Understanding (not provided) in Google Analytics

Understanding (not provided) in Google Analytics

Google has become sensitive to the privacy concerns of its users. This has created a bit of a problem if you’re tracking your organic keywords through Analytics.

The search giant is now hiding the keyword for signed-in users who land on your website.  Google has tried to downplay number of visitors this would effect, previously estimating that visits resulting from hidden keywords would be in the single digits. However, we’ve seen this number slowly exceed these predictions and it’s made us think.

We need to understand (not provided) traffic and what it really means.

I’m going to show you how the advanced segments in Google Analytics can help you understand what keywords are actually (not provided).

How to Make Sense of (not provided) Traffic

In this example, I’m going to take you through the steps of discovering what percentage of traffic is branded / unbranded in the (not provided) results.

Step 1

First, we need to collect some data about the keywords we are tracking. In this case I’m looking at the Analytics data for ewebmarketing.com.au, using the keyword E-Web (and it’s misspellings, e.g. eweb).

After I’ve gone to Analytics -> Traffic Sources -> Organic, I filter the list of keywords to my brand name, which gives me these results:

  • Average Pages/Visit = 2.70
  • Average Visit Duration = 2:33

Step 2

Now that we have these numbers, it’s time to find the unbranded traffic. We do this by reversing the filter to exclude branded keywords, which gives us these numbers:

  • Average Pages/Visit = 1.67
  • Average Visit Duration = 1:13

Step 3

Now we’re going to do some simple math to find the mid-point between these numbers.

  • Mid-Point for Average Pages/Visit is 2.185 (2.70 – 1.67) / 2 + 1.67
  • Mid-Point for Average Visit Duration is 1:53 (153s – 73s) /2 + 73 s

Step 4

With these Mid-Points established, we can start to filter our (not provided) traffic by creating a new Advanced Segment. 

Here I’m including all visits which had a duration  longer than 117 seconds (1:53) and which had more than 2 Pageviews. I’m saving this segment as Branded. 

I’m also going to create an Unbranded Segment, which is this same filter except we’re excluding rather than including brand search terms.

And How to Make Use of (not provided) Traffic

So what we’re doing is identifying the behaviour of users who came to our site using branded keywords, and applying those behaviours to the (not provided) visitors.

This method isn’t 100% and it relies on a few assumptions; primarily that signed in visitors search the same as non-signed in visitors. It’s certainly a much better strategy to take then disregarding your (not provided) traffic entirely.

P.S.: If you’re using AdWords, then these privacy changes don’t effect your AdWords campaign. You can still find out which keywords are generating your traffic and landing on your website. Which suggests an interesting hypocrisy from Google.

Users’ search data is protected – unless you’re paying for it.


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E-Web Marketing

We’ve been in the digital marketing field for over 18 years and worked with hundreds of Australian (and international) businesses to grow their web presence. Specialising in SEO, search ads (PPC), social media, content marketing, email marketing and conversion rate optimisation.
E-Web Marketing
Follow us
E-Web Marketing

We’ve been in the digital marketing field for over 18 years and worked with hundreds of Australian (and international) businesses to grow their web presence. Specialising in SEO, search ads (PPC), social media, content marketing, email marketing and conversion rate optimisation.

  • Christopher West
    Posted at 11:15 am, April 3, 2012

    Interesting strategy Aris. Gives you an indication of what % of not provided are not branded which is useful of course. Did you see the article on Search Engine Land (I think) a week or so ago – suggesting that Google is going to remove the not provided data completely and it will show up as referral traffic

    • Posted at 2:46 pm, April 3, 2012

      Hi Christopher,

      I did read that article on Search Engine Land, It becoming “referral” traffic is a bit strange to me. I think Google is trying to push more people towards adWords (where they provide you referring keywords).

  • Posted at 5:49 pm, May 1, 2012

    I have set up “keyword conversions” in custom reporting section where i am getting 40% as ‘not provided’ keywords. Can anyone tell me any free analytic software where i can track proper keyword conversions.

    • Posted at 5:00 pm, May 4, 2012

      Hi Kolkata

      Unfortunately Google is actually removing the keyword when referring visitors to your site. There’s no way to get around this as far as I know.

      If you come across anything that can I’d be very interested to know what it is!

  • vijay
    Posted at 9:19 pm, May 16, 2012

    Try Google web master Query for particular date..you might be able to get keywords..

    • Posted at 2:36 pm, May 21, 2012

      Hi Vijay

      That’s a good suggestion as well!

      It’s still hit and miss but it will definitely get you some insights!

  • Posted at 10:10 am, June 2, 2012

    Interesting… my understanding was that Google couldn’t capture keywords used or Google didn’t want to share this information with you. Thanks for the article.

  • Posted at 1:51 am, June 8, 2012

    As far as I understand the (not provided) could be branded or non branded, so is it best practice to remove it completely from report data, as this seems to skew the figures…?

  • Posted at 6:20 pm, July 5, 2012

    Always keen to see how people are trying to uncover the unknown.
    If Google has its way this will become more and more the case.
    Kind of undermines the whole reason of the web when website owners will have less data to make their site more targeted & relevant with.
    We have extended our SEO software allowing our clients to automatically drill down into this ‘not provided’ area and further break it down to URL, Location and keywords based on website trends.

    • Posted at 9:45 am, July 10, 2012

      I highly recommend http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/google-secure-search-keyword-data-analysis/. One of the few Analytics blogs that I regularly read!

      • Posted at 11:13 am, July 10, 2012

        Yes, have also read that article when we were researching Google’s [not provided] when building our tool. Always nice to see others perspectives and insights.
        Having built our tool from scratch we are able to leverage and automate many metrics including URL, keyword trends and so on providing a greater insight.

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