Google’s New Approach To Not Provided Keywords

If you are using Google AdWords, your data may include a keyword category called ‘Not Provided’, which consolidates all search queries not otherwise listed in the report.

It is possible that the ‘Not Provided’ section contains a large share of your overall data, making it impossible for your company and/or agency to trace and identify those keywords that are triggering the majority of site traffic, clicks and conversions. ‘Not Provided’ data stems from ‘secure searches’, which are SSL-encrypted queries from signed-in users, a feature Google introduced in September 2011 and slowly implemented into all of its services over the following two years.

Changing skies

Why is this important for website owners?

If you want to analyse how visitors have found your website, or identify what search queries have led them to individual pages, keyword and search-related meta data is essential. You cannot optimise your site if you don’t know what your visitors are looking for, it’s as simple as that. AdWords does provide you with keyword data, but it excludes data from ‘secure searches’. That being the case, the end user data may be distorted and not all that useful, especially since more and more users remain signed into their Google account across devices, meaning fewer search data is recorded unencrypted.

What is now changing?

Amit Singhal, Google’s Senior Vice-President, announced at an SMX West event in March that Google is working on a solution for the ‘Not Provided’ situation.

This does not mean Google is backpedaling to the days when all keywords and user data were freely available, incl. time users spent on each page, the content they browsed, and actions they performed. Google has been facing criticism due to conflicting interests with regards to their security concerns and their advertisement goals, and it would make Google look truly hypocritical with regards to their privacy policy if they did.

However, AdWords campaigns are based almost entirely around knowledge gained from search query meta data, therefore Google will have to balance security against the expectations their AdWords advertisers have, who contributed $40 billion to Google’s annual revenue last year.

On 9 April, it has been rumoured on web forums that, additionally, Google is planning to limit access to paid search data for all third-party providers. This is only partially true, as it suggests that paid search query data will no longer be available. It will be available via the AdWords API, the Search Query Report in Google Webmaster Tools, and other legitimate third-party management platforms, but no longer through log files.

If this is how your company has been accessing data, you will have to change over to supported formats. If you use AdWords or affiliated platforms, nothing changes for you. For more details and a few helpful tips, Paul Feng, AdWords Product Management Director, suggested a few alternatives for reporting in his post on the Google Developer’s blog.

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