In our work trying to provide the best possible analysis of SEO, SEM, and social media efforts using website analytics, we often come across the dreaded “Not Provided” keywords. These are organic search website visitors for whom Google does not report what keyword they searched for. This can pose a real barrier to accurate SEO analysis. Here, we look at the current state of encrypted search from Google, and present some workarounds we’ve seen.
Percent of Encrypted Search
When Google originally announced that some search keywords would be hidden, Googler Matt Cutts estimated that this would only affect single-digit percentages of all Google searches on Google.com – in other words, less than 10%. Much to the chagrin of the SEO community, this statement has proven to be inaccurate. Website owners started noticing larger percentages of encrypted search within a month of its inception.
We analyzed a handful of our clients for March 2013 and found that 46% of searches in Google are currently being encrypted and reported as (Not Provided):
- Educational Site: 47% of roughly 2 million visits
- Game Site: 52% of ~500,00 visits
- Portal Site: 60% of ~600,000 visits
- Non Profit Site: 41% of ~500,00 visits
- B2B Site: 38% of ~20,000 visits
Looking around at other firms’ published data, the lowest percentage we see anyone reporting is 20%. The original 10% estimate? Just a distant memory.
Encrypted Search Now Includes Toolbar Searches
The percent of encrypted search has risen significantly in the past year and a half. This due to the increase in users that are covered within the encrypted search space, which now includes the following:
- all Google searchers who are signed into their Google accounts while searching
- searchers using the default browser address bar to search in Chrome, FireFox and Safari (still not the default in IE)
- searchers who choose to have their keywords encrypted by going to https://encrypted.google.com/ to perform a search
Looking at Google Analytics data for one of our clients, we can peer into the percent of encrypted search for each browser:
- Chrome – 72%
- Firefox – 73%
- Safari – 21%
- IE – 22%
(Data for March 2013)
Doing a deep drive into Safari, the majority of Google searches are coming from older browser versions. Looking at the most current browser version, encrypted search is at 44%. So, we expect this value to increase over time.
With the significant increase of encrypted search and the fact that it is likely to continue to rise, the need to find other outlets for the lost keyword data is ever-increasing. Below are some ideas to get started with overcoming the missing data:
Simple Multiplication: The crudest approach to handling this data is to simply divvy the (Not Provided) traffic between your organic traffic segments. For example, if you are reporting organic traffic in a Branded/Non-Branded segment, you can split the (Not Provided) traffic based on the percentages of each segment of organic total traffic. We’re not big fans of this approach because it means meaningful data can be lost.
Google Webmaster Tools: Webmaster Tools provides a report of the top 1,000 daily queries that resulted in impressions and clicks to your website. We believe this data is accurate; we typically find the impression data to be on par with data we see in Google AdWords.
Google AdWords: If you have the budget, Google provides full keyword data for AdWords traffic. You will need to spend money and receive clicks to see meaningful data; bidding low in an attempt solely to get keyword impression data will not yield keyword data.
Landing Pages: As an alternate to using keywords as the starting point for research, start with looking at the Top Organic Landing pages, which can be segmented by (Not Provided) results. For a method of tying the two together for easy review, you can visit this blog post from searchengineland.com. The author uses an advanced filter to marry (not provided) keyword data with the landing page, so instead of seeing “(Not Provided)” in the results, you see “(Not Provided) – (Landing Page)”.
Aggregate (Not Provided) Ranks: Since you cannot see the (Not Provided) keywords, you cannot tell how well the masked keyword(s) are doing in Google. One way around this is to use the power of Google Analytics to show you the ranks for (Not Provided) results. There are a few methods to accomplish this, which can be found on the following two blogs:
Do you have a favorite method for contending with the increase in encrypted search reporting from Google? We’d love to hear more suggestions in the comments!