What are (not provided) keywords in Google Analytics?

If you’ve logged into Google Analytics recently, you’ll no doubt have noticed that one of your top keywords – probably THE top keyword – is displayed as ‘(not provided)’.

What does this mean?

It means that people have visited your website as a result of an organic Google search that they made via a secure Google search – which usually means a search made while logged into their Google account. Google now offers so many useful tools – Gmail, Google Maps, Google Calendar, Google+, Google Analytics of course, and many, many more – that it means most of us (at least, most active web users) will by now have a Google account which we use for one or more of these services. Even those of us who make a habit of logging out of Google once we’ve finished using our Google account will often forget to do so from time to time – and so the proportion of website visits that come from (not provided) phrases is increasing steadily over time.

Why are Google doing this?

Google’s reason for withholding the keyword data is for ‘privacy reasons’. However, if you run Google AdWords campaigns, you’ll note that they don’t withhold any such data from your account, so clearly privacy is not an important consideration for people who click on AdWords ads!

What percentage of Google users are logged in?

According to our own data, the percentage of searches shown as ‘(not provided)’ has increased steadily from an average of around 12% a year ago to an average of around 27% today – though we have seen other websites reporting much higher figures. Many of Google’s new technologies depend on users being logged into Google – for examples, see our blog on Helen’s Visit to Google. The latest version of the Google Analytics tracking code, Universal Analytics, aims to improve tracking of users across multiple devices – something which relies on users signing in. So for the foreseeable future, it looks as if the upward trend in (not provided) searches is set to continue.

But I depend on that data!

Yes, we do too, but we’re not panicking yet – (not provided) searches are still in the minority, and we’re not sure how high they’ll eventually go. And while Google’s taking away valuable data with one hand, they’re giving back with the other – if you haven’t already linked Webmaster Tools to your Analytics account, you must! Webmaster Tools gives you data on your search engine rankings as well as many other useful things, and by linking it to Analytics, you can link this search engine position data right into your Analytics account. Add to that other tools such as Google Analytics Content Experiments, Real Time Analytics and many more, and on the whole we feel that we’re far better off for data than we were a couple of years ago.

Want to check out your own (not provided) percentage?

Log into Analytics and go to Traffic Sources > Sources > Search > Organic. You should see the organic search phrases that have driven traffic to your website. In the top right hand corner there are a set of icons that allow you to change the way the data is displayed (see example below). Click the button that looks like a pie chart to display your keyword data as a pie chart! Hover over the slices of the pie to identify the slice that refers to (not provided) traffic. There you have it – the percentage of your organic traffic that comes from secure Google searches. In the example below, you’ll see a fairly typical percentage of 27.8%:  Need some help with Google Analytics? Drop us an email and we may be able to help.

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