Why Does Google Show “Not Provided” for Most Organic Visitors?

Published Mar 03, 2014 by Eric Sornoso in SEO
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Over time, Google has released hundreds of changes to its search engine. It doesn’t take a genius to see what has been happening to keyword data. Unfortunately, Google wasn’t very vocal about the changes that were being made to keyword data.

Webmasters first noticed the change quite some time ago. Upon reviewing their website analytics, webmasters started to see keyword data encrypted, which means they weren’t able to see what keywords organic visitors were using to find their website.

When Google first started encrypting search activity, not all keyword data was encrypted. However, it didn’t take long before Google decided to make the switch to fully encrypted search activity.

Why Google Encrypted Search Activity

There is a lot of speculation regarding why Google really made this change. However, Google says the reason why it started encrypting search activity is because it wants to protect the privacy of its users. To this day, many SEOs wonder if what Google said is true, and they wonder if the search giant actually has ulterior motives.

The problem started in 2011. During this year, Google rolled out what is called secure search. Basically, secure search made it so that keyword data is encrypted, and while logged in, Google users are unable to pass keyword data to website analytics tools.

It started with SEOs noticing that many of the keywords in their analytics reports were not provided. The secure search that Google implemented strips all of the keyword data out of the information that is absorbed by analytic software.

It’s important to understand that this is only a problem for organic search traffic. Google still provides the keyword data for paid search traffic, which makes it much easier for SEOs to track.

In the beginning, Google said that the percentage of stripped keyword data would only be a tiny percentage of a website’s total search traffic. However, over time, the percentage of stripped keyword data grew steadily.

Not too long after the release of secure search, many webmasters were seeing over half of their keyword being stripped from their website analytics reports. Later, webmasters were seeing over 80 percent of their keyword data being encrypted.

The Reality


Currently, almost all organic search traffic is encrypted, so webmasters and search marketers only have access to a sample of the keywords that searchers are using to find their website. Unfortunately, the amount of keyword data that is provided for organic search traffic is nearly gone.

With the way secure search is progressing, it won’t be long until 100 percent of all organic search traffic is encrypted, which means webmasters won’t be able to see any of the keywords that searchers are using to find their websites.

The Problem

Secure search creates a huge problem for SEOs. The main role of a search marketer is to optimize web pages for desirable keywords, but if SEOs have no way of measuring the effectiveness of their optimization, then it’s almost impossible to measure and plan campaigns.

The Reasoning behind the Madness

Many SEOs will argue that there are several reasons why secure search is a bad idea, and there is no doubt that it has caused some massive headaches for search marketers. However, there is something that has many SEOs completely stumped.

Search marketers don’t understand why Google has chosen to only affect keyword referral data for organic search. For many marketers, it almost seems unfair that AdWords customers still have complete access to all of the keyword data.

A lot of professional SEOs believe that the real reason why Google has made this move is because they want to force people to increase their AdWords spend, which would give them access to keyword data, but Google still insists that the move to secure switch was made to protect user privacy.

Many people from Google have said that they believe SSL is very important. In fact, they think SSL protection is so important that they’ve already started encrypting search data for users who aren’t logged in.

They’re rolling out SSL protection across as many regions as possible. People from Google continually say that the switch to secure search has nothing to do with increasing the use of AdWords campaigns, but they don’t have too many SEOs who believe them.

What to Do Next


As mentioned earlier, Google is now blocking the majority of keyword data for organic search visitors, so many search marketers have no idea what to do about the problem.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter why Google is stripping this data. There are several ways for SEOs to get around this issue. The reality of the situation is that there is no full workaround for the problem, but there are ways to lessen the damage.

The impact of this data stripping is forcing SEOs to find other sources of data. Without these alternative data sources, search marketers will find it difficult to optimize their campaigns.

The Interesting Solutions

What many search marketers will find interesting is that most of the alternative data sources actually come from other Google products. This fact is enough to make many SEOs even more suspicious of Google’s motives. The first tool that SEOs can use is Google webmaster tools.

One of the reports provided by this tool displays 2,000 different keywords that have brought organic search visitors to a website. However, the report only shows the top 2,000 queries. Although the report also shows the number of clicks delivered by these queries, the numbers are only approximations.

The numbers of clicks that are displayed in the report do not represent an accurate number of organic search visitors. The second tool that SEOs can use is Google AdWords organic and paid report. Ironically, this is another Google product. Inside of the AdWords interface, there is a tab called dimensions.

Fortunately, this report can be used to view organic and paid keyword data, which can be viewed next to each other. All of the organic keyword data that is shown in the dimensions tab is extracted from webmaster tools.

Does It Really Help?

Sadly, many problems arise when comparing keyword data from different sources. SEOs end up being forced to use data from three different tools, and as one can imagine, this presents several issues.

Many search marketers have performed studies on the data from these different tools, and unfortunately, these studies reveal that the combined data from these tools is quite inconsistent. In some cases, the numbers looked completely random.

All SEOs want to make data-driven decisions because that is what optimization is all about. However, if the data sources that SEOs have access to are regularly reporting inconsistent data, then it’s nearly impossible to make decisions that are strictly data driven.

Some SEOs might feel comfortable with the data acquired from these various tools while others will continue to avoid using any of it. Regardless of what data sources are used as workarounds, this issue of stripped keyword data is a large one, and even today, thousands of SEOs are still angry with Google’s move to secure search.

Written by Eric Sornoso

Eric Sornoso

Eric Sornoso is an avid learner and online marketing consulting. He runs Infographic Seeding and Fish Free Media, and is an author for several major SEO publications, including SocialMediaExaminer.com.

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