Google (not provided): 6 months on

Posted on 28. May, 2012 by in Digital Marketing, Stats & Trends



Last year’s introduction of SSL encryption led to the creation of a mine field of keyword consuming data “black holes”, much to the dismay of SEO professionals everywhere. Six months on, Google’s (not provided) is still creating a commotion throughout the digital world.

Right from its initial announcement, the introduction of SSL encryption has generated a significant level of controversy. Many have questioned the real intentions behind the security update, all the while the search giant’s justification for the move has centred on arguments in favour of the protection of personalised information and, in turn search terms.

With personalised search playing an increasingly important role in Google’s plans, it is perhaps not surprising that the issue of data privacy has been pushed to the forefront of online discourse. The bottom line is that developments in this area are of the upmost importance to the digital industry as a whole.

Essentially, SSL encryption prevents organic keyword level data being recorded by web analytics packages if users are signed into Google. The Initial hope was that the proportion of (not provided) search terms would be so miniscule that this would prove almost negligible in terms of strategic SEO.

Six months on…

Unfortunately for those on the front line of the web analysis business, there has not been a happily ever after scenario. Carrying on from the previous post we have further drawn upon live client data to assess the true impact of last year’s changes. Seven accounts with daily traffic figures ranging from 500 to 100,000 US and UK visits were chosen at random for the purpose of examining changes in the % of unavailable keywords reported over the last 7 months. Bearing the end of October in mind as it marked the launch of encrypted search in US, let’s take a look at how things have progressed.

US based searches were hard hit from November, with (not provided) reaching above 15% of total search terms. UK however, has been slower to start.

March seems to be the month the encrypted search monster hit the other side of the pond, with the proportion of unavailable keywords steadily increasing, reducing the US-UK gap.

Early speculation predicting the minimal impact of SSL encryption appears to have been significantly over optimistic in light of the above figures. Most alarming is the suggestion that the upward trend in the proportion of (not provided) currently shows no signs of levelling off. As the number of users of Google services including Google+ increases, so too will the proportion of unavailable keywords. Only time will tell whether Google plans to address this obscuring of organic keyword search data in anyway, or release any further updates of reassurance to online professionals. What is clear is Digital search’s reaction, as stakeholders everywhere are becoming ever more concerned by the implications of developing SEO strategies in response to an ever shrinking proportion of usable data.

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  • http://twitter.com/s_rvll Sean

    “Only time will tell whether Google plans to address this obscuring of organic keyword search data in anyway” – I wouldn’t hold your breath… :)

    I have also seen a similar increase in not provided keyword data the UK. The drop for ‘A’ in the US chart is interesting, what sector do they work in? I have recently seen a case study showing that the more technical the website’s topic the more likely they are to have a high percentage of not provided data, is this similar to what you have seen?

    • Cristina Dunare

      Hi Sean,
      The drop in the US chart is e (the blues are fairly similar in shade), and they are from the health & fitness sector.
      With regards to the data analysed here, there was 1 technical background site looked at – a – which does in fact have the highest (not provided) in UK, and 2nd highest (after e) in US.
      We have encountered other instances, not looked at here, where technical sites have had a more drastic increase, most likely due to the fact that the more technical the site, the more likely the individual searching would be logged in to Google.
      Cristina

    • cristina.dunare

      Hi Sean,

      The drop in the US chart is e (the blues are fairly similar
      in shade), and they are from the health & fitness sector.

      With regards to the data analysed here, there was 1
      technical background site looked at – a – which does in fact have the highest
      (not provided) in UK, and 2nd highest (after e) in US.

      We have encountered other instances, not looked at here, where
      technical sites have had a more drastic increase, most likely due to the fact
      that the more technical the site, the more likely the individual searching
      would be logged in to Google.
      Cristina