Why Do I Have (not provided) in my Analytics Keyword Reports?

You have probably noticed that when you view reports in Google Analytics the term (not provided) often appears near the top of the keywords driving traffic to the site. For many of the larger sites I've looked at, it is often the single highest keyword term.

Why does the keyword report show (not provided)?

This (not provided) keyword will show on any report that includes information for Google natural search visitors.  This is down to a change rolled out in November 2011 by Google. They decided that they would no longer pass on the search term used by anyone logged into any Google account when they made the search.

Unfortunately, due to Google's strength in email (with Gmail) social media (with Google+, YouTube) and other tools, such as Adwords, Analytics and Apps, more and more site visitors complete searches while logged into a Google account. This means that a substantial proportion of your site traffic will have their keywords hidden.

Why did Google hide the keyword search data?

Google stated in their official announcement of the change that the main reason was to make search more secure for their users.There has been a lot of debate as to whether this is actually the true reason but the effects are the same - for a substantial proportion of your data you cannot see what search terms they are using.
Unfortunately, this may have started a trend, as Firefox have recently stated that they are planning to make all Google searches secure by default, which will have the same effect as being logged in.
There is a possibility for websites to use searches from logged in users to identify the specific visitor, something Google Analytics has always prevented you from doing. This change will reduce that, but at the cost of losing critical information on a substantial proportion of your traffic.

So what's the big deal about losing keyword data?

Active website managers are always looking at the keyword data and the pages it is landing on to ensure they are providing the best service for their visitors. If you see a substantial growth in a particular keyword can influence re-writes and new pages being added.
For instance, on this blog I've written a beginners guide to installing Google Analytics.  If I was looking at the search traffic for this page, and noted a substatial number of searches for 'How do I test My Google Analytics installation?, I'd probably write a new post specifically on that topic and link to it from the original. Without this information, I would never know I am getting traffic that is not finding what it is looking for.
Unfortunately, for many on the sites I've reviewed since the change, traffic under (not provided) has higher bounce rates and lower conversion than the site average, but there is no direct way to improve the experience for those visitors.

Is there anything I can do to get round (not provided)?

There is no way of getting that information back Google is blocking it at the source, so even switching to a different analytics package will not get the information back. However, there are some techniques to reduce the impact.

  • Use Adwords traffic data. Traffic from visitors who click on a paid ad still provide the keyword data. This has led to critisism about  double standard, but at least you can use this data to analytse keyword bounce and conversion rates if you are running and adwords campaign.
  • Use segments to hide this data. You can create a custom Advanced Segment to hide the traffic that comes in with a Seatch matching exactly '(not provided)'. This will at least allow better analysis of the information you do have, and improvements to poorly perfoming terms you are aware off will improve the experience for the visitors where you cannot see the terms.
  • Ask visitors directly. There is nothing to stop you triggering an on-site survey to get direct feedback. You may even be able to ask only those where the keywor data is blocked.
  • Use on-site search data. By logging the usage of your on-site search box - the landing pages, keywords used and the outcomes - you may be able to determine what searches are not providing the visitors with what they want on the landing page.
  • Ask Google to change their policy. While there are some good reasons for hiding this data, Google may do more harm than good in the long terms as sites become LESS responsive to visitors needs - the opposite of what all other advice about quality web page should be. If you have any influence with the Google Search team you could ask them to start passing the keyword data gain - but I'm not being optimistic!

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