Understanding Google “not provided” keywords

This document contains information about understanding Google “not provided” keywords in Google Analytics.

If your Customer Data Platform (CDP) implementation uses Google Analytics for capturing the source of order transactions and you wonder why some orders show up under “organic search > Google > Not provided”, please read further.

Abstract : Since September 2013, Google has decided to hide all keywords used in organic searches by most of its users (around 80%), for privacy reasons. This information is therefore no longer available in Google Analytics, and appears as “organic search > Google > Not provided”. For more explanations and how you can work around this limitation, please read below.

In October 2011, Google changed the way it exposes user search data. The official explanation for this change is to protect users’ privacy. Specifically, if a user was logged in to a Google product (Gmail or else), the searches of this user would be hidden to all but Google. In other words, the keywords of a search would not be available anymore to the site the user went to after clicking on a google link. Such traffic would show under “not provided” keyword in web analytics solutions like Google Analytics.

Around September 2013, Google went further and expended this policy to more or less all users, even those not logged in to a Google product. The graph below shows a spike in the percentage of “not provided” traffic.

SEO and Customer Experience are the two main areas impacted by the change.

For SEO marketers, the missing data makes it much more difficult to measure the ROI of specific keywords in organic search. Fortunately there are some work-arounds that have been popular within the SEO community. It includes technics like leveraging reporting in google adwords or google webmaster or even implementing URL rewrites combined with landing page report analysis.

For marketers using search keywords to segment their customers and personalize experiences, the change means that a large source of information about customer interest just disappeared. But all is not lost. While keywords from organic search cannot be used to consistently enrich customer profiles anymore, companies like CDP captures customer interactions on your website, including their very first activity. This first behavior, for example the first product browsed, is very close to the search terms that were used to find the website. The loss of organic search information makes other customer data sources even more important when it comes to build a rich and accurate customer profile. Using a solution like CDP is a simple and powerful way to make this happen.