Everyone loves a good intrigue. We like to think there’s a hidden agenda behind regular, day to day events.
This is particularly true with SEO professionals, many of whom worry that Google is constantly scheming to control the SERPs (search engine results page). Case in point: the ‘Not Provided’ debate, raging since 2013.
For the conspiracy theorist in you, the advent of Google Analytics ‘Not Provided’ keywords has likely lead you to assume that the wonder twins are gearing up for a Dr. Evil-esque scheme to destroy the world of online marketing.
After all, over the past two years, there has been an astronomic increase in the amount of data being locked away from marketers like you and me.
Just look at the graph below!
Pretty crazy right?
But even if you believe that Larry Page and Sergey Brin (cofounders of Google, for the layman) are villainously cackling from their secret lairs while plotting the online scheme of the century, all hope is not lost.
If you are willing to approach your keyword analytics with unconventional tactics, there are a number of simple (and not so simple) ways to access the data that Google is so meticulously trying to hide.
Why Are Keywords ‘Not Provided’ and Why Should You Care?
So, conspiracy theories and evil villains aside, why has Google really locked so much data away from webmasters and SEOs?
Back in October of 2011, Google changed the way that search data was harvested in recognition of “The growing importance of protecting the personalized search results.”
And in their attempt to increase the security of their searches and the privacy of their users, Google simultaneously crippled the powers and abilities of many prominent SEOs.
But what exactly does this new search security, and its correlating effects on marketing, mean?
It all starts at the search bar.
In the days of old, a normal Google search would redirect you to a http:// version of your desired domain.
So for example, if you had input “Crazyegg.com” into the Google search bar, you would have been directed to the following URL.
However, with its security update, Google began exclusively redirecting users to an https version of the website, with the “S” standing for secure.
Meaning that the website URL would now be:
And I will just say this straight off the bat.
This feature is fantastic…for user privacy.
However, it is a huge obstacle and detriment to those of us in the SEO and online marketing world.
Well, whenever someone finds your site through natural search methods, because of the data encryption and restrictions, you are completely in the dark regarding how they found you.
This makes it difficult to track SEO KPIs and determine which keywords you should be investing in.
For example, if you notice a massive fluctuation in the conversion rate for a particular page, you have no way of accessing the data to determine what organic keywords you need to target for continued profit.
You are also unable to examine the data related to unhappy viewers (e.g. a high bounce rate or low time on page) to determine why a particular page was incongruent or inefficient to fulfill the needs of their search.
To put it in layman’s terms, Google’s updates suck.
7 Methods for Unlocking Your ‘Not Provided’ Keywords
Even though Google might be trying to throw you into the deep end without giving you any way of escaping, we have discovered a few workarounds that will act as your “SEO flotation device.”
With the following 7 ‘hacks’ you will learn ways to circumvent and otherwise overcome the roadblock that is Google’s ‘Not Provided’ data.
1. Use Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools does not even begin to hold a candle to the raw information and comprehensive nature of Google Analytics.
However, for the purposes of uncovering ‘Not Provided’ keywords, Google Webmaster is actually able to provide a unique service that Analytics cannot.
Not only does it allow you to see a basic overview of the keywords that are leading visitors to your website, but it also gives you the ability to determine the clickthrough rate of your keywords from Google Search.
So even though Webmaster data might not provide the whole picture, it does give you a general overview of keyword performance.
2. Bing Keywords Data
I will be blunt about this.
Unless you are generating an obscene amount of traffic, Bing is not really relevant enough to provide any substantive data.
So, unfortunately, this tip will only be pertinent to a small portion of you who are reading this.
However, if you are running a large blog, then Bing is like the generous uncle of the search engine family.
He loves his nephews and nieces and enjoys spoiling them with all the free goodies that Mom & Dad (or Google in our case) won’t let them have.
So when Google won’t provide the data you seek, Bing comes to the rescue and helps you develop a clearer picture of what keywords are sending visitors to your site.
3. Segment ‘Not Provided’ Data Using Filters
I know that the sheer percentage of ‘not provided’ keywords you are dealing with can seem a little bit overwhelming.
Having access to a mere 3% of the data that you used to take for granted is enough to make some webmasters want to cry.
But luckily, you can still segment the ‘Not Provided’ data to gain a clearer understanding of the general keyword searches that lead viewers to specific landing pages.
By setting up Google Analytics filters that show you the landing page referrals for all of your ‘not provided’ traffic, you will be able to make an educated guess as to which keyword searches and queries brought users to those pages.
Here’s the basic process according to infront.com.
From the Google Admin dashboard, select which view you are going to apply your filters to.
Create a ‘Custom Advanced Filter’ and select the filter type “Custom.”
Input the following parameters into their respective fields.
Field A: (.not provided)
Field B: (.*)
Field C: np – $B1
Ensure that all boxes except for ‘Case Sensitive’ are checked and then your new filter is ready to go.
This tactic will help reveal which specific terms are ‘Not Provided’ making it easier for you to understand where traffic is coming from and going to.
It might not be as effective as sitting back and enjoying all of the free data that Google used to provide, but it is one of the best ways to gain greater insight into your keyword performance.
4. Google Trends
Google Trends is one of the most underused tools on this list.
Almost every SEO and marketer is familiar with it, but very few actually use it to enhance their work.
Which is a shame, because it packs a powerful punch for anyone looking to reclaim their ‘not provided’ keywords.
The first, and easiest way to get a decent overview of your keywords performance is to simply type in your brand name and analyze how your brand has been performing over the past months or years.
Then, you can start adding in tertiary terms to the query to determine what big keywords are associated with your brand and then use this information to help inform your content strategy moving forward.
For example, you might notice that the primary search term associated with your brand has changed from “Blog” to “Pricing” due to a shift in public perception.
This tactic will help you accurately determine the cause of unexplained traffic influxes or decreases and it will help you stay on top of market trends and customer expectations.
5. Invest in SEO Software or Service
While this is certainly not the cheapest option, it is the simplest and most convenient.
Companies like SEMrush, Ahrefs, KISSmetrics, and Authority Labs have created numerous tools to help you properly analyze your keyword data and sort of unlock the “box” where Google has placed all of your data.
Luckily, you can get access to these tools for a relatively low cost.
6. AdWords Data
I know that many of you long time marketers and SEOs are probably a little bit disgruntled and angered by changes in Google’s policies, especially their data and privacy policies.
And some of you who believe that the security changes were made because of a desire for profit might refuse to even consider the PPC side of Google out of sheer principle.
However, for those of you who are able to stomach it, utilizing a paid AdWords campaign is one of the best ways to immediately unlock all the keyword data you’ve been longing for.
In addition to getting keyword traffic data, using Google’s PPC program also means that you will be able to rank more highly as organic search results become more and more competitive.
You might not like it, but Google AdWords is one of the best ways to see an immediate growth in your SEO and business efforts.
7. Internal Site Searches
Another way to determine what keywords brought users to your website is to examine the keywords that they are using once they are on your website.
This allows you to determine with surprising accuracy for which keywords audience members came to your site.
While we detailed the complete process in an earlier article, the basics of setting up internal site search analytics are as follows.
Go to the admin dashboard and select ‘Do Track Site Search.’
Next, you need to locate your website query parameters by completing a search and reviewing the URL.
So for our example, the query parameter is ‘s’.
Next, input the query parameter into the requisite field.
Wait four hours, and voila! You now have access to internal search analytics.
Google’s ‘Not Provided’ data is admittedly a hindrance to internet marketing success.
However, it doesn’t have to be a death warrant.
By using the above methods, you can access all of the data necessary to continue on your journey to keyword domination.
It might not be as simple or effective, but these tactics will still get the job done.
Have you found a way to access ‘not provided’ keywords that I didn’t mention in this article? Let me know in the comments below!