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Google Analytics keyword not provided – what does it mean?

Categories: SEO

The keyword ‘not provided’ issue in Google Analytics (GA) has been a fairly contentious issue for marketers since 2011. Many are now finding that 90% or more of their traffic is coming from searches that provide no keyword data in GA, which is a problem when it comes to optimising your pages and organic search campaigns.

In this article, we’re going to explain what keyword ‘not provided’ means in Google Analytics and how you can work around it.

What is keyword ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics, you can see which search terms are bringing people to your website by clicking Acquisition > Campaigns > Organic Keywords – or at least you used to be able to. In 2011, Google started encrypting search data from users logged into their Google account and this is when marketers started seeing ‘not provided’ in their Google Analytics keyword reports.

Keyword not provided in Google Analytics screenshot

While Google’s decision to encrypt this data is designed to improve user security, and coincides with their introduction of https, it also means SEOs are missing out on what used to be one of the most valuable data reports in Google Analytics. This hasn’t stopped a lot of SEOs accusing Google of holding data to ransom though – an argument that’s only strengthened by the fact keyword data in Google Ads remains unencrypted.

Many SEOs are angry that you essentially need to pay to get access to this keyword data, but this isn’t a debate we’re going to get into today.

Example of the % of keywords not provided screenshot
Example of the % of keywords not provided

When the change first came in, the majority of keyword data was left intact and you may have experienced something like 5-7% of your keywords not being provided. However, this figure has increased dramatically over the past five years and we’re often seeing 90% or more of keywords being not provided across many accounts.

This means we’re no longer able to go into Google Analytics, click through to a keyword report and see which keywords are generating the most traffic, converting the most users, struggling with bounce rates or other important performance indicators.

The good old strategy of optimising for individual keywords is much more challenging now.

How to get around keyword ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics

Sadly, there’s no cheat or hack that can unlock not-provided keyword data in Google Analytics, but there are a number of workarounds that will allow you to get the data you need for optimising your search campaigns.

Step #1: Use Google Search Console (GSC) for a website overview

The first one involves using Google Search Console (previously Webmaster Tools), which can give you a certain amount of insight into how your website is performing in search. This won’t give you any of the on-site behavioural data Google Analytics used to provide but it will give you the starting point you need to see what’s happening on the results page.

Click Search Traffic > Search Analytics to see a report of the keywords your site has appeared on results pages for over the past month (or three, six, 12 or 16 months).

Link Google Search Console and Google Analytics

For each keyword in this report, you can access data for clicks, impressions, click through rates (CTRs) and position. This gives you a good idea of what the most important organic keywords are for your website. The problem with this report is you can only get data for your entire website, not individual pages – so keep this limitation in mind.

What the data in Google Search Console looks like

Split available by device in Google Search Console data

You’ll also need to remember that impressions in this report also count when your site shows on page one, five or 100. So impressions in this report don’t necessarily mean people are actually clicking through to the page where you’re appearing in the results.

Either way, for a general overview of how your website is performing for specific keywords, Search Console is going to give you the basic data you need.

Step #2: Use Google Analytics filters to see which pages searchers land on

With a better understanding of how your website is performing for specific keywords, you now want to get some insight into how individual pages are performing. To do this, you can use advanced filters in Google Analytics to see which pages searchers are landing on after they click through to your site.

Add a Google Analytics filter for Not Provided

The key here is to segment your data so you’re only getting the URL for not provided keywords. While this doesn’t reveal the keyword these users actually typed in, you can get a good idea of what your pages are ranking for and cross-reference this data with your Search Console keyword reports.

Step #3: Use your Google Ads keyword data as a reference

When Google started encrypting keyword data, a lot of SEOs were frustrated because most of this data is still available in Google Ads. Essentially, you have to pay to get your hands on this data – a particularly sore point in the SEO community – but the fact remains you can get keyword insights from Google Ads, which any serious search marketing campaign is going to be using.

Of course, this data is limited to the keywords triggering your ads but it still reveals valuable details about the intent of your target audiences.

To get the most data available, you’ll want to link your Google Ads and Google Analytics accounts. Then, in Google Analytics, you can go to Acquisition > Google Ads and open up the keywords report. This will show you all of your top keywords with data for clicks, cost and CPC for each search term.

Link Google Ads and Google Analytics

Google Ads data displayed in Google Analytics

Step #4: Google Ads Search Terms report

Next, you can go back to Google Ads and click All Campaigns > Keywords > Search terms to bring up your search terms report. Instead of showing you the keywords you’re bidding on (as the keyword report does), the search terms report shows you the queries people are actually typing when your ads are triggered.

This is important because keyword match types mean there can be quite a lot of difference between the keywords you’re bidding on and the search terms that actually activate them in the Google Ads auction – and it’s important to understand the difference.

Again, this data only comes with your Google Ads campaigns, but it can reveal some really important insights into what your target audience is really looking for versus what you’re actually targeting and optimising for.

Bonus step: Use a platform like Apollo Insights

Another option is working with a platform like Apollo Insights. Apollo gathers, processes and recombines dispersed data sets from analytics packages including GA, GSC, SEMRush and others, into a single deep data resource. It uses machine learning and algorithms to continually monitor and tell you about the ever-changing keyword opportunities and threats that appear with every new data set.

If you’d like to talk to us about Apollo, submit your details here and we’ll give you a call.

Lee is Head of Services for Vertical Leap, after previously heading up the SEO department. Lee joined Vertical Leap in 2010 after running digital departments since the early 2000’s. Prior to joining Vertical Leap, Lee had experience setting up and running his own company focused on search marketing, as well as working in-house, growing a national company into international audiences through online development. Lee can be found regularly writing about the SEO industry and has authored two SEO industry books, with another due to be published in Q4 2019.

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