Why Google Cut Off SEO Keyword Data

In September 2013, at the tail end of this chart, there was a sudden spike of "(not provided)" traffic reported by Google. This is basically when Google started turning off the switch on organic keyword referrals.
And what marketers can do about it

Google confirmed a few weeks ago that moving forward, all keywords from organic search will be encrypted, or secured through the HTTPS protocol. From an SEO perspective, this means site owners and marketers will no longer benefit from organic referral keyword data.
“Not provided” is a term that SEOs have been familiar with for the past couple of years now. For those unfamiliar with “not provided,” this is how a referral keyword is listed in Google Analytics as a result of an encrypted search. “Not provided” started in October 2011, when Google decided to change its privacy policy to protect users who were logged into their Google accounts. These logged-in users performing a query through Google would then have their keywords suppressed from Web analytics tools. These keywords showed as “not provided” in Google Analytics, as “keyword unavailable” in Omniture and as “search phrase not provided” in WebTrends.

Over the years, the amount of traffic from “not provided” referrals grew. This was evident on many websites I worked on during this time. This was not only due to an increasing number of users logged into their Google accounts, but also, back in the middle of 2012, Firefox 14 included secure search in its search bar. This was shortly followed by Safari on iOS6. Then earlier this year, Chrome started encrypting search performed through its address bar. All of this contributed to progressively growing “not provided” referral traffic.

In September, something drastic occurred. Something that seemed to confirm “not provided” was going to be 100 percent across the board. The chart in the media player at right illustrates the trend of organic referral traffic to a website from “not provided” keywords dating back to August 2011. October 2011 was when “not provided” first appeared in Google Analytics, and since then there has been linear growth over time. Some of this was due to an increase in overall organic search traffic, but also the various browser updates mentioned above. In September 2013, at the tail end of the chart there is a sudden spike of “not provided” traffic. That is basically when Google started turning off the switch on organic keyword referrals.

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  • tony the pitiful copywriter

    Any student of history knows monopolies don’t last forever — and apparently google knows this too.

    I will dance the day google is no longer a part of my marketing conversation.

  • Pete Nicholls

    Google withholds organic keyword data on privacy grounds yet is happy to share search terms if the user chose to click a paid (Google AdWords) Ad which lines Google’s pockets. These commercially driven contradictions are bound to catch up with them, eventually.

  • AuthorDavidEH

    By making it more difficult for marketers to reach potential customers, this strategy also makes it more difficult for customers to locate potential suppliers. It seems this creates an opportunity for rival search firms to launch a commerce marketplace.

  • Guy Stanley

    Screw Google

  • Linda Strunk

    The basis of all of this again is that having good, quality content, is the best and most secure method of SEO. I do believe this will help pad Google’s pockets, because if you don’t know HOW you are being found, you are more likely to go the fear based route and spend on PPC to be SURE you know where you are found. I have clients who make this mistake all the time.

  • Leona Chavez

    The Google giveth and the Google taketh away.