Google’s (not provided) keywords and their impact on your analytics

(not provided) keyword search

Do you remember the last time you looked at your Google Analytics data and saw a list of keywords that searchers used to find your website in the ‘Traffic Sources’ section? Well, cherish that memory because you won’t be seeing that type of data anymore. After slowly increasing its secure searches over the past two years, increasing the amount of (not provided) search terms in your analytics, Google has now made all of its searches encrypted using HTTPS, meaning in the very near future, search keyword data will no longer be passed to analytics applications.

This change has many web marketers and SEO professionals pulling their hair out, wondering how to figure out the keywords bringing visitors to their websites, and whether or not their organic search traffic efforts are having any impact on their traffic.

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Why did Google do this? Search Engine Watch reached out to Google, and received the following answer:

“We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year… We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.”

However, Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land suggests other motives, such as greater privacy in the wake of the recent NSA PRISM scandal, or to motivate web marketers to use Google AdWords (given that data from ad clicks is still passed through).

Regardless of why it happened, there’s one quick way to recoup some of this data so that all is not lost in your SEO efforts:

  1. In Google Analytics, navigate to Traffic Sources > Search > Organic
  2. Select ‘Landing Page’ as your secondary dimension
  3. From here, you can see what pages are the most popular for searchers to land on, even though you can’t see what keywords brought them there

From this, you can cross-reference data on your keyword rankings (using third-party SEO applications or even Google Webmaster Tools) and from there deduce which of your keywords are ranking highest and likely passing the most traffic to your most visited pages from search. (Note: This suggestion comes from’s “Whiteboard Tuesday” on the issue. Follow the link for a deeper dive and other suggestions)

Though it’s no replacement for the keyword data of the past, it’s a good stop-gap measure (without using AdWords) until a new solution is provided by either Google or another third-party.

If you have other suggestions for recovering (not provided) keyword data, let us know in the comments.

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  • Foursteps

    Is google webmaster tools affected? I have not had any search phrases updated since 23 September and am starting to get nervous.

    • Ian Andrew

      Yes, unfortunately the keyword data in Google Webmaster tools is affected as well.

      You may want to export your Webmaster Tools data, as Google is currently only allowing access to the last 90 days.