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Providing for the ‘(Not Provided)’

Insights August 30, 2013

Creativity and thought-leadership are a few unwritten character traits that are valued at Terakeet. In an industry that’s ever-changing, these two qualities often find a front row seat when it comes to Google algorithm updates, strategy brainstorming sessions, and general analysis. It comes as no surprise that creativity and thought-leadership showed up to Google’s release of some pretty big news around secure search a few years back.

On October 18, 2011, Google introduced us all to the keyword ‘(not provided)’, which stated that whenever a search was made from a secure Google webpage and a result was clicked, the keyword referral data would not be passed to the destination website. Instead, the phantom keyword data would appear in a bucket titled ‘(not provided)’. Secure searches can be performed from users signed into their Google account, from the latest version of Firefox (Firefox 23), and from Safari on iOS6. It is also expected to be the default setting for upcoming browser versions and mobile devices. Initially, Google’s Matt Cutts calmed concerns saying this segment of traffic would account for ~5% of total Google organic traffic; but what that number will soon mean to us is the amount of keyword data we do have. As of late, there is a glimmer of light when Apple announced its iOS7 default search engine will be Bing (pause for applause). Look forward to regaining a small percentage of keyword data for mobile.

Clients and SEOs alike see that this can cause quite the disruption when it comes to keyword traffic analysis and determining overall organic performance. Naturally, in the SEO industry, the common goal is to rank at the very top of the first page of results. In order to reach the holy grail of search results, there’s some serious analysis and optimization that guide those queries to number one. When, as an SEO, you’re stripped of 40, 50 and sometimes over 60% of keyword data to the crab bucket of ‘(not provided)’ data, it’s enough to make your eyes bulge, your arms flail and steam come out your ears.

But enough complaining, no matter how loud the industry rants, Google stands strong in its privacy implementation. For some SEO companies, a loss of keyword data doesn’t really phase them. These are the companies with light reporting deliverables that simply provide an excel document and not much else. But we all know, that although the pinnacle is that coveted #1 spot, there’s a whole lot more going on behind the scenes than just watching a keyword climb the ranks.  Recognizing that, Terakeet swoops in to show our clients a 360 degree look at our efforts.

Traffic is a big piece of that picture. So we jump into the trenches to dig, parse, question and make traffic data actionable. Aside from where keywords sit in the SERPs (search engine result pages) and how our team is integrating themselves into relative, authoritative communities, we look at traffic to prove the value of optimization. Specifically, non-branded traffic segments outline SEO progress to show traffic volume gains for targeted keywords. So as we start segmenting our traffic, the phantom keyword data known as ‘(not provided)’ interjects and masks, in most cases, at least half of our organic keyword data.

Creatively, we have come up with and adopted several workarounds to bring clarity to ‘(not provided)’ visits. Custom filters have been implemented to show the landing page in place of the ‘(not provided)’ keyword within reports to better understand what the traffic distribution among the top landing pages is. Google Analytics custom filters have also made it possible to understand the types of results a searcher is clicking through on, whether it be video, sitelink, news result or a local result.

Truly feeling that we still wanted to offer more to our client base and fulfill their data hunger, our team banded together to come up with a solution to fill the void. We wanted to offer our clients the ability to gain insights and follow trends in real-time and with more context pertaining to SEO. So, we decided to bypass the band-aids and manipulations within Google Analytics, and develop a tool in-house that would allow us to approximately distribute ‘(not provided)’ data amongst traffic segments like branded, non-branded and long-tail. With this tool we not only have the ability to render traffic trends and account for ‘(not provided)’ traffic in real-time, but also overlay additional internal campaign and ranking data.

Developing an in-house tool to accommodate Google’s security measures gives us the flexibility to adapt to this ever-changing segment of traffic, as well as provide fresh insights to our clients. This tools allows our team to take data sets that are typically siloed like traffic, rankings and outreach, and overlay them to visually show the dependent relationships. The metrics themselves are not foreign to SEO reporting; rather what’s unique is the ability to cross-compare and find granular correlations in the data. At Terakeet, we’re continuously looking for ways to refine the process and extract actionable insights from the data. This dashboard tool allows us to do just that.

Our tool provides us with the capability to custom-build widgets that are configured by us to satisfy our client’s KPIs. A hypothetical case would be taking a client who has moved from ranking 5 to 1 in the Google search results for a broad high search volume keyword. Moving just those few spaces can have a large impact on that specific keyword’s traffic, conversions, and long-tail traffic. With our tool we can map the weekly or monthly movement through the SERPs, overlaid with traffic volume and possibly the monthly relationships or mentions that drove authority to that specific keyword’s landing page, all the while working with data that accounts for missing ‘(not provided)’. With this data mapping capability, we’re able to track the effectiveness of both internal strategies and see direct value and impact. Understanding our client’s KPIs and visually mapping out trends allows us to paint a detailed picture that is well-received by Terakeet and the client alike.

While ‘(not provided)’ traffic is often overwhelming and honestly intimidating, we as SEOs have no choice but to take those masked visits, ask ourselves what we know and use creativity and leadership to educate our clients. While at first we felt robbed, we’re now feeling smarter.  This inevitable truth has challenged Terakeet and others in the industry to rethink their ways and think twice about their data. The data Google kept from us propelled us to advance and develop, making our offering stronger than ever. Google may be not providing, but we can say we are.

For more insight on our unique and comprehensive SEO report offering, contact us!


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