Why Are My Search Engine Keywords Returning (Not Provided)?

Inbound marketing involves more than just a onetime set-up; it is an ongoing process. One powerful example of this is viewing and learning from the data provided by search engines. Part of this valuable data shows webmasters how visitors are finding their website. In addition to information on referring domains, search engines typically send over the keywords searched by the visitor. The biggest search engine out there is Google, and up until a few years ago, openly shared the information they collect about the search terms used to find a particular page.

What changed for website owners?

In 2011 Google made a change, that has been slowly effecting website owners. The search engine went “dark” for users that are signed into their services. After signing in, the keyword information previously shared to webmasters became replaced with “(not provided”. This has compounded annually as the search giant grows in users and services.

If one compares the analytics today, to the data in early 2011, there is one big difference. In more and more cases, the data from today shows “(not provided)” instead of the actual search term. This has made things a bit trickier for website owners, since it hides some of the most important data about how visitors find their webpages.

Why did Google make this change?

The reasoning given by Google for not sharing the search terms with website owners is primarily privacy.  This is because so many millions of people worldwide use Google for more than searching—they use Google for Gmail, Google Plus and Google Docs. Since these users are signed in, theoretically the things they are searching for could be matched to them individually. Google put an end to the privacy worry by stating that the information from their searches would not be included in data that is released to website owners—like you. However there is an exception for Paid Search, or sponsored ads.

When Google first announced that signed-in searches would not show up in the search results data that webmasters can access, it was predicted that it would block less than 10% of the results. Unfortunately for webmasters, signing in has become more and more common by users on Google and now many website owners report that 50% or more of the search results they are given show up as (not provided). Some have sought to quantify this number and at the time of this blog post NotProvidedCount.com is promoting 39.92% as the current average.

What does this mean for inbound marketing?

This makes it harder for inbound marketing programs to grow, and can make SEO (search engine optimization) that much more difficult. In the days since Google “went dark”, marketers have had to get creative with their efforts. Google Analytics offers advanced filtering that makes it possible to extract some of the data that is blocked with the (not provided) feature. While you may not be able to see the exact keywords searched to drive traffic to your site, the data that is available is extremely useful and can be used to continue to drive traffic to your site.

Inbound marketers are an innovative bunch and a hurdle like this has not put a stop to utilizing keyword results for SEO and marketing. While the methods may change, gathering the keyword information is still an important step in building your inbound marketing program. With this data, you can learn the best ways to attract new visitors to your site and help it flourish—even in a post (not provided) world.