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Google Says “Not Provided” Results Will Change Soon

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Google Analytics provides an excellent tool to determine what people are searching for to tailor your content and advertising campaigns to meet a specific goal. When using the organic search feature report many times results appear as “not provided. This glitch in the program is going to change soon, according to Google, but in the meantime, there are several ways around this issue to find the results you are looking for.

Organic Search Terms Report

The organic search terms report allows website owners to search for search terms that aren’t sponsored. Search terms that are sponsored do show up in the search terms report. This doesn’t help when you are trying to determine what people are naturally searching for. Determining the organic searches based on your content provides a way to customize your content so that you can tailor your product or ideas to what it is that people actually want. This removes a lot of the guesswork involved in anticipating your users needs.

Reasoning Behind Not Provided Results

In an effort to protect user data, Google had to make modifications to it’s policies in October 2011. In a press release issued by Google, they stated that the use of an encryption protocol known as SSL prevents them from delivering organic search results when users access the search engine using encryption. As a result, Google is not able to determine the exact search queries delivered to Google and deliver them to the organic search results report. Encryption protects users searches and other data from being intercepted and makes the Internet safer overall, but it also has the side effect of making the organic search tool less effective. Google can still provide search results when a user isn’t logged in via their Google account or the secure version of the Google search engine.

Paid Search Results

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Since paid search results are tracked by Google, this feature isn’t affected by SSL encryption. Users could get around the issue by paying for Adwords and then measuring the rate of response for your chosen keywords, but this is an expensive solution and still doesn’t give you an accurate picture of the true organic search results. More profitable companies can use this technique to drive traffic to their site and dissect the results to determine which keywords provide the greatest benefit.

How Google is Changing

In 2013, Google made an announcement that they would be encrypting even more website data. The result is that companies will have even less activity to dissect user searches. Google’s change to make all keyword searches encrypted means that the only way to see the keywords is from paid search results. This means that companies and individuals will also have to pay to see those results. There is very little anyone can do to retrieve organic search results now that Google has made this change. In many ways, it puts webmasters in the dark about how people are using the Internet and the types of content they are searching for. There are still some moderate workarounds, such as typing the first few words in a Google Search box and viewing the results displayed from the Suggestions feature. However, this only provides a very narrow view of what users are searching for but it won’t help those that have more advanced needs.

Effect on Marketing

Search terms can help a company uncover the process that users go through when researching products. Experts can review the search terms and determine the keywords that a user searches for to arrive at a specific website. This data can then be used to coordinate email marketing campaigns, social media status updates, and get a feel for what users want. Content creators will need to carefully monitor social media trends using Twitter, Facebook and other types of insights to discover the currently trending topics and other data that can be used to replace the loss of keyword data. Essentially, the change Google has made is going to make the job of marketing much more difficult. Sales teams could track the trajectory of a user and even coordinate sales pitches toward the users specific keyword search. This valuable data could help sales teams target specific groups of potential customers.

History of Searching

In 2011, Google initially suggested that the addition of encrypted searches would only affect about 10 percent of all searches. As time went on, researchers noted that the figure continues to rise. Some websites began to notice as much as 50 percent of all websites were coming up as “not provided.” With the current trends, it’s beginning to look like marketers are going to have to resort to other means to determine website search trends. Obtaining only paid search results doesn’t help a marketer since it’s important to know what users are actually interested in and not which ads happen to draw the most attention at a given time. Business owners will need to listen to users, build real communities, and take advantage of social media and traditional market research techniques such as surveying.

Ways to Get Organic Search Data

Marketers can still use data from other search engines to get an idea of how much organic search data is resulting in users arriving at a particular website. This works well with large website, but smaller websites won’t be able to take advantage of this option. Companies have also responded by releasing software and utilities that have unlocked the “not provided” search results and can still collect data by uses multiple source streams to recreate the search patterns and deliver search results. While these analytic programs may not provide perfect results every time, the results provide enough detail to get a good idea of what users are searching for and how that data can be used to increase traffic and sales.

Good News for Searchers

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While the change by Google is mostly unpromising, it’s great news for users that want to maintain privacy while browsing the Internet. Search terms are no longer accessible when using an encrypted search engine. Someone capable of following a user would only know that the user visited the Google website and not the type of content they were searching for. Websites can still use tracking cookies and other methods to track a user once the user gets to the website, but the actual search terms used to arrive will be hidden from view. The positive side is that companies will need to focus marketing campaigns on real-world research and develop content that people want to read without harvesting and dissecting billions of search terms.

The changes Google has made provide users with greater anonymity online. Google started the process in China to reduce the tight censorship in the country. Users in certain countries couldn’t access certain sites and were unable to search for content blacklisted by the government. This change comes directly on the heals of Edward Snowden releasing information about the extent to which the National Security Agency was conducting surveillance of web traffic in the United States. In the move to protect the search network, Google has encrypted virtually all search results. Users won’t notice a change in most cases as the Google search engine automatically directs them to the encrypted version of Google Search.

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James Parsons

I'm an avid blogger on SEO, social media, and design. When I'm not working with the awesome guys at AudienceBloom, I'm writing for my personal blog at JamesParsons.com or working on my next big project.

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