Ah, (not provided). My favorite keyword ever. Google says that 35% of our traffic, and a healthy chunk of our online signups, come from this one keyword! How did we end up ranking so well for it? The world has mysteries.
Well, not really, in this case. Many of you have probably seen (not provided) on your own hotel website keyword reports as well, but of course (not provided) is not an actual keyword—this is simply Google’s way of telling us that they have blocked the browsing activity of these visitors. Bummer.
It didn’t used to be this way. No, back when I started working on SEO for buuteeq, only a small percentage of incoming keywords were blocked by Google. This number has grown significantly since then, to the point where nearly everyone on the web is seeing around 35% of their keywords as “(not provided)”. Here’s how it happened.
On May 23, 2010, Google released the ability to search the web over a secure connection, which is called SSL (or Secure Sockets Layer). SSL browsing encrypts the data you input into Google, making it much more difficult, if not impossible, for malicious people to snoop around and see what you’re Googling, or to steal credit card data. This isn’t an issue for secure connections like home or work networks, but it is particularly handy when browsing the Internet from public connections, like coffee shop wifi, or hotel wifi.
Tasty Omelet, Broken Eggs
(Or, if you prefer, baby AND the bath water)
Sadly, this feature also blocks website owners and webmasters from seeing the keywords users used to find their websites—an indispensable data point that really helps marketers and small business owners market their properties. Since 2010, the percentage of people browsing over SSL has increased dramatically to 35% for a number of reasons. The first is that users who are logged into Google products, like Gmail, have SSL for search turned on by default. In order for webmasters to see the keywords these logged-in users type to find websites, the users will have to manually turn off SSL search within their account settings. I don’t even know if this is possible without logging out of a Google account, as I can’t figure out how to do it–typing in http://www.google.com automatically redirects to https:// (try it while logged into a Google account).
The second is that many web browsers that have built-in search boxes (called omniboxes) now default to SSL search. Firefox made SSL the default omnibox option in July of 2012, Safari in September of 2012, and Chrome will when it releases Chrome 25 later this year. Because Google Chrome now occupies 37% market share for web browsers, this will significantly increase the number of (not provided) we find later this year.
Google is Just Concerned with Privacy, Right?
One interesting caveat to this is that advertisers who pay for Google AdWords ads, and have their AdWords account synchronized with their Google Analytics account, will continue to see all keywords that send paid traffic, regardless of whether or not the user was browsing under SSL. This brings up quite a few troubling issues, because Google is basically saying, “Look, if you want to see all the keywords that are driving traffic to your website, pay us more money”.
It can’t be helped. If you want to see all the paid keywords that send traffic to your website, make sure to open Google AdWords, Analytics, and Webmaster Tools accounts, and then link them together so they can share data.
Barry Schwartz covered this topic in an informational webinar hosted by our friends at Optify yesterday morning. View his slides
on their blog. (Update: Their blog has since been deleted).
Pro-tip: Google Webmaster Tools
For the moment, we can still see the last 1,000 or so keywords that sent traffic to your website through Google Webmaster Tools (WMT). When you log into WMT, click Traffic then Search Queries. There you will see around 1,000 unfiltered, unblocked keywords and keyphrases that landed on your website.
Google doesn’t save these words forever, however, so you need to save them while you can. It’s a bit more work, but you can create an excel spreadsheet and dump your keywords from WMT into it every week (WMT gives you an option to download your keywords, thankfully). Using this method, you can still, today, get ALL keywords that hit your website, without paying for them.