Why Google (Not Provided Keyword) Hurts The Web, Not Just SEO

November 17, 2011

Google Not Provided Keyword

Playing the saddest song in the world...

Over the past few weeks since Google implemented SSL encrypted search results pages that block keyword data for users signed into their Google accounts, SEOs have been pulling their hair and gnashing their teeth. It’s true, and it’s warranted. One of the best SEO KPIs is reporting on the quantity of organic search traffic generated by highly qualified keywords. Now that between 9 and 20% of this data is generic, it’s harder for us to prove our worth and progress. So we’re justifiably upset.

However, as objectively as I can be, I would say that removing data for organic searches has far wider reaching consequences than depriving SEOs of one of their prime KPIs.

One of my friends who owns a great hip hop dance video eCommerce store and I got into a debate last weekend about how it’s not just SEOs who are affected by this change. My argument, which I could not deliver with any eloquence that night, (Friday at 10pm after happy hour and wine at dinner — you do the math.) I will now present here.

Why The (Not Provided) Keyword Hurts the Web

Let me begin by asking a question: Why do webmasters care about rankings? Because rankings=traffic and traffic=some benefit (either monetary or otherwise.) The only thing that webmasters want to do is get their site ranking for relevant terms that drive qualified traffic. To do so, they optimize their sites for those terms.

It is in the webmasters’ best interests to focus on keywords that drive qualified traffic, and to make their site as relevant as possible for this valuable traffic. But how, you may ask, do webmasters know whether they are optimizing for the right things?

What if someone searching for “vice grips” typically wants to buy and someone searching for “locking wrench” typically wants to find out more about the applications for that tool? Both of those words could apply to the same tool, so webmasters look at their conversion data and engagement metrics to find out how to make their site fit the wants and needs of the searcher.

By doing so, they inadvertently give the search engines exactly what they need and want: a page that matches user intent and is valuable to the searcher — who will then use that search engine again because the results were exactly what they were looking for.

The decision to try to rank a product page for vice grips vs. locking wrench has to be informed by keyword data since Google doesn’t provide exact clickthrough data — even through webmasters tools. This data should be statistically significant.

I would hazard a guess, however, that most sites out there don’t have statistically significant traffic over the short term. So even if the site really IS the best result for a specific search, they are already at a disadvantage. Now, however, about 10 – 20% of their already slim keyword data is generalized.

So, the webmaster makes a decision based on personal preference or the opinions of peers in his industry and optimizes his sales page for vice grips. He manages to rank pretty highly for that and can’t understand why people are bouncing so much.

Google, in turn is ranking him appropriately to his level of optimization, but for the wrong keyword and the result is not what the user was looking for so they loose too.


So, why is Google denying analytics users this important information? There is a lot of speculation that it is in an effort to push site owners to depend more on paid search data… up their paid search traffic since they can’t get accurate data through the organic channel anymore.

If this is the case, it seems really short sited to me. The only reason why most people search Google is to get the organic results. Clicking on a paid result is a bonus. If the organic results decline because webmasters don’t have the right information to make education decisions about their site, then Google looses money because people will start using other engines.

If they really are trying to stave off a privacy issue, either present or future, then why is the data still available for paid search? Have people that click on paid links entered into some type of implicit agreement that their search data is less private than those who click on organic results?

Regardless of their motives, the change will detrimentally affect the web in general, search results specifically, and the ability webmasters to make good decisions.

As an SEO, I admit that I’m personally put out by these changes because they make my job harder and who likes that? (See above image.) However, I really and truly believe that the web as a whole will be drastically and negatively affected, especially if more and more people sign in to a Google account while searching.

Have you seen any (not provided) traffic? Let us know how it’s affected you in the comments.