(not provided) Providing More Stress – Chrome 25

There are some in the SEO business who feel as if their trade is under constant threat from Google, and nothing has contributed more to that feeling that than the increasing proportion of (not provided) traffic in Organic Search Keyword Reports, and with the upcoming version 25 of Google’s Chrome browser, it’s going to get a lot worse.

For readers unfamiliar with (not provided), in October 2011 Google started to encrypt the referral data of anyone who was logged in to a Google service clicking on a link on a Google Search Results Page, meaning that the keyword the user entered into Google was no longer passed over to Analytics or the keyword was not provided, and there was no way of knowing what keyword had brought that user to a site. For example, we might be interested to learn how many people come to this site having searched for ‘mackerel media’, but we would see (not provided) in our Analytics reports – at least for a certain proportion of users (around 45% in our case).

When the change was announced it was suggested that a maximum of 10% of all keyword data would be lost to (not provided) but the reality has been very different, with some web site owners suggesting figures as high as 70% or 80%. Clearly, when you have no idea what keyword terms brought the vast majority of visitors to your site, detailed keyword analysis becomes somewhat hard. Google has extended the functionality of its Webmaster Tools to provide some keyword data, but it’s not a patch on Analytics functionality.

This brings us to Google Chrome version 25, currently still in development, but eager to go. With this new version, all searches performed via the omnibox – the wide box at the top of the browser where you type the URL of the site you want to visit or the keyword you want to search for – will be encrypted, meaning all of the organic keyword data will be lost. We don’t know what proportion of Chrome users search via the omnibox, but it’s probably safe to assume that the overwhelming majority do. With Chrome’s large market share it looks therefore as if organic keyword data is about to suffer something of a mortal blow.

Am I exaggerating by saying “mortal blow”? I’d hope not but in truth, probably. The days of organic keyword data are numbered – at least in Analytics packages, so web masters will need to look to the limited functionality available in Google Webmaster Tools. Firefox encrypts all Google searches. Safari on iOS6 obscures them in a different way. The Google Chrome blog sums it up neatly by saying:

Search has also been moving toward encryption.

Keyword data is still available if you are paying Google for AdWords clicks, so if you’re willing to pay Google for your traffic – as many many businesses and people are – then you will still know what your users searched for before arriving at your site.