Understanding (not provided) data in Google Analytics
If you use Google Analytics to gather data about your website I’m sure you’ve seen an increase of visits in the ‘Organic Search’ report from a particular keyword – (not provided). This invader is proving a challenge for website owners and marketers. Here’s some background information, our opinion on the matter and some steps you can take to reduce the impact of (not provided).
Why is (not provided) appearing in my Organic Search Traffic report?
In October 2011 Google introduced SSL search for users signed in to a Google account. SSL search is simply a version of Google search protected by SSL security. You’ll notice “https” in the address bar instead of “http”. You can read more about SSL search on Google’s support pages.
Google made this change in the interest of protecting user privacy. When someone visits your website from Google SSL search (i.e. they’re logged in to their Gmail or other Google product), the keyword they used to find your site will not show in your Google Analytics account. It will still report that you received a visit from an ‘organic’ source – but the keyword data is no longer passed to you.
Initially this change was only introduced on Google.com but was quickly rolled out to include other Google property such as Google.co.uk.
Why is (not provided) increasing?
Services like YouTube, Gmail and Google Groups have enormous numbers of users whilst newer services like Google Drive and Google+ are increasing in popularity all the time. Each new person that signs up to a Google product and stays logged in will contribute to the (not provided) figures in Analytics.
Plus, the Firefox web browser now defaults to SSL search meaning that keyword data is lost even when a user isn’t logged in. If you use an iOS6 device (iPad, iPhone, etc) then the built in search box in the Safari web browser does the same – SSL search as default.
Expect this to happen for Google’s Chrome web browser in the very near future, meaning even more (not provided) data.
Can I stop it?
In short, no.
This is one of those times when there’s no point complaining, creating online petitions or emailing Google – it’s happened now and the decision is very unlikely to be reversed. Many sites now report seeing low to mid double digit amounts of (not provided) data in their Organic Search Traffic reports. For the Zen Internet website (not provided) traffic accounts for 33% of all organic search traffic. It’s only going to go up.
Note: If you’re using Google Adwords then you’re still able to see which keywords are driving visitors to your site – but obviously only for the phrases you’re bidding on. Organic Search Traffic is still affected by (not provided).
Can I do anything to make sense of (not provided) data?
In short, yes
There a a couple of things you can do to try to gain some insight from the (not provided) data in your account.
1. Use a secondary dimension to look at which page people landed on
Using the Secondary Dimension feature we can ask Analytics to show us which page a visitor landed on. This is a pretty good indicator of whether the keyword used was a brand or non-brand keyword. It can show you pretty clearly which pages are getting the most traffic from Google, you should also be able to deduce the types of keywords likely to have been used.
- Visit your Organic Search Traffic Report and click on (not provided).
- Click the ‘Secondary Dimension’ button (highlighted in red in the image below)
- The type ‘landing page’ into the search box that appears.
- Click on the green option marked ‘Landing Page’ and you’ll see a new column called ‘Landing Page’ added to the report.
It should look something like this (screenshot from the Zen Web Solutions account).
The area highlighted in green above shows the pages that the (not provided) traffic has driven visitors to. Using this you should be able to tell what type of phrase was used. For example, visits to the homepage probably came from brand searches – i.e our company name in this case. Visits to service or product pages are likely to have come from phrases relating to them.
2. Use a filter to make the (not provided) data easier to understand
Option 1 is very useful, but you have to add the second dimension in each time you want to look at the data and you don’t see all your keyword data in one place. A better solution is to add a filter into Analytics that takes the (not provided) data and ‘rewrites’ it permanently, adding the landing page information. Hat tip to Dan Barker for this filter.
Your (not provided) entry will stop getting any larger and you’ll start to see new entries like this:
- np – /
- np – /about-us
- np – /services/
- np – /products/shoes/blue
This still lets you know that these visits haven’t got associated keyword data (the ‘np’ part at the front of the entry stands for ‘not provided’) and the landing page is added afterwards.
To do this go to Analytics, click the ‘Admin’ button top right, click on the profile you want to add the filter to then click the Filters option. (Remember that it’s always good to keep one profile completely free of any filters, adding this filter will edit data and if you’re not comfortable with filters try this on a completely new profile).
Click the ‘New Filter’ button then give the filter a name. Make sure to click ‘Custom Filter’ and then ‘Advanced’. Enter the information you see in the screenshot below and make sure that each option selected is the same.
This means you can see these entries alongside your other keyword data and you’ll have to do less manual work each month to report on them. If you want to see all (not provided) visits just setup an Advanced Segment to show all keywords which contain “np -/”.
Google Webmaster Tools provides some useful insights too
Don’t forget about good old Webmaster Tools, you can see top 1,000 daily search queries and top 1,000 daily landing pages for the past 30 days as well as see impressions, clicks and average position for each query. It’s not as useful as the keyword data in Analytics but it’s free and easy to get – well worth looking at. We recommend linking Webmaster Tools to your Analytics account, that way you get this useful data pulled directly into Analytics (under Traffic Sources > Search Engine Optimisation).
I hope this has helped you to look at (not provided) with slightly less angry eyes? Let us know if you need any help, we’ll be more than happy to chat with you.