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What Google’s 100 Percent (Not Provided) Means for Keyword Research

Okay, pull up a chair and get ready for this.

You've heard recently that Google is getting even more stingy than it was before about showing keyword data in Google Analytics.  And I've recently been shocked to hear from several people questioning if this means the end of keyword research as we know it!  After all, if you don't know what keywords are bringing traffic to your site, why do keyword research at all?

So, what impact does Google's “Not Provided” in Google Analytics have on keyword research?  Get ready for this…

None.

It changes absolutely nothing for keyword research.

I get it, I'm upset too that soon my Google Analytics is going to be 100% “Not Provided” for the traffic coming from Google.  But I'd have to be crazy to stop trying to get free traffic from Google!

So first, let's all just take a deep breath and review what is happening to Google Analytics.  Then lets look at what you CAN do to ensure that you continue to get that ever valuable free traffic from Google and a couple of potential ways that you can continue to monitor which keywords are bringing in the most traffic.

What is (Not Provided) in Google Analytics?

When you log into your Google Analytics account and check the keywords that are sending traffic through the search engines, most likely your highest referring keywords is (not provided).

googleanalyticsnotprovided

This is actually not new.  Google began encrypting search data about 2 years ago for any of its users that searched while they are logged into a Google account.  Because the data coming from Google is encrypted for those users, no analytics program (not just Google Analytics) is able to pick up the search terms used to find your site.

However, just last month, Google is now making encrypted search the default setting for EVERYONE, whether or not they are logged into a Google account.  What this means is that the keyword data in your Google Analytics account is going to just creep closer and closer to that 100% mark.  You will now be able to see very little data about specific keywords in your Analytics programs now.  LAME!

Impact on Keyword Research

So, how does having 100% not provided in your Google Analytics account impact your keyword research for building a site?  Well, I already said.  It doesn't.

When I am building a site, I use the Google keyword planner or Long Tail Pro to discover keywords that get a certain amount of search volume and to analyze the competition in Google.  I've shown in my first Niche Site Project how I do keyword research, and I showed it again on my second public project here.

Did you ever see me using Google Analytics to do that keyword research? No, you didn't.

In the end, people are STILL going to find your site by typing certain keywords into the search engines. If your site is targeting the right keywords and is optimized properly, you will be getting that free traffic from Google.

Sure, it sucks that you can't log into your analytics account and see exactly what keywords are bringing the traffic.  But you would be crazy not to try and continue to get that traffic!

I know several people have asked questions, about this subject, so I hope I've been clear.  I will not be changing how I build sites, how I do keyword research, or producing content for my site based on this change by Google to 100% encrypted data.

If you want to stop doing keyword research, be my guest.  Just means less competition for me as I get the free traffic that you will be missing out on.

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How to Still Get Keyword Data

Even though you can't see keyword data in your Google Analytics account anymore, you actually can still get pretty good (not perfect) data using other techniques.  Here's a few:

Track Your Keyword Rankings – If you know how much traffic a certain keyword gets every month, and you know where you rank in Google for that keyword, you can extrapolate approximately how much that specific keyword phrase is driving to your site.  Long Tail Pro has a rank checker (you can manually check ranks), but will soon have a rank tracker that will track the data for you automatically.  Other tools also can track ranks for you.

Google Webmaster Tools – You can still see what search queries are bringing you traffic in your Google Webmaster Tools!

webmastertools

A few other ideas are shared in this article by MarketingLand.com about getting organic search data as well.  One of their recommendations?  Better keyword research! 🙂

Neil Patel also thinks this move will make us better marketers. And one of his 3 points about becoming a better marketer after Google moves to 100% (Not Provided)?  Research new keywords!

What Do You Think?

So, there you have it.  I hate the fact that Google's move to encrypted search is going to make getting keyword data much harder.  But this also has almost no impact on how I will do keyword research in the future.  In fact, I think its even more critical now that you do proper keyword research on the front end, because you will no longer have the luxury of doing research based on your analytics.

And from what I can see, both MarketingLand.com, Neil Patel, and others agree that keyword research is going to continue to be a vital part of building successful sites.

What are your thoughts on the subject?  I received several comments and emails from people asking me if this change meant the end of keyword research, so did I sufficiently answer your questions?  Let me hear your thoughts and comments below!


Search Engine Optimization

By Spencer Haws
October 03, 2013 | 43 Comments

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Goran

Nice piece Spencer!

I agree with you totally that it doesn’t affect any part of keyword research. Though, it was nice to see which keywords actually brought visitors to the site. Maybe you learned about your visitors a bit more and made extra effort in that area.

Tung Tran

I agree with you Goran. If we can see which keywords bring more visitors, we can optimize the content and link building campaign to get it rank higher. But now the data is gone 🙁

But I found that GMT provides quite some helpful data as well. It’s still better than nothing 😛

And one more idea is that we can use Semrush.com to check the keywords we are ranking for. it’s not 100% accurate but still helpful.

John Gibb

Keyword research is one thing and keyword data analysis is another thing.

What I do is check the top visited pages and I can guess or estimate the top keywords that way.

Lindsay Collins

Looks like I may have inspired this post 🙂 Good post Spencer. I panicked when first hearing it but after researching was more relieved.

I have an unrelated question. If it weren’t for your survival knife site being public, would you be using both Amazon and Adsense? Do you think Adsense AND the ads in your comparison chart are too many for your page? Especially the upper area? I’m wondering how good or bad of an idea it would be for me to use both, so your thoughts would be great.

Spencer Haws

Yes, I would be using both Amazon and Adsense if it weren’t public.

Jenda

You are right, Spencer.

Of course it sucks that you cant see if linkbuilding for specific keyword really brings money to your site. Also you can’t do reverse keywords research anymore (= check for what long tail keyword you rank and improve it by linkbuilding) but except these it change exactly nothing.

Totally agree!

Azalea Pena

Spencer, thank you for this comforting post. I think your question of “if you don’t know what keywords are bringing traffic to your site, why do keyword research at all?” really hit the nail on the head. The “not-knowing” part of these keywords is what gets troubles the mind of online marketers. If they know what keywords to use, it will be a whole lot easier to generate traffic. But of course, Google doesn’t want to make things easy (obviously!).
It’s comforting to know that this doesn’t change or affect keyword research at all. And your given techniques sure are helpful in getting keyword data. Thanks for the help. I hope my fellow marketers can find comfort in this post too.

Spencer Haws

Thanks Azalea, glad you found it helpful!

Carl

Thanks for this Spencer, I hold my hands up to not fully understanding the situation until I read this post.

It´s a shame because like others have already mentioned, I like to see the keywords that has brought people to my site.

I agree it shouldn´t effect any front end research however did get accustomed to using the keyword data to drive the direction of my content.

> Time to start using other metrics to judge what content is popular (Comments & engagement, social shares etc)

Spencer Haws

True, post keyword analysis can be helpful. Remember, that you can still see much of this data in Google webmaster tools.

Sachin Bille

No body is thinking about SEMRUSH…… it pulls all organic keywords that any website ranking for! You can easily use that data to improve your site ranking by optimising specific pages…..

….your thought Spencer???

John Gibb

This still is part of keyword research, it doesn’t show which keywords people are typing in to find your content/web pages.. you know, all the long tail keys that not even LTP would be able to discover…

Mark N.

What does LTP have to do with it though? It was never designed to show you how people are finding your website.

Spencer Haws

Sure, SEMrush is a great tool as well, I’ve used it for years.

Mark N.

Everyone please don’t forget that we still get traffic from Bing and Yahoo, who do not encrypt any of the search queries. For a site getting a few hundred unique visitors a day, two or three weeks worth of Bing/Yagoo traffic should give you a decent idea of how people are finding your site.

cedrict

Keyword research is key to getting traffic to a website, and even though analytics are good at letting us know the exact search term people are using, it was the research that got the traffic along with SEO. Big changes are hard to digest, especially when you have relied heavily on one particular way of doing things. It’s more work without all the free data, but in about 6 months we won’t even be having this conversation.

Mark N.

I’d “like” this post if I could, lol! Well said.

Spencer Haws

Well said!

ray

Not even gonna lie, I’m still salty about it. I wonder if I get a fake NSA badge if Google will throw me a bone

Benji

This almost feels like a ploy to get more people to start using AdWords…

After all, this will still be the one place where we can get traffic data down to the keyword level (even though it isn’t organic).

ray

yes. thank you. this is exactly it.

Fred Owusu

I agree Spencer. This changes nothing. I never focused on Google analytics when doing keyword research. I mean, like you said it was nice know which keywords were bringing in traffic but if we stick to the same process we should be fine.

As long as Google never dissipate its keyword planner we should be fine 🙂

Mike

I’d say it does have some effect. Even though most of the keywords now still show up as “not provided” the other keywords do give you a general idea of what pages and phrases you’re ranking for and can give a rough idea of the CTR. I

Jye @ Full Volt

Great post to clear things up Spencer.

As much as it may help being able to see exactly what terms are being used to find your site it doesn’t change the fact that good keyword research is still going to bring in a ton of organic traffic, regardless of whether you can see them show up in analytic or not.

Just to further ease the fear that some people may have. One of my most successful niche sites, and highest earners, is in a niche where 90% of the target audience are people that remain logged in to Google. (This is because of the particular industry). The site have been live for over 12 months and in that time I very rarely get to see what keywords are bringing traffic in, but it has not made any difference in the way I target keywords.

On another note, the update will definitely improve the skills of online marketers and hopefully push people towards focusing on more important aspects such as user experience, user engagement and social experience rather than just keyword data.

Armaan

Nice post Spencer but post KW analysis will take a hit. I routinely go through the KW’s in my GA account and use that as a base to search for other related keywords via Google suggest.

Still there’s always GWT and SEMrush

Dave

I am looking for a keyword tool either free or paid. Previously I am using Google Keyword tool but with the recent changes, it is almost useless. Market samurai also returning me very little keywords right now.

I am wondering whether Long Tail Pro affected ? Would like to give it a try.

Thanks …

Murthee

Why worry when spencer is there to guide is ?.

Simple …..
Just follow his strategies cos every little advice he offered has always helped me in my work.

Google always makes changes and our challenge is trying to adapt to that. This what makes our work interesting…..

And I have a question for you Spencer. What do you think about the humming bird update ? Any advice ?

Lucian

I am curious if the same thing will ever happen with Webmaster tools, to make it completely worthless :)) I never used Google Analytics for keyword research even though every now and then a keyword popped up and had me write an article. Nothing that can’t be replaced with Webmaster Tools, though.

Regarding the keyword research, I too believe that nothing will change, so I don’t really see the point of this move from Google.

Matthew Allen

I think the data provided in Google Webmaster Tools is better anyway, as far as analyzing the data. It was neat though to be able to open up my Google Analytics app on my phone and see the obscure search terms that people were getting to my sites through. Can’t do that anymore!

You are right Spencer that people should not be concerned about this in the slightest as far as how it pertains to keyword research. One thing that is starting to worry me a bit though is this “semantic search” garbage that Google is implementing. I’m seeing top 10 search results, for keywords that I am targeting, from lots of sites that don’t use the exact keywords AT ALL – anywhere on the page. This could be an interesting topic to dig into. But I still continue to do keyword research like always and am still having successes with it.

Nicolas Daudin

Spencer,
Thanks for the insights.
Just one thing. I think some word are missing in that sentence: ” has a rank checker (you can manually check ranks), but will soon have a rank tracker that will track the data for you automatically. Other tools also can track ranks for you.”
Like “Long Tail Pro has ….” or something 😉
N.

Arwin Adriano

I agree to that Steve. Google will always be Google and I think it does not matter what they wanted to do. Anyway, there are a lot of alternatives out there for sure.

Kevin

This is ridiculous! Im still waiting for the day to come when they take page rank out for good, then what?

Marty

Nice post Spencer!

Interested in your thoughts on the hummingbird update…and the whole semantic search thing. The timing of the move to 100% not provided and Hummingbird seem to be pretty coincidental.

If Google start understanding search intent rather than just matching keywords to content how do you see this effecting keyword research?

Would love to know your thoughts.

Ryan Cote

The fact that we still get the keyword data in WMT helps somewhat alleviate this crappy move by Google.

Jamie

This wouldn’t by any chance have an effect on a website ranking would it?

I only ask as that in the last 3 days my website which was ranking 39 for it’s main keyword dropped like a rock to 250 or further down.

I have done nothing in the last month that changed the website which is weird, it just dropped it’s ranking for all keywords. Traffic dropped by 90% as well.

Bas

There was recently a new google (pinguin?) update.

Santosh Rajan

Awesome post Spencer.

I was really curious to see what all the fuss was about but you’ve just about cleared that up for me.

Whats your take on all the new changes that Google Analytics has introduced recently which were announced at GASummit 2013?

Looking forward to reading more from you.

SJ Scott

Spencer,

Great point. I have been getting very annoyed seeing the “not provided” in analytics, but as you pointed out this does not effect the research portion one iota.

Spencer Haws

I agree Scott…I wish the stats were still there!

Jawbone Up

I think sooner or later, Google will mask every single keywords, and will only release to Adwords Users.

For long tail pro, the data you pull may no longer valid. Google is going to make everything link to Adwords, and only paying customers can access to their secret base.

Jeff

Even with the “not provide” you can still do quality keyword research…..

Steve

A pain not to have the same keyword data, but you can still find low competition keywords with the right research.

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