A show of hands for all the marketers constantly frustrated with Google Analytics reports saying ‘not provided?’
Don’t worry, that’s completely normal. And yes, there’s a way around it.
As annoying as it is, there was a lot of intention behind Google launching ‘not provided’ reporting, starting in 2011.
It doesn’t mean you’re shit out of luck, it just calls for a little extra effort to “unlock” and access this data.
As a marketing professional, having access to the organic search keyword ‘not provided’ will give you a huge leg up on the competition. By unlocking ‘not provided’ keywords you’ll be able to:
- Gain better insight into whether your current SEO tactics are resulting in driving qualified traffic to your site.
- Figure out if your current SEO efforts are aligned with what terms searchers are using and make adjustments to grow your organic visibility.
We’ll jump into that in a minute. Before we do, let’s take a 60-second history lesson of how (and why) Google Analytics keyword ‘not provided’ began.
Why ‘Not Provided’ Exists
When Google Analytics was first introduced, it was a much simpler time.
You could easily select the ‘keyword’ dimension for your organic traffic stats and receive a clear report of the search terms bringing traffic to your site. Google not only provided extensive information about which keywords were driving visitors, but you also could pair the report with Analytics data. Thus giving sites the ability to see user behavior from different SERPs.
Site owners could track which keywords generated the most conversions and where they should be focusing their SEO efforts to maximize their ROI. However, things soon changed.
Fast forward to 2010. Google had been rolling out Secure Socket Layers (SSL) for Gmail and Google Docs, but they also wanted to give Google users “the best user experience”. Translation: Users wanted the ability to search with privacy protection and without third parties accessing their behavioral data.
As Google received more and more feedback from users about the security and privacy of their searches, they created SSL Search. SSL search encrypts logged-in users’ search queries and associated Google’s search result pages. SSL search drew a screeching halt to individual user search data.
When the encrypting started, the change created a gap anywhere between 10-20% of searches appear as a ‘not provided’ keyword. If a user is logged-in to their Google account, their search data was suddenly and universally protected.
In 2013, Google drastically expanded SSL search. This year, they made ALL searches secure. Marketers progressively saw an incline in organic search keyword ‘not provided’ from 20% to nearly 100% of keyword info in Google Analytics.
Google has always made it clear that users come first, which meant that the demand for search data protection was suddenly a top priority. From a user’s perspective, this decision was literally a no brainer.
From the perspective of a business owner, however, it was a tough blow. Google had made it nearly impossible to gain insights from any SEO efforts.
Fast forward to 2020…Most of the searchers’ valuable data is still inaccessible to users like us in Google Analytics. This leaves marketers clueless as to which keywords are hiding behind the keyword ‘not provided’ message.
But here’s the good news; you can still access key pieces of ‘not provided’ keyword data with our process.
How to Unlock ‘Not Provided’
Remember how I told you you’re not shit out of luck? I wasn’t lying.
Although it seems impossible to retrieve protected search data in Google Analytics keyword ‘not provided’, it isn’t. We’re going to reveal our methods to unlocking Google’s keyword ‘not provided’.
Google Analytics + Google Search Console = Unlocking Keywords
First off, even though Google Analytics restricts a lot of data, you can still access a breakdown of user interaction data. You can look at bounce rates, the average time spent on your site, etc.
But when it comes to accessing protected search data, we’ll need to pivot from Google Analytics to Google Search Console (GSC). GSC gives marketers key user data around crawling errors, click-through rates, etc. and offering suggestions to improve.
And here’s the important part: We can integrate the search data from these tools. By merging GSC and Google Analytics, you’re able to pull data from one source to the other and access it on either platform. By combining these data sources, you can match user data to search queries – unlocking the missing data in “not provided”.
Note: Before we jump into the steps of accessing organic search keyword “not provided” data, you’re going to need to set up GSC inside of Google Analytics first.
Steps to Accessing “Not Provided” Data:
- Head to Google Analytics, login and start at your “home” screen.
- On the left-hand side, you’re going to see “Acquisitions,” go ahead and click it.
- There will be a drop-down menu, where you’ll see “Search Console,” you’ll want to click there.
- Click on “Landing Pages” to get the results of the top landing pages for your site.
- Once you click “Landing Pages,” you’ll be directed to a list of your landing pages with data around your impressions, clicks, CTR, Average position, etc. From there, select which page(s) you’d like to look into.
- Review the keywords you’re ranking for and make the necessary changes to each page.
Once you’ve unlocked the keyword ‘not provided,’ you’re probably wondering what now?
Well, let’s start by assessing what keywords you’re ranking for and if it’s consistent with what you’re targeting in your keyword research.
For example, we can look at the keywords that Victorious is ranking for and see if it aligns with the keywords we’re intending to target for our San Francisco SEO page:
Currently Ranking for:Currently Targeting:
While comparing these two lists of keywords, you can see that we’re targeting more for San Francisco specifically instead of the Bay Area as a whole. The easiest way to adjust which keywords you’re ranking for is to edit current content.
As a best practice for any SEO campaign, you’ll want to stay organized and consistent. This is especially important when conducting your keyword research. By having specific themes like “San Francisco SEO,” it’ll keep you organized with what keywords belong on which page.
This crafty workaround to the restrictions placed by Google allows bypassing the annoying Google Analytics keyword ‘not provided’ problem. You’ll have more insights about how you can best optimize your site and which keywords you should focus on while producing content.
Uncovering the keyword ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics is a difficult task, however just as we showed you, it’s not impossible to do.
This roadblock shouldn’t feel like the end of the world as it’s just one part of your whole SEO campaign. By keeping your SEO efforts consistent, especially with your keyword research, you should be able to distinguish which keywords are driving traffic to specific pages.