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'Not Provided' search traffic

12 November 2012

This week we've started including a new entry in our Search Engine Traffic reports. The keyword 'notprovided' will appear when a visitor arrives via a Google search, but where their actual search terms have been stripped from the referer string.

The background to this is that in October 2011 Google started to get into trouble for including too much personal information in the referer string passed to websites as a result of click-throughs from Google search result pages (SERPs).

Rather than just removing the questionable parameters, they decided to remove also the actual query details. This applies to searches carried out by users while they are logged in to a Google account, those from their 'secure' search page, and searches using particular browsers' built-in search boxes.

Capturing query/keyword information has been an essential part of search engine optimisation (SEO) for over a decade and missing out on this information makes it much harder to optimise a website and monitor search traffic.

Despite assurances from Google that only 10-15% of traffic was likely to be affected we are now seeing case where more than 60% of search traffic to a particular website has been stripped of keyword information.

This impacts not just our internal search traffic reports, but also Google Analytics and other reporting packages that all rely on this data. The keyword information is still made available to advertisers and other commercial partners.

We hope that this situation will be addressed before too long, but until then will have to rely on a shrinking pool of data when reporting on your website search traffic.

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