Marketers Struggle with the Growth of Google's "Not Provided" Keywords

Nov 16, 2012

Article ImageIf it's not your job to pour over your site's Google Analytics results you may not have noticed that the search giant announced, just over a year ago, that it would make SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) search the default for signed-in users - and you definitely wouldn't have realized the effect this has on your company's SEO efforts. Optify recently took a look at what this change has meant for marketers and put its findings into a study dubbed "Google Not Provided On the Rise: The Impact of Google's SSL Enhancement on SEO Data."

So, in a nutshell, what did this change mean? Here's how Optify puts it:

"This change encrypts your search queries and Google's results page and means that visits from organic search listings no longer include the information about each individual query. Instead, Google started passing the term ‘(not provided)' as the referring keyword for those organic search visits."

At first this was thought to be a small problem, says Doug Wheeler, CMO at Optify, as these organic search terms were a relatively small piece of the pie. But now Optify says marketers have lost nearly 40% of their data behind the "not provided" label. According to the report:

"Google mitigated the issue of lack of search referral data by offering publishers to ‘...receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools.'"

The change to SSL has also made it impossible to deliver to targeted landing pages based on organic keyword searches. But Google still allows advertisers to see data related to paid search terms "to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you." In other words, Google wants you to fork over some cash.

Wheeler has some advice for companies still trying to make the most of their SEO campaigns with less data at your fingertips. "You've got some historic information to make use of and understand," he says. "Look at your pay-per-click program, the ones that create the most traffic are good indicators of the terms you should concentrate one."

He suggests also taking a closer look at other referral sources, such as social media sites. While Google's Webmaster Tools remain free - and Wheeler isn't convinced they will remain that way - he encourages marketers to utilize them.

If there's one takeaway from the Optify study, it is probably this: "You will still be able to practice SEO and work on getting more traffic from organic search. This change does not prevent you from practicing any SEO best practices, it just means that it will be harder to measure their effectiveness."

("Keywords" image courtesy of Shutterstock.)

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