Google Analytics 100% (not provided) - what does it mean?


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Google recently turned 15 years old, marking the occasion two significant developments that will be
of interest to, and affect, anyone using Google Analytics. One shift now obfuscates all keyword data from natural, or organic, search traffic (commonly a goal in an SEO campaign).

In this resource document we will give you the background on the stopping of all organic keyword data and in what ways it will affect digital marketing campaigns.

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Google Analytics 100% (not provided) - what does it mean?

  1. 1. Crafted INFORMATION Google updates 100% (not provided)
  2. 2. Crafted INFORMATION Crafted INFORMATION Contents 1.0 Introduction 2.0 100% (not provided) 3.0 Crafted opinion
  3. 3. Crafted INFORMATION 1.0 Introduction Google recently turned 15 years old, and it’s welcomed in the middle of its teenage years with two significant developments that will be of interest to, and affect, all of Crafted’s digital marketing clients. One shift now obfuscates all keyword data from natural, or organic, search traffic (commonly a goal in an SEO campaign). But why should you, digital marketing professionals, care about these developments? From humble beginnings at Stanford University the search engine has grown from being a niche service to one of the most recognised brands on the planet. In order to achieve that growth Google has been in a continual cycle of developing and pushing new aspects of search towards users. This means that while this is a significant new development, likely to attract column inches and initiate discussions, they should be viewed in the wider context of an ever-changing digital search landscape. So in this resource document we will give you the background on the stopping of all organic keyword data and in what ways it will affect digital marketing campaigns.
  4. 4. Crafted INFORMATION 2.0 100% (not provided) First announced in October 2011, the concept of (not provided) keyword data was initially touted as being a privacy measure. In the beginning, only signed in users were affected. They came to perform a search on Google, and as they were signed into Google at the time (often through their Gmail email account) the keywords that they used in their search would not be passed to the receiving website. This means that if you were a website receiving traffic for a particular search term such as “red widgets” then an amount of that traffic started be listed as (not provided) within your site’s analytics from October 2011. Over time, this percentage grew as other situations, not just users being logged in, caused the same (not provided) issue - namely people using the secure, https, version of Google, although initially the numbers were low. As the PRISM allegations showed the NSA had many back doors into the data of large tech companies, this wouldn’t be affected either. As we highlighted before, most significantly it is “convenient” that all paid traffic via AdWords still retains full referrer information, so the privacy issue really is moot. Others have suggested it could be leverage for a paid Analytics platform. However, what does this all mean to a website owner, and the marketing behind it? As we mentioned at the end of 2012, this was an ever-growing trend as there were several things which served to increase the amount of (not provided) traffic, such as browsers defaulting to https (secure search) and other privacy initiatives - meaning it was always going to increase over time. Unfortunately, at the end of September, Google finally confirmed that it was moving every search on every device over to the secure, https, version which effectively creates 100% (not provided) traffic from organic results. Some commentators have suggested this move could be in relation to the recent NSA privacy story. However, Google isn’t encrypting this data, it’s simply choosing to not send it through to the receiving website. Some commentators have suggested this move could be in relation to the recent NSA privacy story.
  5. 5. Crafted INFORMATION 2.0 100% (not provided) There are several main implications of this move to 100% (not provided) status: 1. Organic keyword analysis loses its data Previous SEO activity that focussed on data to the keyword level will become more difficult. As the (not provided) issue has been around for so long, we have developed ways in which we can pull data from multiple sources and look at things in a different way to infer keyword traffic and response. However, some of these processes have been focussed on reclaiming traffic within the (not provided) group based on the behaviour of the part we did receive, and as such having zero organic keyword data will make these impossible. However, we have been focussing for a long time on SEO from the point of view of user journeys. So by looking at data around metrics such as landing pages, we’ve been modelling behaviour in a way that’s independent of keyword data and will continue to refine these models. 3. Should we look at rankings instead? For the past couple of years Google results have been changing at an ever increasing rate. From the introduction of rich media such as images and videos to localisation or Google’s new “Knowledge Graph” search function, a standard results page of 10 blue links is an endangered species. This means that previous metrics of SEO success of ranking improvements are both more important as it’s a remaining data point, but also much more prone to inconsistent or inaccurate reporting. Also, ranking checks are limited to keywords you already know you want to track, and one of the key things that 100% (not provided) affects is the discovery of those hidden gems. Keywords delivering minimal traffic but with great engagement and conversion statistics. 2. The integration of paid and organic marketing teams is even more important A significant number of our organic search clients are also running paid search with us. As keywords from AdWords data is still being passed the most effective keyword research will soon be running a limited paid campaign to collect response rates and search volumes. While a collaborative working environment between paid and organic disciplines was always a plus, it now becomes ever more essential moving forwards. By taking Search Query Reports and cross matching this with landing pages and engagement statistics, you can start to build a picture of the lost keyword data. New features such as the new tool showing combined paid and organic traffic per keyword is undoubtedly there to make the case for advertising dollars, but can also be used by effective marketers to understand data they’ve lost to (not provided).
  6. 6. Crafted INFORMATION 2.0 100% (not provided) By focussing on a site’s most successful content that drives high quality traffic, and integrating sources such as Google Trends data for topics and keyword groups, marketers can then piece together what keywords are likely to be driving traffic to particular pages and include them in ranking reports. 4. Focus on the user Google’s oft-repeated mantra does actually hold even more water in the new era of 100% (not provided). By removing an SEO’s source of keyword data, it focusses the mind that a keyword delivers a user to your site, and you can still track them. So a robust grasp of all aspects of user behaviour is even more important, drawing on UX, CRO and analytics disciplines will hopefully allow search marketers to focus away from singular data points and into a more holistic view of the digital marketing mix. 5. There’s more to life than Google In the UK Google has over 95% market share, so taking data from other search engines such as Bing and extrapolating up is fraught with accuracy issues for all but the largest and most well trafficked websites. However, the principle is sound, in that it’ll be even more important to understand different data sources such as Facebook Insight demographic data or user analytics such as ClickTale. This sort of cross-discipline thinking allows you to see the bigger picture of your website. Further reading: Here Comes “100% Not Provided,” As Google Begins Encrypting All Non-Paid Searches Post prism google secure searches Resources
  7. 7. Crafted INFORMATION 3.0 Crafted opinion There have been various opinions and theories put forward by the SEO community about the implications of 100% (not provided). Some have considered it a doomsday scenario that we’re now devoid of all keyword intelligence. Others have been flippant and suggested it was an outdated and outmoded metric. My view is that it’s simply a change, and one we aren’t in control of, but also aren’t surprised by either as it’s been coming for so long. As digital marketers we are used to operating in one of the fastest-changing industries there are. Facebook isn’t even 10 years old, YouTube isn’t even nine, iPads have only really been around three short years - but all have dramatically affected what, and how users consume digital content. There is no escaping that certain previously high-ROI SEO activities will be dramatically affected, and reporting will always have a big hole where keywords used to be. Simple questions such as the percentage of organic traffic delivered by brand keywords will no longer be just that, simple questions. However, on the flipside I see this as having many positives, and taking a top-level view allows good digital marketing to flourish and succeed. The main issue is that metrics will need to change. For instance, landing page effectiveness transcends not just SEO and touches on design, usability and technology, so to have the full 360° view is even more important. Being able to deliver the solutions to the issues will become even more important. Above all, we aren’t going to change Google’s position, and if they have done it then what other search platforms will follow, could Facebook charge for its Insights data? It’s an exciting time and I think will bring an opportunity for great search work to be recognised and rewarded. Ian Miller Search Director Being able to deliver the solutions to the issues will become even more important.
  8. 8. Crafted INFORMATION Ipswich Studio 32 Fore Street Ipswich IP4 1JU T. +44 (0) 1473 213222 E. London Office Clerkenwell Workshops 27/31 Clerkenwell Close London EC1R 0AT T. +44 (0) 20 3393 3852