Google’s “not provided” Keyword Impact Exceeds 18% Across Tech Sites, 13% In Healthcare

Like all marketing consultancy firms, we’ve been struggling with how to address Google’s decision to limit keyword referral data for users signed in to Google services with our clients. There’s a great SEO success metrics article on the SEO for Salesforce blog arguing that while there is still more than enough organic keyword data to assist with content marketing and site optimization strategies, reporting on the number of unique organic keywords driving traffic is now less useful as a viable success metric.

Google's Matt Cutts

Google's Matt Cutts claimed that the impact of the keyword referral policy would be a single digit percentage.

As part of our process, it was important to own up to the fact that data loss makes us crabby and hostile and crave chocolate. Once that was over, we looked at 20 tech-oriented sites and 20 healthcare sites to see what percentage of all organic traffic was attributed to “not provided.” Here’s what we found:

Tech Sites

On 20 sites attracting a tech audience, “not provided” grew to 18.5% of all organic site traffic in December 2011, versus 15.75% in November 2011.  At the midway point in January 2012, the number seemed to be inching up toward 20% overall. The site with the highest “not provided” numbers reported 23%.

In all but one case, “not provided” topped the list of organic keywords.

Healthcare Sites

“Not Provided” grew from 11% to 13% between November and December 2011. At the midway point in January 2012, the number seems to be inching up toward 14%.

The rather wide difference between the two sets of sites might be explained by Google Plus’ well-documented popularity among “male geeks” and U.S. students, who would be more likely to boost the audience for tech-oriented sites.

It seems safe to assume that web publishers’ blind spot will presumably continue to expand in lock step with Google Plus and Gmail growth. With that assumption, “not provided” is going to get bigger, meaning that most sites will actually record a net loss in the number of unique keywords over time, even if organic search growth continues.



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