Google And 'Not Provided' - What Does It Mean?

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Google recently took the decision to make all users’ searches secure. This means that webmasters will no longer be able to see the search terms searchers used to reach their sites. Here, we’ve provided a brief summary of the impact of the changes.

Following much speculation over the past couple of years Google has acted and encrypted all searches made by users, ensuring they remain secure.

Traditionally, users have always had the option of visiting (or any other regional variation of Google, like, for example, .fr, .es, or .de), which is the standard, unsecure version of the site, or - the secure variant.

Google has now changed, and encrypts all users’ searches using SSL. This has caused a great deal of confusion with many believing that secured search means that no search query data is passed from Google (this shows in Google Analytics as ‘not provided’).

This is not necessarily true.

This is what Google says on its site about encrypted search.

“Additionally, while SSL encrypts the information you see on Google's search results page and your login information, it does not always protect:

•             The fact that you visited

•             The search terms that you typed

For example, when you visit another website from the Google search results page, that website may be able to identify what site you came from or the search terms that you used.”

The confusion stems from signed in users.

When a user signs in to Google their search is encrypted and their search query is not passed to the site they visit. When a user’s search is encrypted without them being signed in, their search terms may be sent to the site they visit.

There has however seen a notable increase in ‘not provided’ in the last few weeks. This is evidenced by the graph taken from Not Provided Count displayed below, which shows the increase of ‘not provided’ data returned from 60 tracked sites from 2011 up to earlier today.

Not Provided Count - Graph - October 2 2013

Graph Taken From (Not Provided) Count – October 2, 2013

The continued increase in 'not provided' data poses a number of problems for businesses. A major issue is the diminishing ability to determine the proportion of traffic from branded terms vs non-brand. There are workarounds to determine this data by examining the proportions to various pages on the site.

With the 'not provided' trend looking set to continue, the reality is that the ability to determine brand/non-brand split may soon no longer exist for organic search.

It is important to note that switching from Google Analytics to other platforms does not make any difference at all and will not recover any of the lost data. Adopting a premium paid version of Google Analytics also will not recover the data.

Paid search will remain unaffected by these changes. It doesn’t matter whether a user is logged-in to Google, in encrypted search or not, their search terms will still be accessible to users of Google AdWords and Analytics.

With security and privacy beginning to take precedence amongst many Internet users, the trend of ‘not provided’ results can only be expected grow in the future. Although not all keyword data has been impacted by this particular move, future changes could also see it too become ‘not provided.’

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