Last September, when Google made it clear they'd be encrypting an extended number of search queries, the SEO community has been keen on cracking the Not Provided code and finding ways to analyze performance of their keywords.
There were experts who came up with detailed guides on adjusting Google Analytics reporting, those who suggested fetching keywords data from alternative tools, those who argued there were metrics more important for decision-making than keyword data, etc.
In this article, you'll find top 13 expert methods to still get the Not Provided data, from very simple to quite difficult. Which one suits you best?
Google Analytics tweaks
1. Focus on landing pages
One of the most popular approaches to combating Not Provided is looking at the amount of organic traffic coming on a page level. One of the first experts to cover this method was Dan Barker, an independent e-business consultant.
"I'd said the hack puts 'some useful data back' into your keyword reports. What it actually does is this:
1. Looks for '(not provided)' search terms.
2. Where it finds them, it looks to see which page the visitor landed on.
It then changes your keywords report in Google Analytics to show those two pieces of information (the fact that Google suppressed the keyword, and the landing page), rather than just the utterly anonymous '(not provided)'," says Dan.
Rachael Gerson, Analytics & SEO at SEER Interactive, goes into detail about how exactly you can dig for this data in your Google Analytics account. According to Rachael, there are three options to get this data:
1.Create filter to view Keyword + Landing page (the easiest).
2. Create advanced segments to include only Not Provided.
3. Create a brand-new profile to include Not Provided (requires administrator access to your Google Analytics account).
Read more: How to steal some 'not provided' data back from Google (by Dan Barker)
Is (Not Provided) Driving You Crazy? Get Some of your Data Back (by Rachael Gerson)
2. Set up internal search
Along with a number of other experts, Megan Marrs of Wordstream, suggest you should enable site search to see what users search for on your site:
"Setting up site search lets you see the queries visitors have used in the search box on your site.
Imagine you run a mattress company or bedding supply store, and you write a blog post called "Top 5 iPhone Sleep Alarm Apps." You may peek into your site search report and find that users have searched “android alarm apps.” Maybe they saw your post about iPhone apps and are looking for the same info for Android apps. Suddenly you have a great new topic to write about that you know will resonate with audiences."
3. Dissect Google Analytics strings
According to Sean Ellis, CEO Qualaroo and GrowthHacker.com, one of the most challenging (but exciting!) ways to gain insight into Not Provided keyword traffic is to analyze the search strings of traffic coming from Google:
"If you look at the URL from a Google search in your address bar, you’ll see that it is not the actual URL of the page. Rather it is a redirect URL with a string of parameters and codes attached to the end. This string provides a wealth of information about the keyword and relative link position of the result that was clicked."
Alternative metrics from third-party tools
4. Rely on Approximated Traffic
Viktar Khamianok, CEO at WebMeUp, says his team was on a look-up for Not Provided solution for a while.
"What we came up with is the Approximated Traffic feature in WebMeUp. It’s a custom metric that depends on multiple statistical data from sources like comScore, Quantcast, EMarketer and Alexa and give users an idea on how many organic visitors came through each keyword.
Simply put, we take a lot of SEO data, apply complex calculation - based on research and statistics - and here it is - the figures you weren't supposed to see are to be found under Approximated traffic in WebMeUp.
We're proud of this development because it is the quickest Not Provided solution for a user. You don’t have to calculate and think and analyze. You just see keyword and traffic like earlier in Google," explains Viktar.
5. Make use of SEMRush / Keyword Spy data
Annie Cushing, SEO and analytics consultant, says SEMRush or Keyword Spy reports can provide insights on keywords that work.
"I love these reports. But you have to throw it into a pivot table to get any kind of insight from it. If you don’t know how to use a pivot table, I can take you by the hand and teach you the dark art in this video tutorial," suggests Annie.
Read more: Breaking Up With Your Keyword Data
6. Look at Bing and Yahoo! stats
Last but not least, you can rely on keyword data from Yahoo! and Bing as an alternative to Google Not Provided.
However, according to Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at Econsultancy, this workaround is definitely not on top one’s list:
"This is a possible solution, and will provide some insight, but Google's sheer dominance of the search market means that there just isn't much of it."
Data from Google Webmaster Tools and Google AdWords
7. Use Google Webmaster Tools
Avinash Kaushik, Digital Marketing Evangelist for Google, published two extensive guides on overcoming Not Provided. A renowned Google Analytics wizard, Avinash covers advanced Google Analytics hacks first and foremost, yet enough attention is given to Google Webmaster Tools as well.
"Here are the challenges Google's Webmaster Tools solves: Which search queries does my website show up for, and what does my click-through rate look like?
I know this might sound depressing, but this is the only place you'll see any SEO performance data at a keyword level. Look at the CTR column. If you do lots of good SEO - you work on the page title, url, page excerpt, author image and all that wonderful stuff - this is where you can see whether that work is getting you more clicks. You work harder on SEO, you raise your rankings (remember don't focus on overall page rank, it is quite value-deficient), you'll see higher CTRs," writes Avinash Kaushik at his blog.
8. Open a Google AdWords account
Mike Murray, Founder of Online Marketing Coach, suggests all content marketers should open a Google AdWords account to measure content effectiveness.
"Google isn’t so concerned with privacy that it won’t continue to provide keyword data for paid search customers who want to know what keywords people used before clicking on their ads. Now, it’s hardly organic data, but an AdWords account will provide some insights and an indication about whether a keyword phrase has any value," says Mike.
9. Identify decision you base on keyword data
Reid Bandremer of Lunametrics suggests SEOs should employ a rational problem-solving framework to overcome the Not Provided issue:
"First, SEOs need to pin down the gaps in actionable insight they need to fill. Ask some deep questions.
What are the decisions you and your clients make that rely on keyword data? What specific metrics and reports do you use to come up the insights required to make said decisions?
Break this down into a set of problems, then prioritize the problems. Then you’ll be on the path to develop the right package of solutions."
Read more: Ideas for Keyword (Not Provided)
10. Realize Not Provided approaching 100% is not fatal
John Doherty, professional SEO and former head of Distilled NYC, takes issue with the view that Not Provided is an existential crisis for SEO/Marketing.
"I was an SEO consultant for almost three years. From my experience, the simplified version of how execs/CMOs/lead marketers think about SEO is flawed.
Most execs don’t care which keywords are driving traffic and converting best. They’re too busy to care about that. I know exactly one CEO of a company with > $10m in annual revenue who looks at individual keywords.
Most execs care about overall revenue coming from the organic, or any other, channel. They also care about their pet keywords, for better or for worse. Many of you reading this are probably very familiar with the frequent “Why are we not #1 for [keyword] yet?” question, even though that keyword may not drive great traffic or conversions," says John.
11. Base your keyword research on personas
Michael King, seasoned digital marketing agent and former Dir. Marketing & Strategy at iAcquire, advocates focus on search intent and user’s awareness level.
"Keywords were always just a proxy. Granted they were an awesome proxy, but you could still be the wrong piece of content for that user… Just knowing the keyword you searched for does not necessarily tell me what you want. Knowing who you are helps a lot more.
Rather than just putting together a list of keywords and search volumes, we run survey to understand where users are in their Consumer Decision Journey with their search," says Michael.
Read more: How I solved Not Provided
12. Rely on search rankings
Ray "Catfish" Comstock, Director of SEO at BusinessOnline, search rankings have gained in importance after the update:
"Analyzing ranking changes across keywords that have historically driven traffic will now be a critical tool in identifying and reacting to negative traffic changes.
It will also be important to carefully track which URLs are ranking for which keywords in order to correlate ranking changes to traffic changes. This insight will allow us to better understand what is happening to traffic at the URL level."
13. Consider Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) for pages, not keywords
Rob Ousbey, COO at Distilled London, says many sites would previously run CRO tests for particular entry keywords or group of keywords. Now they can only consider conversion rate of individual pages – and for good.
"There’s potentially a little loss in data fidelity here; a page could theoretically receive traffic for one high-converting and one low-converting term. However, as long as you begin by measuring the CR for people landing on that particular page and work to improve that, you’ll be working on the right thing," explains Rob.
As you can see, there are multiple ways to replace the missing keyword data. If you still haven’t found your solution to the Not Provided problem, it’s worth going through all the articles I refer to in this post.
To sum it up, the expert solutions suggest you can:
- make better use of your Google Analytics stats
- rely on 3rd party metrics
- fetch data from Google Webmaster tools or Google AdWords
- set your own KPIs based on your goals
Have you adapted your SEO strategy since it became clear Not Provided is to hit 100%? What data do you rely on? Share your ideas in the comments below!