‘Not Provided’ Search Numbers Rising, Where Will They Stop?

When Google rolled out their encrypted search, loss of query data including the search terms was a major complaint from online marketers. Google told them the percentage would only be single digits as it was only applied to people signed into a Google account. Numbers are now surfacing and if they don’t stop increasing soon, the complaints could be founded.

If someone is signed into Google and performs a search, the search is done in a secure socket layer and doesn’t pass query information. This loses the search term that brought the visitor to your site and confuses your marketing.

Conductor has been monitoring the numbers since October 30 and in the first week the ‘not provided’ numbers grew fast. They found that 6.5 percent of Google search numbers are returning that phrase:


The numbers are higher for search marketing publications it would seem. Search Engine Watch is seeing 8.79 percent of “not provided” search results, while Search Engine Land has reported over 12 percent.

The initial reports and comments reflected the concern of the search marketers who felt this would muddle conclusions. Waiting to see how it rolled out was a common response, but less than a month and numbers are starting to appear and now worry is growing in the industry.

As James Mathewson commented at Marketing Pilgrim:

My only concern is that searching from a logged-in state will become more prevalent in the future as more users use Google Docs and Google+ in their every day work. Currently, it’s a rounding error. But I can see a time when it varies from 10 to 20% depending on the query. If and when it comes to that, this will be a big deal, especially the variance by keywords. If it was a uniform percentage, you could just wave your hands and say that your referral data by keyword is lower than actual by some percentage. My sense is this will vary and become difficult to report on as a result.

Why is this a big deal? In my company (IBM) a 20% difference between reported and actual referrals on the word “cloud computing” could result in millions of dollars in leads that are not reported in one month. That might be the difference between continuing to invest in organic optimization and putting those dollars into other tactics, not all of them digital (gasp).

This discussion should heat up in the growing months, especially while it impacts the coming holiday shopping season. We will keep you informed.

What percentage of “not provided” search results are you seeing in your analytics since Google’s encrypted search change? Tell us in the comments.

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