Life in a [Not Provided] World

Life in a [Not Provided] World

16th May 2012

What is [Not Provided] and why should we care?

SEOs were piling into the conference room to see Scott Krager of and Duran Inci of Optimum7, talk about the thing that’s bothering us all most at the moment, apart from the pesky penguins. [Not Provided] is a problem (for SEOs), because Google is hiding the keyword data that Google users are using when searching whilst logged into their Google+/profile account. Once signed in, Google users are automatically logged into a secure browsing function (https://). You may have noticed, in your analytics, that a large percentage of your traffic comes from keywords that you are unable to see. It’s frustrating! How do we know which keywords we need to work more/less on?

According to Scott, we are going to continue to see less and less keyword data. So we need to get used to the idea. Rolled out in March 2011, SEOs across the globe have questioned why Google have implemented this new ‘privacy update’, saying that it could have been designed to make Google more money. Is it possible that Google will, one day, charge money to get access to this data? It’s hard not to be weary at a time when Google is launching their ‘Premium Google Analytic’ packages, which also comes with a premium price tag.

A spontaneous talk with Google’s very own Pierre Far

Scott Krager talking about [Not provided] at London SMXAs Scott and Duran challenged and questioned Google’s motivation to provide the [Not Provided] results, Pierre Far, one of Google’s leading analysts, made a surprising but welcome appearance. He proceeded to give us what felt like a good telling off for talking dirty about Google. Pierre was very defensive and told us all firmly that Google’s ‘privacy function’ was not just an excuse to cover up some other ‘evil’ plan, but was a genuine attempt to improve the user experience. Surprise surprise, another Googler telling us that everything they do is with the best interest of the user in mind. It was clear that Pierre genuinely believes in the privacy function of Google products, and told us all in his booming voice, that he was very proud to work for the first search engine to take its users’ privacy so seriously. In another defensive pitch, Pierre noted that far more keyword data is available than we realise, and that we should pay greater attention to our webmaster tools. He even tried to downplay the effect of [Not Provided] data, saying that not all industries will be affected by the update. This, however,  was quickly, and aggressively dismissed by the majority of SEOs in the room.

Perhaps us SEOs are just becoming a little over sensitive to Google’s updates, perhaps we’re scared that they are going to make it impossible for us to provide our services and earn our bread. As if to echo my own thoughts, a member of the audience asked the question; “It all sounds really great, and I know we need to be willing to change, but are we all screwed?”

Scott Krager, quickly apologised for bringing the tone of the session down, and being ‘depressing’. He explained that we are not screwed, and that NOW is actually a very exciting time to be an SEO. Finally, Google are enforcing their rules and levelling the playing field. Spammy SEO is finally being punished by updates like Panda and Penguin. The rules remain the same as they’ve always been and promote quality content, easy usability, authentic links and generally ‘being nice’. We all know the rules, now is the time to play by them. Admittedly, the [Not Provided] mystery was not really ‘solved’, instead, it seems we are told “It is happening, deal with it”.

Where do we go from here?

In an attempt to lift our spirits, Scott gave us some advice on what we can do before 100% of our keyword data is [Not Provided].

  • Track as much keyword data now, while we still can.
  • Capture goal conversion rates by keyword.
  • Record (Not Provided) goal conversion rates.
  • What are the data sources that can’t be taken away?
  • Continue to compare today to yesterday, this week to last week. Etc
  • Calculate [Not Provided] at URL level to estimate lost referral numbers.
  • Find keywords in the Google Webmaster tools at page level.
  • Compare to page level keywords in Google analytics.

Scott also encouraged us to be transparent with our clients/bosses. We may not be able to show all of the keywords that are providing traffic, but shouldn’t be afraid to show how much traffic is being generated by [Not Provided] keywords. Scarily, Scott suggested that we should assume that ALL keyword referral data will be gone in the next 12 months. I guess it’s a case of “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”


  • Track your goals and conversions by keyword NOW before it goes away.
  • Compare Google webmaster tools safe level queries to Google analytics page level.
  • PPC for Keyword research is the bomb!

Scott basically confirmed what we have all been trying to ignore. As he put it, Google aren’t all of a sudden going to change their minds and return to their old ways of sharing ALL keyword data. This is the way things are, we have to deal with what we’ve got. Be the opposite of [Not Provided], share everything, be completely transparent. Control what you can. Measure what you can. What more can we do?


Written By
Ben Holbrook is Head of Content at Verve Search and has a particular interest in content marketing and developing sustainable link development strategies.
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