Google Analytics: Read the Fine Print – All Those Lovely Keywords “Not Provided”

I had an international client tell me about their great idea for a contest, and what they thought was an awesome prize to give the lucky one who came out on top. The winner and their guest would be granted admission to an incredible annual international event in Los Angeles! Wow…

We started laying out the ground work for how to promote the contest. Their in-house legal team sent us the multi-page page contest ‘rules & regulations’ – and in the fine print I saw, “Transportation to, and lodging in, Los Angeles is NOT PROVIDED!” I pointed out that this was a turn off and that the target area should be re-thought so that we only push the contest in the LA area. If the winner was in Montreal, it would cost the person a couple of grand to travel and stay in California if they won the grand prize! In reality, the event might not have been thought of as spectacular enough to compel the winner to spend that much pocket money to attend – especially in today’s economy!

Do You Wish That You Could Take the ‘Not ‘ out of Google’s ‘Not Provided’!

A self-contained easy bean can opener broke off.

What you expect to happen – ‘Not Provided!’

On a plane – headphones are ‘not provided’. Food is ‘not provided’. A beer is ‘not provided’.

If you buy a skiing lift ticket – the skis, polls and boots are ‘not provided’.

If you want to share an entrée in some restaurants, often the extra plate is ‘not provided’. Unless, that is, you want to purchase them!

We all would rather have stuff for free instead of having to pay extra.

For the past year, information we had come to expect from Google Analytics – for free – has become “not provided.”  They no longer tell us what actual keywords were used for the search results numbers that they ARE providing. The expressed reason is to protect users’ privacy. I suppose they feel that if they disclose that (an anonymous) someone Googled “organic free-range chicken homemade dog food for miniature AussieDoodles,” it is the equivalent to putting a camera in their bathroom. In Danny Sullivan’s astute opinion, this is one of the most disturbing and hypocritical things the company has ever done, for the reason that – if you spend enough big bucks advertising with Google – you can actually find out a lot of these keyword secrets. So for money, the bathroom video set up is deemed OK.

Google Search for ‘Not Provided’

Go ahead and do a quick Google Adword search for the phrase ‘not provided’. There are over 18,000 searches each month for this phrase.

Next -  a regular Google search for ‘not provided’.

Did you think the SERPs would display a variety of items for this phrase? Wrong! They all relate to everyone discussing and complaining about Google for no longer giving them what they want. There is an abundance of online conversation, blog posts, articles, Tweets, and chats about no longer being provided for by Google. What do we want? We want our keywords! All of them! Keywords, keywords, and more keywords! As SEO specialists, we want the good old days (of a year ago) back again – when Google Analytics provided us with all the keywords that were being searched by the folks who went to our websites.

I just finished reading the best and most informative article on this topic: Dark Google by the previously mentioned Danny Sullivan. Every detail on this subject is mentioned and elaborated upon. What I want to express here is what ‘Not Provided’ has meant to me as an SEO guy. How has it impacted my work? How much has it made my life miserable?

‘What Does ‘Not Provided’ Mean on My SEO Monthly Reports?” said the client…

Fancy water bottle in hotel room for sale.

Bottle of Water – ‘Not Provided’ (for free)

First off, you have to explain it all to your clients. You probably just got finished explaining for the tenth time about how the SERP s are skewed depending on how Google has profiled you. (They kind of understand, but still tell you they absolutely need to be #1 in the search engine rankings!).

Then you also have to explain why the biggest amount of organic searches in their Google Analytics metrics are ‘Not Provided’ – and it’s difficult to understand that too.

Aside from this additional explaining, how does it affect my work personally? Well, quite honestly – not much. I generally think that many SEO specialists stress themselves out too much, take everything overly seriously, and should perhaps go be an air traffic controller, prison guard, or ER physician for a day.

To me, everything in the SEO field is moving to one place. That place is located at the intersection of Be Real Avenue & Great Content Boulevard.

You don’t cram in keywords randomly into a web page or blog post. You don’t create infographics with the sole purpose of just scoring some links. You don’t buy links for a Kansas City trial attorney on a ‘Skin Tag Removal’ website from India. You don’t offer a contest prize that costs more to claim then its value. You just need to always be smart, clever, creative and logical. It is not the quality of tools of the trade that will make you succeed – anymore than Eric Clapton’s guitar will make you play like a rock star.

To me, the essence of solid SEO work is the following:

  • You have to start by representing a really good, well-run company – one that offers a great product or service.
  • You have to establish an excellent and trusting working relationship with them.
  • You have to be one step ahead in communication – don’t leave anything for the client to have to ask you – where is this? / what is this? / have you done that yet?
  • You have to manage the monthly budget and get the most juice out of it.
  • You have to set measurable goals, and realistic points of success that can be celebrated.
  • You have to have creative ideas and figure out how to make them practical, and actually put them into motion.
  • You have to coordinate web dev, social media, SEO, PPC, CRO, copy & content creation, branding, digital marketing, traditional marketing – it’s all moving towards one and the same thing.
  • You have to be real. Connect with people because the website has something going for it, something to offer, something unique and valid, something potential clientele will want to see.
  • You have to make the Google Analytics graph show a steady rise over a period of six months or a year or more, and target that increasing traffic to create conversions, engagements and interactions.
  • And – yes, you have to look at and interpret data from Google Analytics to guide you and support your decisions.
Park recycling container with no bag attached.

Recycling Bag – ‘Not Provided!’

But do you really need to know all those secret words that are now ‘Not Provided’? It would be nice, but well, you got through the past year pretty OK didn’t you? You adapted, and maybe a portion of your Google frustration has dissipated. Life works best when you remain positive. So does SEO! Move into the future – next year will be even more different, and we will have to adapt to whatever comes.

After years in the music business, I was working with Todd Rundgren in the studio one day, and within our many conversations he said to me, “You know, some people are like rocks in the creek – they just plant themselves in one place and let life move around and past them – but others choose to move along with the flow, go with the rapids, interact, and see where it all takes them…”

He felt that was the best way for life travel. Me too. Seems much better than complaining about things you can’t change, wishing things were the way they used to be, and wanting to NOT be ‘Not Provided’ – when no matter how much you fret about it – the specific solution to this potential problem is also – “Not Provided’.

Car gas gauge below empty

Gas to LA – ‘Not provided!’

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8 comments on “Google Analytics: Read the Fine Print – All Those Lovely Keywords “Not Provided”

prosperitygal

Love it, great thinking and mindset.  It is funny when we have to think about managing client’s fears and expectations on top of performing our services.  Just part of the dance.  Now what was that about “Do no Evil”?  Guess (G) they crossed that promise a long time ago.  Must be because their profits are down – not?


    imaralph

    @prosperitygal I think that managing the client’s fears & expectations is the key  to developing a working relationship where the client has full confidence and trust in you and your work. This is more crucial than incorporating the newest innovative tool into the process of SEO or SMM – because those are exactly that – just tools to use as you see fit. I am always mindful that a  creative and skilled musician can play something cool on a yard sale banjo with 3 broken strings – the limitations of such an instrument may even inspire them to do something amazing and unimaginable. Maintaining the client relationship is a different skill, and an important component to longevity & success in SEO. I always envision someone writing the check each month because the results of SEO work are not always so immediately apparent and as ‘feel good’ as someone walking out of Best Buy with a new gadget they just spent their money on. It helps you look at things more from a client perspective – they do often have fears & expectations, and if you help define them, set realistic goals, and measure results – hopefully there will be something to celebrate about in the future.


robaxelsen

A very interesting topic, and a great read,  Ralph!Love the way you put it about “being real + great content” – “It is not the quality of tools of the trade that will make you succeed – anymore than Eric Clapton’s guitar will make you play like a rock star.”Rock on, Ralph! :)All the best,- Robert


Etela

I love the quote from Todd Rundgren. It is so simple yet so powerfully true. Not only for our private lives but especially for our dynamic industry. Change is part of what we do and we need to embrace it. There will be many many changes coming after Not Provided. But as you discussed, we need to know where the real value is and what to focus on to make our clients successful.


jenerationy

We recently conducted a study that found that Google “not provided” now accounts for almost 40 percent of referring traffic data from organic search, an increase of 171 percent since originally introduced a year ago.
 
We were pretty surprised to see the rapid increase.
 
Here is the full study: http://www.optify.net/press-releases/optify-study-googles-not-provided-rises-to-almost-40-of-organic-traffic-for-b2b-sites
 
Jennifer


    imaralph

    @jenerationy I am not surprised with the increase amount – that’s where Google has been taking it. Listening to the Google reps over a year ago at a conference – it all was very obvious around & between the lines. The icky part is, as @dannysullivan discussed in his post, the $$ making aspect of it all. But hey, the NFL is financially doing great – and they are now looking to add more teams, more regular season games, and more playoff games for only one reason – to make more money.
     
    More money buys more stuff, more power, etc. – and there are rarely any limitations to temper that desire in the business man & women world! It is what it is! Anyway, I am now going to turn off my 3D 1,000″ flat screen and take a spin in my pimped out Lexus to pick up some salmon I had flown in this morning from Finland.
     
    (Thanks for the study, and for providing the ‘not provided’ data!)


Neil Patt

By not showing the keywords that people use when logged into their Google account, it makes it more difficult to determine which keywords to target for optimization.


    imaralph

    @Neil Patt Certainly true, and we all wish that was different. However, that is not the point of my blog post – the point is that getting stuck in the mud complaining about it is silly. You just have to move ahead and use other clever ideas and techniques to determine your keyword focus. Why? Because you have no choice – unless you plan to buy Google and make it do everything you want. Like the drummers I knew years ago who wanted to buy all the drum machine manufacturers and stop production!
     
    All things considered, we as SEO specialists get a lot of help from things Google makes available to us – but what if they stopped giving us Google Analytics all together? Or Webmaster Tools? I happen to think that we can still do good SEO. Does anyone agree?