“Not Provided” Hampering Analytics, But We Have the Solution

Many website owners have noticed that Google Analytics has shown an increased number of “Not Provided” status of searches, and for many this is the largest category of search in the Traffic Sources Overview listings.  Many browsers, including Firefox, have begun to use encryption to block tracking of the search data used to access websites.  Especially troubling is the use of encryption by Mobile Safari, whose website visitors show up as direct visitors, not only skewing the Google analytics for search versus direct but also hampering the ability to accurately track the true nature of mobile search. This Holiday Season, a lot of online traffic from iPhone users shifted into the “direct” bucket because a lot of people got new iPhones with iOS6 preloaded.

Google Analytics

Google Chrome is now joining the crowd and launching the Chrome 25 beta that uses encryption.  Many SEO firms fear that eventually, the percentage of Not Provided terms will reach 100%.

Google Chrome’s move to encrypted search will likely the average “Not Provided” searches on the average site from the average of 39% now to a higher number, but there are definitely methods in place to recapture some of the lost data.  Below are 3 tools that can be used to identify trends and new developments in search activity resulting from the Organic SEO efforts on your website.

Google Webmaster Tools has most of the lost data. Google webmaster tools will display the top 2,000 search terms for your site for the last 90 days from data from the aggregate storage of terms in the Google query logs. This works for 98% of all websites, and the 2% would be comprised of sites with huge web traffic because of the limitations of only the top 2,000 search terms. Most SEO Strategists will be able good sense of the trends and habits of the website users from this data.

Google Adwords has this data available as well. If you use paid search, you can get some of the same insights into the trends and behaviors of your online audience as you can from organic search data. You can get aggregate data from the general keyword search, but to get information regarding your website, you must have a Google Adwords campaign for your website.

Yahoo and Bing still deliver referrer information in most cases and can provide valuable information on search trends, albeit from a smaller search pool.

Bottom Line:  More Search Providers are moving to secure search terms and it’s likely that other search engines will follow due to competitive pressure. It is important to start using the alternate tools listed above to begin evaluating your search traffic and make this an integral part of your Organic SEO Strategy. Focus your plans on adopting other means of obtaining data as opposed to being frustrated about the data that has been lost.

Eric Van Cleave is a Partner in ZenergyWorks, A Santa Rosa, California based SEO, Online Marketing, and Website Development Firm.

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