I want to talk about a Google update that changed the game for a lot of people. This was the Secure Search update, also known as “not provided.”
We’ll start with a little of the history.
In 2011, Google changed the game and said:
“Okay. We’re no longer going to give you your referring keywords, your referring keywords in all situations.“
Prior to 2011, any time someone did a query on Google and came to your site, that information was passed to your analytics account, so any keywords that users were inputting to come to your site, you could optimize for. You knew, generally, what the volume was or had a way to back into it and reverse engineer it. Life was generally good and things were a little bit easier.
Google changed the rules for a number of reasons.
The first was…they claimed it was a privacy concern. However, most of the industry consensus was that wasn’t why Google really did it. It was sort of a “stated reason”, but it was more related to making their AdSense product more competitive.
Some of Google’s competitors were using the referring keyword data and offering relevant ads to publishers and publisher traffic, and Google essentially made all of Adsense’s competitors less competitive overnight by blocking the keyword data from being passed to analytic platforms.
So, the basic idea here is, prior to 2011, we got all of our keywords in Google Analytics, and after 2011, we didn’t.
It wasn’t a hard stop, like suddenly overnight. Google started by introducing the idea; Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google, was on stage at a conference and said that they didn’t imagine “not provided on Google Analytics would ever get higher than single digits, right, 8 or 9%.
However, as you can see here with over just a week on one of my sites, we are at 98% not provided.