Web Analysis and That Popular "Not Provided" Keyword - One Partial Workaround

Sometimes I feel like I’m having a stroke.

OK, so Website analysis perhaps doesn’t deserve that kind of melodrama.  After all, I can’t really know what it feels like to have a stroke, since I have never had one (wait…I don’t think I’ve had one…).   What pushes me into the realm of hyperbole is my experience with Google Analytics (GA) and my cursory knowledge of one of the early symptoms of stroke: a blind spot in your vision.

It’s probably no surprise to any of you who have taken a Search Engine Academy SEO workshop recently or have been regularly following the progress of your website story on that channel known as GA that one choice at least in the GA constellation of features is becoming increasingly fractured and hard to see with clarity, namely visits prompted by specific search queries.  For example, when you log into Google Analytics one of the common, and tantalizing, navigational destinations is traffic that originates with specific keyword searches on Google, as you can see in the following screen shot:

Google Analytics screenshot 1

(Click on the image to see it full size)

Promise and Disappointment

To someone who has just a cursory acquaintance with Google web analysis and its many mysteries, to first see this is an exciting moment.  How wonderful to actually know what keywords people are using.  And until fairly recently, at least in terms of geologic time, this indeed was a fair measure of the success of your website in Google search results.  In fact, checking on traffic from keyword searches had the promise of being the best method of determining the success of SEO, since the worth of checking rankings has been called into question because of the increasing impact of personalization of search.

So it sounds like a great idea: instead of checking where we place in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages), we track the effectiveness of our SEO efforts by monitoring the amount of traffic we get as a result of keywords used in organic search.  But there’s a flaw in this model as well. That flaw was blown into large proportion earlier this year when Google announced its expansion of secure search.  The net effect of this is that the keyword phrases visitors use to find your site are not passed along to Google Analytics if a user is logged into their Gmail or Plus account (which of course amounts to almost one and the same nowadays).

When this change came down the pipeline Google was quoted as saying this would affect at most about 5% of search results.  Well, of course no one believed that. And the skeptics were justified.  Here is a screen shot from that same GA account that I showed above, expanded a bit to show the keyword searches registered in Analytics:

screenshot of Google Analytics data

(click on the image to see it larger)

So, as we can see, the hidden “not provided” search terms are suddenly a large enough chunk of our analytics report that our data is becoming useless, at least for this metric.

So, how do we compensate?

Landing Page Visits to the Rescue

Now that we’ve been effectively deprived of consistent and clean SERP ranking data (due to personalization of search) and hit  with a massive “not provided” blindspot in our Google Analytics data (due to personalization of search), what sort of website analysis can we do to measure the effectiveness of our SEO efforts?  There is no magical answer, but there is a pretty good workaround, depending on how you handle the creation of your website pages.  That answer is to track the performance of landing pages.

Typically, if we are building landing pages to target specific search engine terms, and if the focus of those landing pages is pretty tight, and if our link building efforts are also focused on those keyword-specific landing pages (yes, I know, lots of “if’s”), then the traffic that those SEO engineered pages receive is a very good indication of how well or poorly our SEO efforts are holding up.

To track the performance of your landing pages using Google Analytics, you will be drilling down into the content section of your GA account (see the screen shot below):

screen shot of landing pages data in Google Analytics

(click on the image to see it larger)

Yes, this is a class “b” solution to the blind spot in your SEO efforts, but just like a stroke victim, we need to do the best with what we have.  And hope for a cure, of course.

Web Analysis and That Popular “Not Provided” Keyword – One Partial Workaround was last modified: June 29th, 2012 by Ross Barefoot
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