What Does “Keyword (Not Provided)” Mean in Google Analytics?

Spencer MerrymanSEO

In our monthly review meetings, clients frequently ask us "Why is the top keyword '(not provided)' and why is that upwards of 95% of our organic search traffic?" The short answer is: Google loves to protect its users’ privacy. 

In 2010, Google implemented a new change to Google Analytics that would protect "signed in" users and their search term data when using Google as a search engine. Google ensured every panicking data junkie that they would not lose much data, they would still have their search terms reports, and everything would be okay. Fast-forward eight years, and now everyone and their grandmother has a Google email address or account.


Our Way Around Keyword (not provided) 

For anyone doing SEO work and anyone paying for SEO, it is critical to know what keywords are driving traffic to your site. Keywords are a significant KPI (key performance indicator) in the success of your SEO efforts. Traditionally, search engine optimizers and digital marketers alike would rely on the keyword data in Google Analytics to inform their current strategies and decide if they were hitting the mark. Obviously, this Google update made it more difficult for SEOs to do their job. But there are ways around this analytics travesty. 

For example, Google now offers a tool called Search Console. Search Console can give you a bit more insight regarding what keywords your website is ranking for. That being said, the search terms report and the Google Analytics data should not be compared directly. 

Google Analytics is a great way to understand the user behavior on your site. For example, we love looking at the time on page, pages per session, average session duration, and bounce rate for the organic traffic channel. This tells us whether or not the users coming to the site through organic search are interested in the content they’re seeing, and whether or not the search term they used to get there directed them in some way towards an answer to their question.

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Secondly, we like to look at the search terms report in Search Console to get some insight on how Google perceives a site. You can get to this by going to Acquisition > Search Console > Queries. This report provides you all the search terms that caused your website to show up in a search results page, even if the person searching didn't click on your result. Search Console search terms report gives you key metrics such at Clicks, Impressions, Click Through Rate, and Rank. Clicks, as you may expect, are people who actually clicked through to your site from a specific search term. Impressions are the number of people who saw your result, regardless of whether or not they clicked on it. CTR or Click Through Rate is the number of clicks for a particular keyword over the number of impressions for that same keyword. And finally, Rank is the position in which you appeared on a search results page. All of these metrics combined tell us how Google is choosing to display a site in search results based on specific search terms. This info, coupled with the onsite behavior from organic search, allows us to begin making optimizations to the keyword and search strategy. 

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All of these metrics combined tell us how Google is choosing to display a site in search results based on specific search terms.

Lastly, we like to look at the pages people are landing on from organic search. You can navigate to this in Google Analytics by going to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages. This gives us a little more insight regarding what keywords a user searched to get to your site. Based on the metadata of that page and how the content at the top of the page appears, we can get an idea of what the user was searching for that brought them to the site. This is also an excellent way to analyze user behavior coming from organic search. What people forget is that it’s not just about what a user searched for, it’s also about where it took them.
 

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Paying For Keyword Data

For those of you running AdWords alongside your SEO efforts, you will notice that in the AdWords dashboard, Google gives you every single search term a user made that caused your ad to show up, every single keyword that drove a session, and every single keyword that converted. That’s because the Google update to protect user privacy only applied to organic search results. If a user chooses to voluntarily click on an ad, then they are opting to give up some data about themselves according to the Google AdWords terms of service. This is also an effort on Google's part to get more people to pay for clicks, as Google doesn't make any money directly from organic search traffic. This extra amount of data is partly why we feel a search engine marketing strategy should always be made up of both organic and paid efforts. The paid efforts allow for quick wins and immediate data, and the organic efforts are informed by that immediate data while Google learns that your organic strategy is trustworthy and your site is of quality. 

To sum it up, Google is going to continue to protecting its users’ privacy as the internet continues to grow and more & more people begin to try and manipulate users. At Evangalist, we have three key takeaways every time we analyze Google Analytics organic search data:

  1. Did traffic increase or decrease from last month or this month last year? 
    If we're doing SEO for you, we like to see the organic search channel be the highest traffic driver.
     
  2. Are users coming from organic search engaged? To what degree? 
    Did the user spend time on site or did they immediately leave? Did they hang around too long? People use search engines to answer questions and find services, so we want to make sure we are fulfilling those needs with our SEO and onsite efforts.
     
  3. Are the organic search users converting? Why or why not?
    Is the traffic we are sending to the site through organic search accomplishing the goals on the website? If not, why not?

Keywords are a big KPI in SEO strategy, but unfortunately they are just a KPI. We have learned to pivot and focus on those three takeaways above as the real indicators of success. That, paired with search trend research, is how we have learned to navigate our way around this Google update.