For many, ‘Not Provided’ is becoming an increasingly common occurrence in Google Analytics.
Just when SEOs were settling into their latest entente cordiale with Google, the tech giant has gone and changed the terms of engagement once again.
This time, a move by Google to redirect organic search traffic through an encrypted ‘Secure Search’ has meant that many users are finding well over 50% of their overall analytics data for organic search is being returned to them as “Not Provided”.
Although Google promised it would only affect a tiny percentage of overall data for organic search, bemused publishers and brands are coming out of the woodwork to show evidence to the contrary.
Econsultancy experienced 74.6% “Not Provided” organic keyword search results in August.
Last week, Econsultancy published their own experiences, documenting 74.6% of August’s organic search traffic to the site as “Not Provided”. By the end of the September, it had recorded near to 86.5% of organic search traffic as “Not Provided”.
Econsultancy aren’t the only ones to suffer from this data blackout (if you are particularly amused by others’ suffering check out Not Provided Count which tracks 60 anonymized sites and how many ‘Not Provided’ counts they are returning).
WHAT’S THE BIG PROBLEM?
Fundamentally, this means whenever a user lands on your site, you have absolutely no idea what the person was looking for when they landed there or if they found it. And if your customers are making purchases, you have no idea which organic keywords are converting into sales, because you can’t track that from Google referrals anymore.
This is a big issue for your digital marketing. Acquisition, conversion, retargeting and retention have all relied upon keyword data to a lesser or greater degree, and for Google to remove free access to organic keyword data is a low-blow (albeit a low-blow we should have all seen coming over the past years).
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The response to Google’s landgrab of organic keyword data has been interesting.
Despite Google’s protestations, the majority of commentators and users see this move to a ‘Secure Search’ as not a response to protect user search privacy, but instead a catalyst to force more marketers to pay for Google’s AdWords service (which continues to show organic keyword search data unencrypted).
Beyond coughing up more moolah to Google, all sorts of workarounds have been suggested; from using Bing (lols) and Yahoo! (lols) which continue to pass on organic keyword data, to ingeniously hitting users with a pop-up once they land on your site (props to @RavenJon for coming up with the idea). You can read other solutions here, here and here.
Although useful for the short term, none of these address the fundamental problem that businesses are completely at the mercy of Google for insight into their customer and prospects interests.
NO-ONE IS TALKING ABOUT ONSITE BEHAVIOR TRACKING. YET.
When someone searches for your site, ultimately that keyword search drives them to a particular piece of content (whether it is an entire page, an asset or a product – it’s all content).
Whilst Google’s latest move means you won’t know the organic keyword that brought them to a particular piece of content on your site, through using content analytics you can begin to:
- Learn evolving browser interests and concepts not keywords
- Understand the topics within the piece of content landed on
- Understand which piece of content led to a sales conversion
- More effectively target products or content based on a user’s content consumption
Content analytics technology analyses pieces of text and makes it understandable and readable for computers. It allows computers to understand the topics, people, places, companies and concepts in the content, sentiment towards aspects of the content, and the language of that content. This in turn means, computers can track an individual’s interaction with a piece of content and collect and draw trends about that individual’s tastes and interests. For use cases, check out our Guardian article on the subject.
Onsite tracking with content analytics will tell you far more about each person and how and why they landed on your site, than keyword data ever could.
Google has realised this. It would be helpful if brands realised it as well.