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4 min read

Understanding Google Analytics (not provided)

What Google Analytics (not provided) means to you

In late 2011, Google announced that they would no longer be providing data for users who were logged in to any of their products, such as Gmail and Google+. Since then, more and more examples of (not provided) are showing up in the Analytics dashboard, prompting many to question how this data can be recouped.

The short answer is that it can’t, since Google don’t pass data on to third party analytics software vendors. However, it’s possible to mine that data if you use PPC through Google.

Whilst it could be that many people are simply missing Google’s point that content is now the most important factor when it comes to site optimization, still more are completely frustrated that tried and trusted SEO methods are no longer working the same.

What is (not provided)?

In simple terms, when you’re logged into Google, this creates a secure search from which Google don’t provide results in Analytics. This appears in the dashboard in the keyword list as (not provided), unsurprisingly.

This has made the job of keyword research that little bit harder, as how a keyword performs is listed here. That means that you can’t see all of the keywords people have typed into search in order to visit your website.

Since keyword research makes up a fair chunk of every SEO professional’s job, this has led many to criticize Google, especially since the same privacy rules don’t apply to paying advertising customers.

How much of difference does (not provided) make?

Of course Google isn’t the only search engine, but when it comes to SEO it certainly feels like it at times. In the beginning, Google said that it would only affect less than 1% of all web queries, but this depends on a number of factors.

These include:

  • Being signed in to Google itself
  • Browser used
  • Where they are based

If your target audience tends to be made up of people who are constantly logged into Google products, then it’s easy to see why this might worry some people. However, whilst it does make it that little more difficult to gauge how keywords are performing, for a good SEO professional, it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

This is especially true for websites that have been around for a while, as they will be able to access historic data to compare keyword performance, although much of this may not be relevant.

Google’s assertion that the impact would be felt on less than 1% has proved to be hugely on the optimistic side of things, with some SEO bloggers putting the figure at up to 50%. However, most put it as a double-digit number, including a study carried out by Conductor in March last year coming out with an average figure of 16-17% for the majority of industries.

Google not provided

Is SEO dying?

A lot of people around the time of Google’s announcement seemed to think that it tolled the death knoll for SEO professionals, but SEO is not all about keywords. Add to this the fact that every industry evolves depending on their environment, and you’ll see that SEO has merged somewhat with other marketing discipline, most markedly social.

Just the fact that changing how Google presents search data hasn’t effectively killed off the entire web is evidence of this. Google’s changes since that have, if anything, ensured that the web is a more relevant and useful resource by booting poor quality sites down the rankings. Add to this the number of black hat SEO practitioners that it’s ensured can’t survive, and this is only going to be a good thing for the web.

Whilst some people may bemoan the fact that (not provided) affects small businesses and personal sites, this isn’t the case unless the site is of a very low quality, has duplicate content, or has participated in link schemes and paid links.

In general terms, all that (not provided) means to most SEO professionals is a reduced ability to study keyword performance. However, some data is still appearing and I don’t think that it will be a problem forever, online marketing is changing too much.

After all, years ago, SEO didn’t include any social media marketing and whilst the term itself doesn’t encompass this, it’s certainly part of the modern SEO professional’s arsenal.

Should I no longer bother with keywords?

Keywords remain an important part of SEO and can be used in several ways, not just for site and content. For example, the recent introduction of hashtags on Facebook opens up hashtag strategies further. This is because savvy internet marketers have been using keywords to make hashtags perform better for some time, and as Facebook has such a huge following, they will become even more useful now.

Keyword research still has a huge part to play in SEO, it’s just that it’s an ever changing discipline which has seen some major changes over the past couple of years. It’s still necessary to use keywords in content, on-page and off-site SEO.

Anchor text is a good example of this too; this should be highly relevant in terms of the words it uses and your industry. This is true of anchor text on guest posts too, as a lot of the time, the same text is used over and over again, which Google looks at as spammy.

Bearing this in mind, keeping up-to-date on the most competitive search terms for your locality and industry is vital.

At the end of the day, Google’s intention is to protect the privacy of its users, on the surface of things anyway. However, advertisers will still be able to see this data, so if you’re really worried, then you can go down the PPC route.

However, a good SEO professional will know how to correct any problems which come up due to the (not provided) issue, it’s just a case of using the imagination, more than anything. Some experts have found that it’s possibly to get better use from the data they do have by using custom filters, for example.

So yes, keywords are still important as they are not just used in the Analytics dashboard and there remains enough data to ensure that the SEO job can still be carried out. These days, it’s more about getting a SEO professional who knows his job across all digital disciplines.

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