(Not Provided) – Why Google is withholding data from analytics users

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Google recently made the decision to send all logged in Google.com users through a secure search. Another change they’ve made is to not send along keyword data in the same circumstances. The end result for Analytics nerds like me is that we’re now losing valuable data on about 10% of Google.com users. To be fair, this has only seriously impacted US-facing companies, but the writing is on the wall and it would seem they are likely to do the same to Canada too.

You can check how many of your users this affects by logging into your Google Analytics account and going to where you view organic search traffic. If you’re in the 3%+ range, it will probably be on that first page. If it’s not, filter for the keyword “not provided”.

Not provided keyword google analytics
Filtering options to check the "not provided" keyword

The question of “why” was one of the first that came to my mind. Most of Google’s changes are to enhance the experience for the user, and a lot of online pundits were making the claim that Google was turning evil and making this change for their own selfish benefits, evidenced by the fact that Adwords was going to continue to send the keyword data.

I have a different theory that I wanted to share: marginalizing returns on malware and reducing the possibility of phishing attacks. Some malware out there uses external proxies to redirects searches through gateway or fake Google pages in order to generate revenue for malware creators.

This is an issue that Google has publicly combated in a few ways now. Now take somewhat recent situations where Gmail users have succumbed to spear phishing attacks to access their email and you have a very good reason why Google would make this change. Gmail has the perception of being one of the more secure options out there but if your users are getting hijacked right from Google.com, it’s a lot easier to steal their passwords.

Keep in mind that this is just one more educated guess by another pundit. No one other than Google really knows the motives behind this change and all they’ve said is that it has “made search more secure”. In this case, it looks like the security of the users will outweigh the Analytics of the vendors.

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  • My personal thought is that it’s a cross between the two. Making user search data more private, as well as pushing more people towards paid search ads for accurate analysis of their KW data.

    To be honest I can’t say that I’ve seen that much change, but as you say it could be that it hasn’t fully been rolled out yet.

    Just my 2 thoughts.

    • Hi Matt,

      You should have seen changes in your Analytics starting November 1st if you get any traffic from Google.com
      If most of your traffic is from a regional Google search engine like Google.ca or Google.co.uk, you’re probably still pretty insulated from it.

      IMO, the 10% would be substantial IF Google users were very important for a business to segment out and specifically examine. Otherwise, it’s just a 10% hit to the dataset. Now if they ramp it up to non-logged in users, my ability to get keyword-relative insight is going to take a huge hit.