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Google SSL Search and the continued growth of Not Provided.

The author

Malcolm Slade

Head of Technical SEO

<strong></strong>Tuesday October 18<sup>th</sup> 2011. The day that Google started hiding referring keyword data for some of its users. At the time, around two per cent of data came back as Not Provided, but a year on we are looking at a norm of 27 per cent with some sites reporting over 50 per cent of their traffic as Not Provided. So, why has this figure grown and ultimately what can we do to try and get this data back?

Tuesday October 18th 2011. The day that Google started hiding referring keyword data for some of its users. At the time, around two per cent of data came back as Not Provided, but a year on we are looking at a norm of 27 per cent with some sites reporting over 50 per cent of their traffic as Not Provided.

So, why has this figure grown and ultimately what can we do to try and get this data back?

The arrival and growth of Not Provided

October 18th 2011 was the day Google started pushing all logged-in users (users signed in to a Google account) through a secure SSL version of Google. Part of this move to https://www.google.com was the removal of the data referring to what a user had searched for in Google to “protect privacy”.

Odd how this privacy concern didn’t reach as far as PPC ads but that’s a different rant altogether.

At the time across all clients we saw a two per cent loss in data and Not Provided rarely appeared in the top keyword referrer list. Two per cent, not ideal but no more of an issue than when an analytics package samples your data. From that point onwards the volume of Not Provided data has grown consistently.

In April two per cent had become 13 per cent, likely due to Google push towards getting everyone to log-in to use Google+. In August 13 per cent had grown to an average of 19 per cent. A major contributor was Firefox setting its search functionality to use Google SSL Search by default.

Fast forward to October and we are currently seeing 27 per cent of visits being reported as Not Provided. The latest jump comes down to a change in Safari bundled with iOS 6. The new Safari uses Google SSL Search as default, inflating Not Provided figures. Also regarding Safari, for mobile users it strips out all data so all mobile users of Safari on iOS 6 (which is pretty much all iPhone 4, 5 and iPad users) are actually counted as Direct Visits.

Two per cent wasn’t really a big issue. 30 per cent however (compensation for the iOS 6 Direct issue) is a massive problem for anyone trying to make calculated decisions based on referral keyword data. And, it’s only going to get worse.

Already, sites whose users are mostly technology adept or Apple users are seeing 60 per cent+ figures for Not Provided. Luxury brands seem to have seen a massive increase in October, largely due to the volume of iPhone and iPad users browsing their sites.

The likely future of Not Provided

Late 2012, Early 2013 is likely to see Chrome and IE following suit and switching to Google SSL Search by default. Most sites get the majority of their traffic from IE and we could be seeing Not Provided rising to 70 per cent solely from IE switching.

Making the available data useful

We have to assume that Not Provided data comes from a full spread of keywords. Therefore, in most circumstances you can simply upscale the remaining data. This can however lead to overly inflated conversion metrics from non-branded keywords, so a better alternative is to work out your non-brand conversation rate and your brand conversion rate.

You can then work out what volume of non-brand traffic at the non-brand conversation rate combined with what volume of branded at the branded conversation mate makes up the volume of Not Provided at the Not Provided conversation rate.

The big issue comes down to how Not Provided affects your long tail data. If a large volume of your traffic comes from the long tail, there is no way of getting that data back from up-scaling as three times zero still equals zer0.

The best solution

There is of course one answer to this problem. As mentioned previously the whole Google SSL Search privacy protection rationale doesn’t cover Google AdWords.

Therefore the only real way to regain the granularity of data you may be used to is to run a detailed PPC campaign.

Yes, it’s true. In 2013 if seems that if you want to know what your visitors are searching for to reach your site you will have to run Google AdWords. I will say no more!