Alan Perkins

Alan Perkins

27th September 2013

With 100% Not Provided, Google Kills Organic Search Traffic Report

Google turns 15 today and they’re making a small fuss about it, with things like a birthday piñata game on their home page, the ability to see Google as it looked in 1998 and the launch of a new Google company timeline. As a contributor to the original Google guidelines back in 2001, it’s usually a pleasure for me to see Google growing and pushing the web in new ways. I particularly love the new Galápagos pages on Google Treks, for example.

However, something less frivolous that Google is quietly in the process of doing will have a big negative impact on the publishers and webmasters who freely provide Google with the content upon which its search business is based. This move will prevent those publishers building better websites and making the web a better place for Google’s searchers.

In a nutshell, Google has chosen to stop providing search term referrer data. This means that, in the near future, you will not know what keywords your site visitors have used to find and visit your website. You will instead see “(not provided)” in your analytics reports, which every month will start to look something like this – with only one keyword:

As Google themselves say:

“Understanding which keywords drive visitors to your site and which of those keywords generate the most revenue is one of the most valuable insights you can gain from Google Analytics.”

Now they’re taking away that valuable insight. Note that this applies not only to Google Analytics but to whatever analytics package you use.

This will stop you doing all sorts of useful things, from the very simple – “this month we had 25,000 visitors on our brand term, up 2,000 from last month and 5,000 from last year”  – to the more advanced – “this page converts 28% better if visitors come in on keyword A rather than keyword B – why?”  to the very advanced – “visitors who visit on keyword A then keyword B then the brand term are 36% more likely to sign up and have 23% higher lifetime value – let’s write more content around keyword A”. There are lots of other examples of great things you can do with keyword data, and Google’s move is quashing all of them.

Google began blocking some referrer data back in 2011, and my blog post from the time goes into quite some detail on how it’s done and why it doesn’t need to be done by Google. I predicted in 2011 that Google would eventually roll out blocking to all referrer data and now, two years later, they are doing so. In the intervening two years the number of “(not provided)” keywords has risen from typically less than 10% of visits to more like 50% of visits. Now it’s going to be 100%.

I’m very disappointed in the birthday boy for doing this. It’s a selfish move, completely un-necessary and if this is a sign of Google “growing up” then I’m concerned about what it’s growing into. The relationship between searcher, search engine and publisher always has to be mutually beneficial. Publishers provide their websites to Google for free and Google has built its business on that. In return, the very least that publishers can expect is to be told why a particular visitor is being sent to their site by Google. Google themselves admit that it’s “valuable data” that responsible publishers can use to improve their websites for Google’s searchers.

At SilverDisc we have over the last two years developed strategies for dealing with the lack of referrer data, especially for websites that use a combination of SEO and PPC; or which have a high volume of traffic from other search engines; or which have a high volume of internal site search traffic. Talk to us if you need help coping with this change.

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