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  • Why is (not provided) My Most Popular Keyword in Google Analytics and How Can I Fix it?

    (not provided)

    While the search industry has been all abuzz with the bad news of Google SSL search, most average people might not even understand what happened. They may wonder “why is (not provided) my most popular keyword in Google Analytics?” (Other analytics solutions might not even show up this data at all). Also:  how can you fix it?

    First off, I want to explain in simple terms what happened. I tried to explain it to my wife recently and she didn’t understand at once. So this is the version she could fathom easily:  Google hides the keywords people use to find your site from now on, or at least a significant part of them. All these hidden keywords are tagged as ‘(not provided)’ in Google Analytics.

    On SEOptimise currently (the first week of November) 14,7% of Google search visitors had no keyword sent with its referrer.

    The referrer is the page address where they came from. On my own blog, SEO 2.0, the number was even higher, with 16,27% of Google visitors. Also, (not provided) is the most popular “keyword” on both blogs.

    Whose referral data gets hidden? All users logged in to Google services get redirected to SSL search now by default.

    So all these people hide the keywords they use from the sites they visit. Google and thus the CIA, MI5 or any other secret service can still access these data for at least 18 months.

    SSL search isn’t bad – it might be secure for some purposes. As a privacy advocate I can understand that someone would want to use SSL search. I don’t see why Google would force everyone logged in to one of the multiple Google services to use it though. Also, the only way to “opt out” of this forced security measure is to log out of all Google tools, including:

    • Gmail
    • Google+
    • Google Reader
    • Google Analytics
    • Google Webmaster Tools

    When you log in again, Google automatically forces you to use SSL search again on its https//google.com site. Advertisers who use Google ads will see the hidden data as well, by the way. So if you use SSL search to cover your tracks, at least from the website owners of the sites you click in Google, you have to refrain from clicking Google ads. So what can we actually do about this (not provided) issue?


    To ask your web hoster whether they offer SSL for your hosting package or otherwise upgrade to one where SSL would seem an option.

    Usually sites that use SSL will still see complete referrers from other SSL sites.

    Can’t you use SSL on your site to see Google keywords used by logged in searchers to find you? No, you can’t! Google does not use the same traditional  SSL solution it used for SSL search before. Now, according to our colleague Mark Edmondson of Guava it doesn’t work anymore as Google uses a proprietary “hack” to remove the keywords from the referrer. Otherwise you wouldn’t get even the (not provided) notice. Instead there would be no referrer at all. Thank you for pointing this out Mark! Also many thanks to our reader Matt Curry for bringing it to our attention first.

    Also, on the other hand, many sites may not notice from then on that you have sent them valuable traffic as long as they don’t use SSL for their sites. You may wonder how that affects you. In the SEO industry at least, people monitor their analytics for incoming traffic and thus find out who links to them. Based on that, relationships between webmasters and bloggers sometimes get forged to the mutual benefit of the two parties. This “SEO technique” will not work most of the time in future unless most webmasters embrace SSL.

     Google’s business model is to sell ads on search results and third party pages. More than 95% of their revenue stems from these ads. So they compete against webmasters and SEOs to get the attention of web users.

    Advertisers buying Google ads will have access to the referral data. So in a way Google is blackmailing webmasters either to buy ads or lose a truly important and meaningful metric. They have presented the change as a move to protect privacy, but we all know that Google doesn’t care about privacy in many other cases. Just think Google Street View.

    I won’t let Google force me to buy ads. I don’t need them as I do SEO myself. It’s like having a car and still using a taxi regularly. We can only hope that lawmakers throughout the world will make Google stop anti-competitive measures like this one. It may take a few years before the authorities can sort out this issue, and until then we have to deal with it ourselves.

    Going SSL yourself is the best option as of now. It doesn’t work with the new Google SSL search.

    Google removes the keywords using a script so that even SSL sites can’t see them.

    So soon 1/5 or 1/4 of your Google search visitors may not provide you with the full referral data. You won’t know for sure which keywords have the biggest impact on your site. The number one keyword will be “not provided” as more and more people start using Google services where they actually stayed logged in throughout the day.

    Unless of course you’re in an industry where most people are not Internet-savvy and thus do not use Google services much. There are many people, if not the majority, who do not even know what RSS is and thus do not use Google Reader, for example. Only webmasters use Google Analytics or Webmaster Tools and Google+ has still a market share below 1% of social networking. So in many cases the impact might be far smaller than in the technology-driven search marketing space.

    Ironically, the people who really care about privacy, such as Linux users for example, are also rather prone to browse the web anonymously than using Google services

    and tell Google their real names each time when they search for some questionable sites. So in niches where real power users are the majority, the search referral issues might be a minor one. Everybody else has to consider buying ads at Google as encrypting their site won’t help to get proper referrer data again. Sad but true, Google can exert its monopoly here and there is no free way out as long as you care about analytics. It seems there is no way to fix it.


    More resources on SSL search, (not provided) and analytics:

    1. SSL Search – Web Search Help
    2. Google Hides Search Referral Data with New SSL Implementation – Emergency Whiteboard Friday | SEOmoz
    3. Keep Calm & Carry On Despite Google SSL Search Term Encryption – Search Engine Watch (#SEW)
    4. Google SSL search for all signed in users | | Bigmouthmedia’s blogBigmouthmedia’s blog
    5. Google SSL Search: Update on (not provided) keywords
    6. Google SSL encryption for search queries: the experts’ view | Econsultancy
    7. Resources – Not Provided Google Keywords (Not Provided)
    8. Google Analytics Keyword “Not Provided” Higher Than Single Digits
    9. Is (not provided) Driving You Crazy? Get Some of Your Data Back | SEER Interactive
    10. The noticeable (not provided) impact on the Internet marketing industry
    11. Impact of SSL Search – Research, Search Engines – State of Search



    I help people with blogs, social media & search. I help you succeed on the Web. I've been online publishing for 15 years. I started back in 1997.

    25 Responses to “Why is (not provided) My Most Popular Keyword in Google Analytics and How Can I Fix it?”

    1. Sebastian says:

      I believe that Google’s move to handling all logged-in traffic through SSL is a measure against session hijacking as demoed about a year ago by Firesheep: http://codebutler.com/firesheep As its author presented, only moving all logged-in traffic (and therefore all traffic that transmits the logged-in users’ session key) to SSL can efficiently protect a user’s sessions – which is why we see more and more services move to all-SSL.
      Therefore I agree, moving your own service to SSL as well is the only option you currently have – but I do not agree with the argumentation that Google is doing it for “evil” reasons.

    2. Matt Curry says:

      Hey Tad, can you explain the “Go SSL” concept a bit more, I don’t quite understand. It implies that SSL’ing your entire site wil then reveal the organic keywords from encrypted google searches, which of course, it won’t.

    3. Going SSL yourself won’t get you the (not provided) keyword data back – the keywords from logged in Google are stripped off with javascript and rebounded off http – this is why you can still see the google / organic in GA reports. If it was full on classic https (such as https://encrypted.google.com/ ) then you would not get any referral data at all.

    4. Tad Chef says:

      Sebastian: Does it work for you? Do you have a site where you have implemented it already? So do you think Google does it for privacy’s sake not to make more money? Why then do advertisers and authorities still get the data?
      Matt, Mark: Thank you for the feedback. I have updated the post accordingly.

    5. Sebastian says:

      No, I haven’t tried – and I’m not enough of a technical expert to have seen the points that the other commenters brought up. So indeed, “going SSL” does not seem to solve the problem either.
      Regarding Google’s motives: Most likely they do it for both privacy’s sake (remembering the outcry last year when Firesheep was presented, it would be unthinkable for them _not_ to implement SSL throughout) , but I have no doubt anything Google does also benefits their business. My point is that the implementation of HTTPS doesn’t have a direct relation to the business aspect of not sharing the data, as it would have been as easy to no longer provide the search strings while keeping regular HTTP.

    6. D says:

      Am I the only one who agrees with Google’s methods on this? Blackmail? Really. You’re trying to game Google’s search rankings and you’re complaining about Google being monopolist.? It is Google’s site, their services; they have a right to reveal or not reveal which ever data they wish.

      If I were to search for posts on your site, I do not believe that any outbound sites should necessarily have access to that data unless you want them to. It is not that other site’s right to have that data.

    7. Sergi says:

      No, going SSL on your site does NOT solve the “not provided” issue. I’ve just tried that, searching for a term from my site – all in SSL – on Google Secure, and the q fields of the query is empty.

    8. Darren says:

      The change definitely seems to impact a lot more searches than Google originally stated. I think they’ll make the change to SSL really fast. Referrers may be a thing of the past, unless you pay.

    9. Cliff Tyllick says:

      Google might not be considering the unintended consequences. Many government agencies are thinking of using Googledocs to collaborate with their stakeholders. If using Google’s various other services means they’ll lose data on the effectiveness of their websites, those agencies will probably decide not to use those services. And I assume those services are a rich source of data for Google, too. Aren’t they?

    10. Suresh says:

      Why Google is doing like this, it is very difficult for SEO’s to improve the performance of the website if keywords are hidden.

    11. jeremy says:

      Turn this (not provided) crap off Google!

    12. Arun Sharma says:

      Its very difficult to get hidden keywords. But If we are getting huge hits from “Not Provided” keywords. Then measurement should be wrong. How can we know exactly keywords? Please explain..

    13. [...] a lot of controversy and many people are understandably upset with Google. For more information click here to checkout an article on [...]

    14. If this the way Google goes than may be we need to be more careful in doing SEO. Things get changes every now & then.

    15. Daniel says:

      Nice article, Tad.

      I tend to use a bunch of seo keyword tools, both free and paid, and the contrasting results can be quite annoying at times.

      The ” not provided” keywords in Google Analytics does throw a spanner in the works.

      Whether Google is doing this for privacy reasons, or as a way to keep a firm grip on a potential area of large scale monetary gain(paid access to unreleased keyword data through various funnels) who knows!

      I have noticed a shift just recently in the way Google search data is being returned.
      This change seems to have had an impact on the way keywords perform in a manner I have not seen before.
      I do not remember any other Google Algorithm changes affecting keywords to this degree..

    16. This is going to totally screw up our GA monitoring.

    17. [...] [2] http://white.net/noise/blog/2011/11/why-is-not-provided-my-most-popular-keyword-in-google-analyti… Tags : Google, https, search engine, Security, SEO, ssl. | permalink. [...]

    18. [...] Why is (not provided) My Most Popular Keyword in Google Analytics …Nov 15, 2011 … While the search industry has been all abuzz with the bad news of Google SSL search, most average people might not even understand what … [...]

    19. Jamie says:

      This truly is a shame. I hate seeing in my analytic data that 28% of my keywords are basically worthless now. Oh well :(

    20. Ron says:

      Google sucks more and more
      Not providing the most used keywords is totally stupid

    21. I think that google want from us to pay for these results. And like all big companies, its all about money! The brand name is ready, Forbes must be googlized!

    22. Chris Haigh says:

      This does seem to becoming an increasing issue across a lot of sites. One method I use to at least gain a little knowledge on what group of keywords the traffic may have come from is to look into the landing page (secondary dimension > traffic source > landing page). This will at least help you categorize the otherwise useless data.

    23. I can only see more algorithm changes in the future…which is problematic for SEO

    24. J C says:

      OMG i m always looking for great ideas and actions toi help fix keyword problems . google can be temprementle but it is the best search engine

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