Tiffany Houkom

The Rise and Future of the Dreaded (not provided) Term

Google not provided search term

Photo courtesy of Beanstalk, Inc.

If you’ve spent any time in Google Analytics, or any other analytics platform in the past year, you’ve likely spotted a pesky new “keyword” popping up within the organic traffic section. The keyword I’m referring to is (not provided), and due to several changes from Google and various browsers, the percentage of organic traffic being categorized under this term increased significantly in the second half of 2012.

So why is this new item appearing in your results and is there any hope to finding out what these users are actually searching on? Read on and you’ll soon find out…

Why is (not provided) appearing in my results?

In late 2011, Google made all searches performed by logged-in users secure, meaning that marketers could no longer view these terms in analytics tools. Since then, several browsers, including Firefox, Safari in iOS6 and Chrome, have followed suit and made searches performed within the Google search bar secure.

Today, (not provided) is one of the highest listed items for organic keyword results. Google originally estimated that this would impact around 10% of searches, however, some marketers have reported these changes have impacted around 40% of searches, especially for smaller sites. Below you will see a trended chart that examines the percentage of (not provided) search traffic over the past year for one site.

(not provided) Trending for 2012

(not provided) Trending for 2012

What Can You Do About This?

It’s apparent that (not provided) will not be going away anytime soon, and the percentage of searches from this term will only increase as new browsers and additional search engines adopt secure search. So what can you do to get an idea of which now hidden terms are sending traffic to your site? While there is no workaround for exposing exactly which terms lay behind the (not provided) label, we recommend trying the following alternatives:

  • Google Webmaster Tools: The best way to see a full list of terms that are sending traffic to your site is through the Search Queries section of Google Webmaster Tools. This reporting feature provides data on the top 2,000 queries for which your site received clicks within the last 90 days. According to Google, displaying the top 2,000 terms provides 98% of websites full coverage of search terms driving traffic to their site. This feature also provides you with valuable information such as organic positioning for each term and organic click-through rate. To avoid spending time hopping back and forth between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools, I recommend syncing Webmaster Tools with Analytics within the Search Engine Optimization section of Analytics.
  • Filter By Destination URL: Viewing the destination URLs that (not provided) is sending visits to is another great way to determine traffic-driving keywords. This can be done by clicking on the (not provided) keyword in Analytics. Then, click the “Secondary Dimension” dropdown and select “Landing Page” underneath the “Traffic Sources” section. By examining these landing pages, you will not only get a good idea of the top content these hidden terms are sending traffic to, but you can also see the these pages’ main keywords. Using a visibility tool to see where the terms from these pages are ranking within Google, can also help you create assumptions as to what these (not provided) terms may actually be.
  • Examine Bing and Yahoo Traffic: While traffic can vary significantly from one search engine to another, it’s a good idea to see which terms Bing and Yahoo users are searching to get to your site. Neither of these search engines use secure search, so you might consider dedicating more attention to these for future optimization efforts.

What’s Next?

It’s highly probable that the number of secure searches will continue to increase in 2013 as additional browsers will likely begin making searches within the Google search bar secure.

Additionally, some predictions assert that Google will introduce a paid Analytics platform, which would provide more detailed information to marketers that is not currently available. This predication is also supported by Google’s recent crackdown on tools accessing the AdWords API to help provide visibility data for websites. This possible paid tool could be an all-encompassing, analytics tool that shows marketers every organic search term that send traffic to their site, as well as where their site is ranking for specific terms in Google.

Do you have any predictions on the future of secure search? Join the conversation by sharing your ideas below!

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