(Not Provided) Changes the SEO Landscape

Posted by Dave Murrow on October 24th, 2013 at 9:40 am

Some 87 percent of Google's organic traffic going to the Web's largest news sites is encrypted and showing up in reports as (not provided), according to data from It's a stunning shutdown of keyword data via Google Analytics. Essentially, Google is no longer allowing webmasters to see what organic keyword searches are bringing users to their sites.

To dedicated SEO strategists, this has not been a surprise hack. In fact, Google started encrypting keyword data back in Oct. 2011, according to eConsultancy. In the image below, you can see that the top referring link at that time coming back to the firm was a (not provided).

Put another way, when users perform searches while logged into a Google service, Google blocks all data from the incoming organic keyword referrer. Various analytic tools showed that Google was blocking about half of this data throughout 2012 and into 2013, simply reporting it as (not provided). Search marketers were stymied with this change. Google claimed it was to protect user privacy, but others opined that it had more to do with elevating revenues for Google AdWords. After all, AdWords users still saw the keyword referrals, putting Google's motives under suspicion.

But now, Google has encrypted all organic keyword data. Marketers are unable to see which sites are bringing them their top-ranked organic traffic visitors. This affects bloggers, too, who rely on Google's analytic tools to see who's reading their posts.

Search Pros and Cons

The SEO strategy blog from iAcquire offers tips and strategies to deal with the keyword encryption. The more obvious disadvantages included:

  • Organic keywords that drive traffic are (not provided), thus marketers can't gain insights or see optimized keywords based on organic keyword conversion data.
  • Marketers and media sites could not use organic keyword insights for any Web strategy moving forward.
  • Unless they only work with a small, focused group of keywords, marketers and brands would have to re-think their search strategy.

Google understands this, and is leading search marketers to embrace contextually relevant content. This has led to some advantages for media sites and marketers in this new search era:

  • Marketers, bloggers and others can see more insights into organic search conversations and measure organic performance at page level. This helps bloggers understand which pages are driving more organic visibility.
  • Search marketers can still use rank reporting tools to a certain extent, helping them understand how a site ranks for keywords on Google.
  • More importantly, following Google's moves with Google + and author ownership, marketers, brands, bloggers and authors will have to move toward less keyword-stuffed content, and more toward overall relevant content on the Web. Getting great content on one's site will be more important than ever.

Certain keywords will still have importance for bloggers and brands. But the focus can no longer be solely on keyword performance, especially in organic search. Instead, high quality, original and relevant content must be used going forward. When great content is popular, relevant and fits into the right context with your fans and readers, it will rank well and lead to high domain authority.

New Hummingbird Update

All of this Google search activity fits into the larger puzzle when one considers Google's recent top-to-bottom reworking of its Panda algorithms into the new Hummingbird algorithm, TechCrunch noted. Hummingbird is an across-the-board revamp of Google's search functions. The company called the move the largest overhaul to its search capabilities, affecting about 90 percent of its searches. It's a big deal in the overall move toward transparency, content relevancy and diminished exact keyword strength for complex searches.

SEO optimization is changing. If your brand or blog is keeping up with Google's adjustments by maximizing content creation and SEO best practices, you'll likely show some increases in your search traffic. Drop a line in the comments and let us know what you're seeing for your brands and blogs.

3 Responses to “(Not Provided) Changes the SEO Landscape”

  1. Clare says:

    Great summary Dave. A lot of the discussion we've seen come out of this report was that this helps get rid of 'grey hat' search practices, which you note by forcing marketers to focus on content and context. If any of your readers are interested - they can sign up and download the data that the 87% traffic figure is based on here:

  2. Webmaster Tools is supposed to help fill in the gaps of Not Provided, but I don't like how you only get 90s days worth of data there. I like being able to compare month over month and year over year to see how things are changing.

  3. Tom Pick says:

    Regardless of Google's motives, the changes that "not provided" forces on the online marketing industry aren't all bad. Companies and SEO firms that relied on manipulative tactics will suffer; those that focus instead on understanding customer needs and producing high-quality content to address those issues should continue to do well in search. They will just have to adopt more creative ways of measuring their overall web-presence and multi-channel digital marketing results.

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