Google holds back Organic keyword data in Analytics

A Few weeks back one of my employees, Ciaran, said to me “Have you heard? Google is going to hold back keyword data in Analytics?” My reply? “Ha! That’s ridiculous, they would never do that. That would be shooting themselves in the foot”. Ciaran, I owe you an apology. Although they are not  really shooting themselves in the foot, more like sawing of their foot and leaving it in a box with a grenade.

Saying I’m outraged is an understatement, but I’m probably more shocked that there is not more noise in the internet marketing industry (especially SEO) than it is. People wake up, Google is lobotomising us!

Using analytics is an Internet Marketer’s MI 6 – our intelligence service. Knowing which keyword converts is in essence our bread and butter when it comes to SEO. THIS is what is being taken away!

Exactly what they are doing

Google are holding back (by encryption) the organic keyword data in Google Analytics (and any other analytics for that matter) for ANY users logged into a Google Account. They are doing this by making SSL default when you are logged in to a Google Account.

What this means

Basically any visitors from Google organic/natural search listings will NOW be registered as ‘not provided’ in your Analytics. Although this doesn’t happen if the user isn’t logged in, or of course use another search engine. BUT still, this can mean a high percentage of your organic traffic that you in essence now will be “blind” to you.

Below is an example of State of Search Google organic traffic for the past couple of weeks, the number one keyword? “NOT provided”!

You might argue that it’s not that high of a percentage of “mainstream” users that will be logged into their Google Accounts and this might be a tech industry problem. BUT, “not provided” data is popping up in my e commerce clients analytics as well, and although to a much smaller degree than on State of Search, this WILL affect how well we can make decisions and how dynamic the SEO strategy will be. It’s a bit like insisting a Personal trainer is blind folded when working with a client, in fact the trainer isn’t even allowed to listen (or touch) the client to find out what their fitness level is. They might be fat or thin, or even have a heart condition – they wouldn’t know. Ok so yes, extreme analogy maybe, but it has really angered me that Google thinks we are all OK with this. Are they really that big that they can do whatever they like and we won’t even put up a fight? This begs the question:

Why are they doing this?

The official card they are playing is “privacy”  , being Google and doing ‘no evil’ they are simply helping their Google customers (that are logged in to their Google account) protect their privacy. Really? Pot, kettle, black?

There is already a myriad of possible reasons and even some conspiracy theories around why Google are restricting this keyword data, including:

* Google doesn’t want SEOs/Marketers to capitalise on its free/organic traffic. Ok this one is really paranoid but still worth a mention. This is of course way too self centred of us, Google really doesn’t care about us that much. Their a business, they want to earn more money, “hurting” marketers won’t really make them more money

* To restrict amount of keyword data to ad re-targeting companies and increase spend on their own ad stream. It’s perfectly plausible and possibly understandable that Google wouldn’t want other companies to capitalize on their traffic intelligence but I think this theory is less likely. This isn’t big enough reason to hold back this data and face the wrath of the marketers and other analytics users. The win needs to be bigger.

* To encourage more Google AdWords spend as the filter doesn’t apply to PPC traffic. Although technically this would make sense this theory again wouldn’t make them enough money for the risk to be worth it.

* They actually want to offer better privacy and want to make search more secure.  Uhu, yeah, mmm..

* Monetising Google Analytics. Encrypting the keyword data would be the perfect way of lining up a enhanced feature analytics package, between the free and the enterprise. There needs to be a reason why people would pay for Google Analytics when they’ve had it free for so long. In fact this theory is my bet! Google has long had plans to monetise Analytics and to be fair they would be stupid not to, BUT to pretend it’s for their users greater good and privacy. Which to me is “male cows excrement”.

What is your theory? How has it affected you and your customers?

Other blogposts on the subject for more information:

* Martijn Beijk’s blogpost here on State of Search “Impact of SSL Search”
* Check out Chris Lake’s blogpost on the issue on econsultancy for further examples of the filter in action.
Danny Sulivans blogpost (one of the first to report) in October

About Lisa Myers

Lisa Myers runs her own SEO & Social Media Agency; Verve Search based in London (UK). She is also founder of the SEO blog; SEO-Chicks.com and was co-founder of State of Search.