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Google No Longer Providing OR Shotgun SEO

The Problem

You will start to notice a growing trend known as (Not Provided) in your Google Analytics; this is a very big change indeed. For the past few months Google has, by default, been encrypting searches undertaken by users (this was optional before) who are logged into their Google account.

How Does This Affect Me?

Well, in simple terms, keywords which bring traffic to your website are now being "hidden" and not being passed in the referring URL. Therefore, webmasters/owners who used to find out which key phrases worked for them will find such user data no longer being made available to them. This is indeed quite upsetting to many who rely on such information to tweak/customise their digital marketing campaigns.

I Run AdWords Campaigns. Will I Lose That Data Also?

No, this only affects organic traffic not Google AdWords; these key phrases will still be present in your report. According to a Google blog:

"If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you."

The phrase "Double Standards" comes to mind.

How Big Of A Problem Is This, Really?

Well it is one that we predict will become quite big indeed. Google previously announced that it should only affect 10% of keyword data. However, we have witnessed some client reports with as much as 40% being affected, which is absolutely ridiculous! A website is built on a certain set of measurements with two of the most common ones being:

Leads/Enquiries Generated

This is measured mainly via the Goal feature. Now, we are unable to cross reference which organic keywords (that fall within the Not Provided criteria) led to a successful lead.

Ecommerce Sales Generated

This is measured mainly via the Ecommerce feature. Again, we are unable to cross reference which organic keywords (that fall within the Not Provided criteria) led to a successful sale.

Look at the example presented below:

The screenshot below shows key phrases that bring in traffic, cross referenced with the ability to assess which key phrases lead to successful lead generations.


Google Analytics Before


Fast forward to the current month and you can immediately see a (Not Provided) in position 5 with a 4% lead generation rate. However, I am unable to work out which key phrases actually contributed towards this.


Google Analytics After


* Some keyword data hidden for confidentiality purposes.

Other statistics such as key phrases that lead to bounce rates, average time on page etc. are hidden for a portion of your traffic. With this particular statistic rising, you can imagine how much data you may have to start living without.

Why Has Google Done this?

In all honesty, the official version is based on security reasons, although this does not seem to be applicable for PPC. Many people are starting to come up with their own reasons with two of the more popular ones being:

  • The possible introduction of a fee based Analytics in future (a premium version launched last year for $150,000 per annum).
  • To increase demand for Google PPC AdWords

Surely, There's a Way Around This?

Well, many people around the globe are now launching "Google Hacks" of their own, which are essentially bits of code to extend the Google Analytics function beyond the default thus allowing people to look at data in more meaningful ways. However, as this is so recent, no hack (to my knowledge) provides the data as it used to. They are mostly hacks which provide more meaningful data than just (Not Provided) statements. We are also developing our own solution based on what is already out there. Watch this space!

Sniper SEO vs. Shotgun SEO

I guess with all of the tools SEO's had in their arsenal over the past few years, the ability to move from the old days, or trying to see what works and honing it into a sniper approach of knowing exactly which key phrases were worth pursuing, has changed. If this scenario continues to grow, SEO strategy has to change with it. However, the problem of spreading the key phrase net wider and not knowing fully which one is working is a reality (at least for now) that everyone should look at in greater detail.

Qasim Majid About the author
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