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Why do so many Google visitors have the search term “not provided”?

After yesterday’s article describing how to analyse your Google visitors in more detail, a couple of readers emailed to ask the same thing, which was: why do so many visitors come from Google with their search term “not provided”? Good question.

If you take a look at the Google traffic where the search term (or “keyword”) used by the visitors was “not provided”, you’ll see that this began last autumn (above). What happened was that Google decided that for privacy and security reasons, for signed-in users of Google services, it would no longer forward user data to the site you’re clicking through to from the search engine. As users, we should probably welcome this move. Most people probably aren’t even aware that if they type “blue widgets” into Google, and click on the first result, the owner of that website is informed that Google has sent them a visitor who has typed “blue widgets” into Google. Now, if you’re signed into a Google service (such as GMail, etc), data on the search you’ve made no longer accompanies you. And the result? In the Google Analytics running on the website you visit, the site owners sees you as a visitor from Google with keyword “not provided”.

Of course, as a website owner, that’s a big loss of information, and an irritating one at that. My own view is that while it’s a shame, we had no right to that information in the first place, so maybe we should be grateful it lasted as long as it did (and that we’re still getting some information, at least). There is one group of website owners who still get full information on their visitors, however: AdWords advertisers. If you’re one (and presumably the only companies not running AdWords campaigns are those with an active Sales Prevention Policy in place), then you’ll have access to data on all of the searches made which resulted in a click on your ads, and if you tie up that data with proper tagging, you can follow it right through to your Google Analytics.

4 thoughts on “Why do so many Google visitors have the search term “not provided”?”

  1. 1. Lol’d at “Sales Prevention Policy”, which you might get credit for coining, since googling it didn’t come up with that term.

    2. So, you think anyone who isn’t running AdWords is preventing sales? Pretty strong talk from you, again!

  2. I’m sure I didn’t invent it, although happy to mistakenly be given credit. It never did Thomas Edison any harm.

    AdWords seems to be able to get businesses so many (relatively) cheap enquiries, that I find it hard to believe anyone who says they can’t make a profit from it. Ergo, if you don’t do it, you’re missing out on sales. But I have come across companies who aren’t interested in new sales (believe it or not), hence the “sales prevention policy”.

  3. But even within Adwords, looking at the keyword used, I still have a mass of what is termed Other search terms. Whilst they are not bringing much adwords traffic, it would be invaluable to put negative keywords in place to prevent those search terms occuring in our adds

  4. Agreed Steve, I think most of us would like the full list of search terms! I’d also like the full list of display network domains, quickly. We can but hope.

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