In October 2011, Google made the crucial decision to put their properties – Gmail, Google+, YouTube, AdWords, and so on – under a Secure Sockets Layer, otherwise known as SSL. Though it may not sound groundbreaking, this change would have major implications for digital marketers and SEOs.
SSL is a now prevalent form of encryption between a server and client. It provides increased security for both companies and web visitors by encoding information in transit and decoding it at its destination. You can tell if a site is using an SSL by the web address. The address for sites with an SSL will begin with “https://” rather than the typical “http://”. Many browsers will display a small lock icon next to the address of these pages to show they’re secure.
The reason Google’s transition to SSL is so important are the ramifications for web analytics. In the pre-SSL days, analytics programs, most notably Google’s own Google Analytics, captured a significant amount of information about website traffic sources. This information included specific keyword data in Google and other search engines. Marketers and SEOs could find exactly what query was driving quality traffic and to what pages. It was relatively easy to track and analyze any sort of organic search efforts. When Google moved to SSL, this all changed.
Now, users who are logged-in to their Google Account (which is a large percentage of users) don’t pass any such keyword information to analytics programs. These users are thrown into a catchall bucket that Google labels as “(not provided)”.
Not provided has become a huge source of frustration for marketers. Organic search is incredibly important traffic driver for most companies. In some cases, this change resulted in lost visibility for a majority of monthly visits.
What can be done about Not Provided?
Likely the most popular workaround for Not Provided keyword data is another of Google’s tools, Google Search Console. Formerly called Google Webmaster Tools, Search Console shares various metrics to help shed some light on how Google views your website. Once you’ve gone through the relatively simple process of claiming your domain within the platform and linking it to Google Analytics, you can get information on search queries, pages, impressions, position, and click-through rates.
There are a few notable drawbacks with Google Search Console, however. First, it only stores data for a maximum of 90 days. To get any sort of long-term reporting, you’ll need to regularly export and store data. Some also hold doubts about the validity of Search Console data, as it’s frequently misaligned with analytics (and sometimes itself). Google has also put out some official information to help dispel these doubts.
The other method to break through the Not Provided barrier is additional third-party analytics. Though these tools aren’t free (like much of the Google suite), they do offer the ability to recover the lost keyword information and maintain ease of use.
If you’d like to learn more about utilizing third party analytics for content-level keyword insight, refer to the white paper, Not Provided: Using Data-Driven Insights to Elevate Your SEO, Social & Content Marketing Strategies. There, gShift explains how they use a combination of additional data collection and inference to address the Not Provided dilemma.1