Google Analytics: Not provided keyword

Whenever I have some time left, I have a look at all the reports provided by Google Analytics. It’s a great way to learn about your site and find ways to improve it. There’s one report I always thought should be one of the most important ones: Organic search by search keyword. This allows you to actually know what visitors of your site are interested in. It’s kind of an implicit user feedback. You could use this information to increase contents related to topics creating the greater interest among your visitors.

Unfortunately, there’s a small issue with this kind of report, the first place (by far) for my site is always occupied by: (not provided):

google analytics: keyword not provided

This accounts for almost 60% of all visits I get:

keyword not provided contribution to visits

This is kind of annoying since it basically means I’m left with 40% of the visitors giving me feedback and the rest not. Not really easy to make valid statistics like this… So I had to first understand why it was like this and see whether I could find a way to solve this issue.

To understand the reason why I got this (not provided), I just had to look at the Google Analytics Help pages. I’m usually not the kind of guy to read the manual, but this time I made an exception ;-). Here’s what it says for traffic sources:

If the a visitor is signed in to a Google account, however, Keyword will have the value “(not provided)”.

It just sounds strange. If the user is logged in, you don’t get to see the keywords… There must be a reason behind this, why keywords used by logged in google users show up as (not provided). So digging further, the help page regarding the search overview:

When you sign in to Google.com, your organic search is conducted in a secure context. If you visit a site from those search results, the visit is still categorized as organic, but your query terms are not available in the report. The label (not provided) is used in place of the query terms.

OK, you’re going through a secure context so the keywords used are not available. This makes more sense… Now moving to Google Inside Search to find more info about this secure context search:

Under most circumstances, when you use https://www.google.com your search terms are encrypted and are excluded from the referrer headers that are part of the request sent to the result site you visit. The landing site will still receive information that you are coming from Google, but not the query that was issued — namely, the host is still part of the referrer being passed.

Now it’s clear. There is no way to get to the keywords… But at least it’d be nice to know where these kind of anonymous visitors (from a keyword point of view) go to. This can be done in the filters provided by Google Analytics. Basically what you have to do is say that if the campaing term field is equal to (not provided), just extract the path to the page from URL.

In order to do it, you might want to first create a new profile in order not to mess with the data in the default (unfiltered) profile. You need to go to the Admin module in Google Analytics:

google analytics admin button

The click on New Profile:

google analytics new profile button

Type a name for the new profile and select a time zone:

google analytics create new profile

After saving, go to the filters tab and create a new filter:

google analytics new filter button

Then fill in the filter information like this:

google analytics filter information

This basically means you’ll match the not provided keyword and the URI and show "np – " followed by the URI as the search term instead of not provided.

Now after the you save, the filter will be active and will apply to all new visits. In the old default profile, you’ll still see the not provided keyword. In the new profile, you’ll see the URI instead of not provided. After a few hours, here’s what I could see:

google analytics keyword not provided with filter

Of course checking the landing pages, I could also figure out with the old profile, that most of them went to /mac-os-x-svn-subversion-missing-in-mountain-lion-10-8/. But this provides a better granularity.

Speaking of the old profile, it’s actually possible to get the same kind of information in the old (unfiltered) profile using the primary and secondary dimension in the reports:

keyword not provided primary secondary dimension

You can also combine this not provided keywords with other dimensions to try and figure out what those visitors were after.

In the end, it does help but doesn’t solve the problem of missing keywords. I guess the number of users who are logged in Google while searching will not decrease either. I know this is all for our own good and security but 60% of searches with hidden keyword is really a lot and since both the search and the analytics come from the same company, I’d thought there would be a better workaround…

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