What is this (not provided) issue and how does it affect my website?

Iain Calvert discusses the Google “Not Provided” issue in a way that you can explain to your boss (with confidence!). If you find this article useful, feel free to give Iain a pat on the back with a share on your preferred social network. Thanks!

What is the (not provided) issue?

“Not Provided” is when Google doesn’t report the search term used to find your website. It only applies to organic visitors, also known as SEO traffic.

Why is that important?

Understanding which search terms, or keywords, your customers use to find your website gives business owners and marketing professionals’ insight into what areas of their SEO campaign are delivering the most amount of traffic, sales or enquiries.

How does it affect my website?

By the end of 2013 website reporting tools, like Google Analytics, won’t be able to report which individual keywords are driving the most amount of traffic, sales or enquiries to your site. This means it becomes more difficult to report which specific keywords are working for your SEO campaign.

Why is Google changing this?

Google’s official stance is that this measure protects user’s privacy. However, there are some other reasons why we think they are doing this which is for a whole other blog post…

When did this happen?

“Not Provided” first started appearing in website tracking software in late 2011 and has been slowly increasing ever since. However In October 2013, some US sites started reporting 100% of SEO traffic was being reported as “Not Provided”.

Reload Media anticipates that, by the end of 2013, all Australian SEO traffic will be reported in Google Analytics as “Not Provided”. Below is a screen shot from Google Analytics showing the rise in SEO traffic that is being reported as “Not Provided” from Oct 2011 to Oct 2013.

How will this affect my SEO?

Unlike other updates from Google like Penguin, this change won’t directly affect the SEO performance of your site, but it will change the way SEO performance is reported. Rather than specifying how specific keywords are doing, overall performance of organic traffic will be reported on. This will also include how well individual pages are performing.

What do you mean by ‘individual page’ performance?

In an SEO campaign, individual pages are targeted to specific keywords. For example on a site that sells fancy dress clothing, SEO traffic is directed to the most relevant page for an individual search. If a customer searches for “pink wigs” they will land on the pink wigs page, rather than the home page, as this is the most relevant page. This also means your customers don’t need to navigate to the pink wigs page.

SEO reports will now focus on which pages SEO traffic is landing on. If they have landed on the pink wigs page, and that page has been optmised for that keyword, it’s a fair assumption this keyword is driving that traffic.

What about AdWords?

For those of you running Adwords or Pay Per Click campaigns, you will still get very detailed keyword reports, as Google still provides this data.

Can I still get ranking reports?

Yes, ranking reports for key terms are still available and give an indication of how well your SEO program is going.

Is there any way to get this data?

Unfortunately for SEO traffic the answer is no. There are a few workarounds, like this technique which replaces keyword data with the title of the page (and which includes the keyword you’re most likely to be ranking for). However it isn’t a perfect solution.

Does this mean SEO is dead?

As long as search engines display organic results, there will always be the opportunity to get traffic to your website, which requires SEO. As Matt Cutts, Head of the Web Spam team at Google has stated…

“Succeeding in SEO will be the same as it’s always been if you’re doing it right – give the users a great experience.”

Remember, if you found this article useful, please share on your preferred social network. Iain will be ever so grateful! Thanks!


Iain Calvert

General Manager

Iain came to Reload after working as the digital strategy manager for Billabong over in the UK. With over 8 years of experience in search marketing and ecommerce, Iain now heads up SEO strategy at Reload Media. He is charged with ensuring the most effective white hat, best practice SEO techniques are being utilised and implemented by the Reload SEO team. Iain also consults on the strategic direction on a range of SEO clients in order to cohesively integrate their SEO strategies into their larger marketing activities.