What is ‘Not Provided’ in Google Analytics?

For the majority of webmasters, Google Analytics is the number one tool used to analyse your site’s traffic.  If you keep an eye on the details then you may have seen “(not provided)” popping up as the number one listing in the Keywords section of your Traffic Sources Overview.  This is coming up more often as a question as to why this is happening and why the ‘not provided’ is on the rise.

So what does this mean for you?

Google last year began encrypting search results if a user is logged into their Google account.  So instead of https:// you are likely to see https://, so your search is encrypted with SSL (Secure-Socket Layers). This is the same type of encryption you see when you enter your credit card during an online purchase or if you’ve selected the secure browsing option with websites like Facebook.

Google did alert us last year to what was happening, see below:

When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query. They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools.

So this makes it clear for those of us monitoring analytics that keyphrase results have taken an elbow to the ribs.  It is harder to know how some users reach your site and for what terms.  As a user, we know that we can cover our tracks if we surf when logged into our Google accounts.  Be aware you will see tailored results when logged in, so if you suddenly think your website has hit the top 3 spots for some super cool key phrase, don’t be disappointed if it takes a nose-dive back to its original page position when you log out.

Google claims that only about 10% of searches are affected which I completely disagree with as I’m seeing anywhere from 15% to 55% of affected results across different websites.

Google says you can get an aggregated list through Google Webmaster Tools but the problem is the search data isn’t tied to visitor activity.  You can see if someone has visited the site from various entrances but no way to tell what they did next on the site, the journey they took or if they converted which is annoying when we look at a lot of user journeys and hits on the ‘contact us’ or ‘sign up’ page.

The best thing for people to do going forward is understand their webmaster tools account as well as their analytics and use a mix of the data provided from both of them to understand your visitors and know how to react and make website/seo changes accordingly….failing that just stick your finger in the air and see which way the wind blows!

Since Google has been encrypting data, how much has this affected your analytics results, id be interested to know in the comments.

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