100% (not provided) is on the horizon

(not provided) is one of the most talked-about topics in SEO. Very simply, what it means is that where we used to have plenty of raw data to measure our campaigns, now we need to use different KPIs and metrics to make up for the visibility we’ve lost.

(not provided) is one of the most talked-about topics in SEO. Very simply, what it means is that where we used to have plenty of raw data to measure our campaigns, now we need to use different KPIs and metrics to make up for the visibility we’ve lost.

It has not come as a surprise, although perhaps we didn’t expect it to come so soon. Like many SEOs, Equator has been preparing for this eventuality and has developed workarounds or hybrid measures to do the performance reporting that needs to be done.

First, looking back…

(not provided) or “keyword unavailable” first cropped up in October 2011 when Google started redirecting signed-in users to secure pages so all referring data that other tools would normally track was blocked. When it first launched, SEOs started seeing that a percentage of the keyword data fell into a (not provided) category – at the time, Google announced that it wouldn’t exceed 10 per cent.

Privacy or gluttony?

Google announced that they were introducing encryption to protect their users’ data and encouraging the industry to adopt stronger security standards. However, the percentage of organic keyword traffic that was (not provided) steadily increased over the next few years so that as of March 2014, we’re looking at this:

In late September 2013, Google moved entirely to secure search. When you type something into Google, you’re redirected to an https:// or SSL encrypted version of Google. The howls of pain you heard from SEOs around that time was about the fact that the update only affected organic search data; paid search data from Google continues to provide keyword referrals.

Equator’s Marketing Director, Martin Jordan, commented on the issue at the time: “The most confusing aspect of Google’s move is that it only affects organic search referred data. AdWords customers still have full access to the keywords that drive visits and conversions to their sites.

“As a result, many search marketers suspect that encrypted search is more about pushing sites to increase their AdWords activity to receive visibility into keyword data rather than protecting searchers’ privacy.”

Secure Search

Encrypted search is great from a privacy perspective; Edward Snowden, appearing via live stream at a TED conference in Vancouver earlier this week, asked tech firms to protect users by encrypting all web pages. But from Google’s perspective, only natural clicks are affected and AdWords advertisers still have full access to their keywords.

For SEO, it means that it’s impossible to know what a visitor was looking for when they landed on your site and if they found it. If they bought something, you don’t know if an organic keyword converted into a sale because you can’t track that from referrals anymore.

Workarounds

Many people have been preparing for the day when Google goes 100% (not provided), adapting reports and relying less on organic keywords. There are also alternative data sources including:

  • Google Webmaster Tools: a Google product, thus not totally trustworthy
  • Google Ad Planner: this will give search volumes estimates for ads
  • On-site searches: internal site search analytics is a valuable signal for what your visitors are looking for
  • Historical data: there is still a lot of data on keywords that have been performing consistently, but they will lose accuracy over time Google Trends: A great little tool that gives you insight to trending topics with referrals from search
  • And more… this is an excellent post about keyword data options and the future by analytics expert Avinash Kaushik, well worth the read.

The future?

SEO has always been a creative, competitive, problem solving industry, although in recent years the role of an SEO has evolved dramatically. This alteration to performance reporting doesn’t change the fundamental elements, ie quality, content-centric link development, attention to detail and technical precision, although it will be necessary to adapt and compensate for the missing data in order to gain visibility.

Written by Caitlin Smythe, Content Manager