Last week, Google celebrated its 15th birthday. In exchange for relying on Google search day in and out, Google gave us two gifts: A hummingbird and “Not provided” search data.
What’s New With Not Provided?
Since October 2011, Google started to withhold search term data for anyone who was logged in to a Google account (e.g., Gmail). For example, if you typed in “seo consulting” in Google while logged in and clicked on example-site.com, Google Analytics and other reporting systems would not record the search term “seo consulting” as the keyword that brought in organic traffic to example-site.com.
Instead, it would be counted in a bucket named “not provided.”
Google has extended this encryption steadily to certain browsers since that time, but as of September 23, all organic search terms will fall in the “not provided” bucket. Referring search terms from advertising will remain unaffected.
Why is this happening?
While there are likely many reasons for this change, it is a widely held belief that Google is doing it to help allay privacy concerns. Google was accused of providing search data to the NSA, and while Google denied it happened, they received a lot of criticism.
What does this mean moving forward?
One way to see search term data is to launch campaigns through Google AdWords. If you are already active there, then you’ll continue to be able to use search term data for strategy and planning.
For SEO/Content Marketing campaigns, make sure your reporting is conversion based, so you can measure more than basic traffic metrics. Additionally, Google is extending impression data in Google Search Console, which can help establish search insights. So if you’re not actively using this tool, it’s time to start.