4 Tips to Help Marketers Make Up for Their Disappearing Data From Google's ‘Not Provided’December 17, 2012 By Doug Wheeler
On Oct. 21, 2011 Google announced it would begin "enhancing [the] default search experience for signed-in users" by making SSL search the default search for users signed into any Google account, including Gmail and Chrome. This change encrypts search queries on Google's results page, meaning that visits from organic search listings would no longer include the individual inquiry, but instead would use the term "(not provided)" as the referring keyword for those organic search visits.
Following the announcement Google Software Engineer Matt Cutts ensured marketers that withheld data would remain "in the single digits." However, a year later, this number has jumped 171 percent, accounting for nearly 40 percent of referring traffic data from organic search. In fact, 64 percent of B-to-B companies see 30 percent to 50 percent of their traffic from Google listed as "(not provided)."
Over the past year, companies have consistently noticed the increase in "(not provided)" terms in their organic referring keyword reports, and I believe this will only continue to increase due to the 250 million Gmail and 200 million Chrome users, many of whom remain signed into their accounts while conducting Google searches. There's a likelihood that eventually organic referrer data (i.e., search terms) will completely disappear altogether.
What does this mean for marketers?
As this number continues to creep up, marketers will no longer be able to accurately measure the performance of their search engine optimization efforts by connecting a search term with website metrics such as traffic, conversion rate, leads, engagement and revenue. However, they will be able to measure the overall return on investment of general organic search results, just not individual keywords. This will make it impossible to use referrer data to customize and personalize a user's experience. For example, if marketers previously offered related content based on referring keyword, they'll no longer be able to do so.
How can marketers mitigate Google's hammer?
Although marketers are slowly losing a lot of necessary data that was previously used to measure the ROI of their online marketing efforts, there are still ways to mitigate this loss. Here are four of them:
- Estimate terms based on landing page directed to. Marketers can use the landing page that was called up as the proxy for the searched term that referred there. If they know what keywords the pages rank for, they can estimate the performance of those keywords in driving traffic.
- Use ratios. Leveraging ratios from existing keyword data and applying them to the "(not provided)" data is effective at overcoming Google. With some keyword data still available, marketers can look at the ratio of their current data and apply it to the "(not provided)" data.
- Use rank keywords to estimate traffic to pages. Based on which words are ranked, marketers can estimate which keywords are driving traffic to specific pages. They can then use this data to work backwards in their efforts.
- Stop relying on third-party data and start collecting your own. With URL tagging and visitor tracking solutions available, you can start collecting your own data and stop relying on Google to supply you with the insight you need to be a successful marketer.
It's no surprise that Google is putting its hammer down on sharing organic search data, but still providing AdWord users with their referral data. As the percentage of "(not provided)" continues to increase, it won't be surprising if Google begins to offer users an option to pay to get this data back.
Doug Wheeler is the chief marketing officer at Optify, a digital marketing software provider.