[Not Provided] – The Ghost Requests

> Google turns against SEOs by keeping some data away

When observing my Google Analytics stats for my different projects and works, I’ve always been annoyed by the top request for traffic audience being “[not provided]“…

Image courtesy of Grez Productions

Indeed I used to believe that Google was randomly concealing a share of these keywords requests in order to, I don’t know, protect its “secret recipe”… (Cute, isn’t it??) But that’s not the case, as I just learnt that [not provided] terms actually come from users browsing the web with search encryption, i.e. on Google SSL Search, with HTTPS prefix in URL. This simply means that, when your visitors are surfing under encrypted/secured search, the request they searched for in Search Engine will not appear in the referrer info of GA reports – thus preventing webmasters and SEOs from getting precise data about what visitors typed in to reach their website!!

If the issue is arousing webmarketers’ attention these days, that’s because the latest version of Google’s own browser – Chrome 25 beta – uses nothing but search encryption. This follows on from the wave of other browsers using Google SSL Search that started in 2012: Firefox 14 in July, then Safari on iOS6 in September. Also let’s say that since October 2011 users connected to their Google accounts are under secured search too – this is supposed to help improving results personalization according to user’s profile…

As you can see the percentage of [not provided] requests cannot but keep on increasing in our web-analytics dashboards… And the thing is that blocked searched terms are particularly problematic for web publishers, as it reduces importantly the possibility of understanding organic traffic… When considering keywording analyse and strategy as an essential point for SEO, well there’s no need to say that encrypted search is quite an obstacle for us.

Last but not least, the official note from Google Chromium blog (Jan 18th, 2013) announcing the change evokes the will of protecting users’ private life. Isn’t it ironic when knowing that Google still provides requests terms to AdWords announcers…? Yes, when users click on sponsored ads the searched request will be given to advertisers: [not provided] blocking concerns only organic results, not paid ones… Turns out traffic data really does have a price – what a shame!

As a conclusion I’d say the number of [not provided] items definitely depends on how your visitors are surfing online: on a secure search browser, Firefox or Chrome? on iOS mobile browsers? being connected to their Google account? In any case, we might start thinking about other potential ways for getting the search requests data back to our reports – for ex. using paid search data, or why not data from other search engines…? Yep, for the first time I might want to step away from the Big G – I usually stick to its directives and advice but here I think it really is fooling us by hiding key data to SEOs for so-called users confidentiality and SERPs accuracy, yet available when you’re keen on investing in its own ads platform!

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One thought on “[Not Provided] – The Ghost Requests

  1. Le constat évoqué est intéressant. Dans un autre domaine on peut légitimement se poser la question de savoir ce que donnera à terme le développement de certaines applications (Adlock pour ne pas la citer) permettant aux internautes de surfer sans être assaillis par la pub. Peut être la fin des sites gratuits… A méditer

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