Why are Keywords in Google Analytics (Not Provided)?

BY: JUSTIN DAMBACH Jan 2nd, 2014

Over the past 2 years, Google has slowly been chipping away at the organic search results you see in Google Analytics. With privacy concerns on the rise, especially due to the recent exploits of the NSA, Google has flipped the switch to secure all Google.com searches via any device.

Keywords (not provided) in organic search analytics

What does this mean for your analytics?

If you are familiar with Google Analytics or get monthly reports detailing the keywords users searched to find your site, you may have noticed that 60%-80% of traffic that arrives to your site via organic search is (not provided).

Prior to 2011, the number of “not provided” keywords made up only a fraction of your analytics. But two years ago Google began encrypting Google.com searches if a user was logged into a Google account – if you were logged into Gmail or any other Google service and used Google search to find a ‘social media marketing agency,’ the keywords you used would appear as (not provided) for any site you visited.

With this newest update, ALL search results (including Google searches while users are NOT logged into a Google account) are secured. Moving forward, any visitors that find your site via Google search will appear as (not provided) when viewing keyword data.

Interestingly enough, keywords from paid search ads are still passed on to advertisers. This is largely due to the fact that a removal of such a valuable feature like this would turn advertisers away from Google AdWords – determining the success or failure of a search campaign would become much more difficult.

Why do I still see a small amount of organic search keywords?

Google may have secured all organic search results via google.com, but other search engines (Bing, Yahoo, etc.) have not yet implemented secure searches. The keywords displayed in your analytics reports now only represent searches from search engines that are not Google.

Be careful when utilizing these keywords to make decisions as they only reflect a small sub-set of your traffic who are not yet using secure search. Additionally, any SEO tools that measure keyword performance may have distorted data as they will not represent searches from Google.

Is there any way to see organic search keywords from Google?

In short, the answer is YES. There are two options you can consider:

First, Google has not taken away your ability to see past keywords visitors used to find your site. Simply change your date range to before September 2013 and you should see many more keyword search results. Changing your date range back before 2011 would give you the most complete range of keywords, but those are most likely not relevant to your site now. This option would be good for a well-established brand whose website has been live for a long period time and hasn’t done any major reworking of their site.

The second option is Google Webmaster Tools. Webmaster Tools is the only place you will find the organic search results from Google since secure search was implemented.

With Webmaster tools you can view the search queries visitors used to find your site, the clickthrough rate of those keywords, and the average position of your website for that keyword in Google search. The Webmaster Tools feature does have limitations:

• You can edit your date range for keywords; however, the results in Webmaster Tools are limited to only the past 90 days.

• You cannot filter results by goals or other dimensions like you were able to do in Google Analytics.

Webmaster Tools is ideal for a new website or one that has recently updated their site structure, as it will represent the newest search results. It will also be the only way to see keyword search results from Google from now on.

Please note that there are a number of “hacks” out there promising to unlock your keywords with close enough keyword data or combining (not provided) with some of the remaining data. These are well meaning but frequently provide no value or further distort your view, leading you in the wrong direction. Please be careful if you choose to use these methods.


Justin Dambach

Justin Dambach

As the Data Marketing Manager at Vert, Justin works to expose insights across campaigns and drive the strategy behind email marketing, automated workflows, and data visualization. Justin believes that figuring out the "why" behind our metrics is just as important as the "what".