5 Ways to Get Around Google Analytics’ “Not Provided” Keyword Data

by Cassady Sharp on February 6, 2014
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Savvy online marketers tailor a website’s content to include keywords that their target customer is most likely use while searching the web for the kinds of goods or services their company offers. So, it would make sense for small-business owners to use a free service like Google Analytics to determine what keywords are driving the most traffic to their websites, right?

Unfortunately, in an effort to protect user privacy, Google in 2011 started encrypting this organic search-term referrer data, so that website administrators can no longer see what keywords certain users had searched to find their sites. Instead, they get the message, “(not provided).” Sound familiar? What’s worse, Google recently extended those encrypted searches from logged-in Gmail users to nearly everyone using its search engine to cull the web.

The good news: You can work around Google’s strategy. These five tactics, when used collectively, will give you a fuller picture of what keywords are driving traffic to your company’s website.

1. Figure out where visitors enter your site. Landing pages tell where people first “land” when visit your site. This information is found on the left under Google Analytics’ “Behavior” tab. Go to Site Content and click on Landing Page. What common keywords are you using on those pages? It’s likely visitor are using some of them to find you.

2. Enable Google Webmaster Tools. You’ll find these tools under the Acquisition tab. Go to Search Engine Optimization and then select Landing Pages to see which pages visitors found only through organic search. Next, go to Queries, which will give you the top search queries that resulted in your site listed in the search results over the past 90 days or so. You can also gather the number of impressions, or number of times your website appeared in search results from a specific query, as well as the amount of clicks a page from your site received after appearing in the search results for a query.

3. Consider buying into paid search. You’re getting free access to a lot of data by using Google Analytics. But could you afford a bit more? By investing in paid search or Google AdWords, you’ll have full access to that data. Remember, Google’s new secure search policy only applies to organic search terms. By using this paid search in conjunction with organic SEO boosters, you can still get plenty of bang for your buck. Beware, however, that you may be competing with other businesses with larger budgets for keywords. The majority of paid advertising users spend $10,000 a month. Consider other companies, including HubSpot or Rhino SEO, that can help with SEO before putting too much stock in AdWords.

4. Use the AdWords Keyword Planner. Although this tool is primarily intended for identifying what search terms you should pay for, it is helpful for driving organic SEO because it identifies what keywords or phrases perform very well. The higher the bids, the more “in demand” those paid search terms are. If your online advertising budget does not allow for you to bid on those in-demand terms, consider bidding on more specific and less popular (cheaper!) ones while incorporating the popular terms in your organic SEO.  For instance, you may specialize in renting “mountain getaway” cabins. “Mountain getaway” most likely is an expensive bid, so rather than paying for it, pepper it organically throughout your site while bidding on something more specific and less expensive like “rustic mountain cabins.”

5. Ask your customers directly.
Do you collect comment cards or use a “how did you hear about us” survey? If so, consider asking clients how they gather information online. What social and information platforms do they use? How do they search online?Including input from your actual customers in your site analysis can help paint a truly complete picture of its performance.

Cassady Sharp is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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