in a month, and they all come to your site by Googling a different keyword, you’d expect to see 100 different keywords in your natural search keyword report. Now, if 50% of those 100 people were logged into Google (ie., logged into Google Plus, or Gmail, or Docs, etc.), you’d see 50 different keywords, and one (not provided) stat showing 50 visits.
When I first heard the news I looked at my Google Analytics. The (not provided) only represented .001 of my natural search visitors. I checked again today, and it’s up to .05 of my visitors. I expect it to grow as it continues to roll out through data centers, and as more people started joining up with the Google products that make them log in. Does this roll into mobile too? I assume so.
Why Is Google Really Doing This?
I don’t know. Right now it only affects natural search. If a user clicks an AdWords ad from Google.com, the keyword referral data is still passed through whether the user is logged into Google or not. Speculation is that display companies are using natural search data to better target their ads, and since Google is focused on the display game now (trying to own it… which they’re completely on par to do), they’re possibly trying to lock away some of their keyword data. But those same companies can normalize the same keyword data from Yahoo/Bing and still be close.
If (not provided) grows, and a percentage of your keyword referral data is lost, will people start getting “rank crazy” again? Will people start scraping Google for rankings they think they should rank for, versus knowing they should (or shouldn’t) rank for with traditional ranking reports? Google hates when we scrape them and inflate their AdWords numbers.
But what really ticks me off is that I use my keyword data to better my visitors’ experience. With personalized search, social search, and all the cute little things Google does now, I get a lot of interesting queries in my keyword report. Sometimes they’re things I wouldn’t normally rank well for, but because there’s”some relevance” with my site, I get these rare keyword entries. They often inspire me to create content.
If I had a site for plastic sneakers, and I got a one time natural search keyword visit for “how to run with plastic sneakers and not get blisters,” I might assume there’s a pocket of people with that same question. I might write a blog post and answer the question. I might put an article on my main site to attract visitors. In the end, this might provide a great value to searchers, and my own website. But now, if the user who entered this query was logged in, I’d never see it in analytics. Inspiration may never hit. Everyone loses.
Ok, maybe right now it’s not something to freak out about. It’s another “Google wait and see” game, but we’re used to that now, aren’t we? This is just an odd one. Data is so important to content providers.