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Is Google’s ‘Not Provided’ a Real Pain in the SEO?

by Chris Cunningham, SEO Team Manager

How many articles have you read that started with, “Google has changed the landscape of search?” Well, here’s another one you can add to that list. And it certainly won’t be the last.


Google’s most recent change to the search landscape occurred in late September and has search marketers, especially those focused on SEO, scratching their heads.

Google has officially started using their own Secured Search experience as a default for their search engine. What's this mean? Website owners can no longer see the phrases searched in Google that land visitors on their website. Website providers have historically judged SEO success based on the analysis of this data. Now, SEO specialists are left scrambling to prove the value of their efforts in a Secured Search world.


But this change does not come as a surprise. In fact, Google started moving in this direction two years ago.
Cobalt websites have seen an incredible increase in ‘Not Provided’ organic keywords. In September 2011, Cobalt websites received approximately 8% of their traffic as ‘Not Provided’ keywords. That number jumped to 24% one year later, and in September 2013 we are now seeing nearly 74% of keywords ‘Not Provided’.

This percentage will only continue to increase. So how can we measure your SEO performance in light of this new development?


The New SEO Success Metrics

Google will still provide a lot of data through their Webmaster Tools application.


Google Webmaster Tools data, insights from your advertising efforts as well as website traffic data such as page entries that remain unchanged by Secured Search, can be used as actionable website analytics. A combination of this available data can still tell a useful story about the organic performance of your website.


“The landscape has changed” is not just the cliché of the month, but the truth. Likewise, your approach to analytics will need to change. Instead of looking directly at keyword rankings and traffic, you will need to get creative in order to show the importance of your website and SEO strategies.


At Cobalt, we're exploring a variety of new avenues for gauging SEO performance.


Some of them include:

  • Organic impressions
  • Categorization of keyword visits
  • Landing page entries
  • Click through rates
  • Search volumes from paid advertising


Cobalt isn’t the only analytics provider rethinking their SEO data. And this will not be the last wrench Google throws in our SEO plans, but it’s still a hurdle we must get over. At Cobalt, we don’t claim to have all the answers right now, but we have a lot of brain power and resources focused on bringing your dealership actionable analytics, no matter what changes Google throws at us. Stay tuned for adjustments to our reporting.


For now, what other ways are you exploring to tell your SEO story?



About the Author

Chriscunningham Chris Cunningham manages a team supporting Cobalt’s SEO customers. He has been working in digital marketing since 2005 with a focus in automotive SEO since 2007. He has been instrumental in the development and launch of Cobalt‘s SEO products. He takes pride in developing successful solutions for Cobalt clients through creative SEO strategies and product offerings. In his free time, Chris enjoys everything Seattle sports related, playing golf, staying active and doing home improvements. He holds a B.A. in Media Communications from the University of Portland. Reach out to Chris directly at

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Comment by PassiveLead on November 29, 2017 at 3:12am

May 2010 Google announced, the encrypted search will be removed from google analytics report (around 80% encrypted). Before I use this data to find very relevant & low difficulty keyword for SEO services clients but now I am using google consol for the same. Thanks for solving this seo problem.

Comment by Alexander Lau on May 21, 2014 at 11:43am

Since Google has fully encrypted searches, which says “goodbye” to keyword data analysis and the ability to understand demographics more clearly, dealerships have been looking for a solution to break down the (not provided) keyword. Failing to understand what the (not provided) keyword represents, continues to frustrate data analysts, webmasters and digital marketers across all industries, not just automotive. As you can see from the table to the right, 64% of companies see 30% to 50% of their traffic from Google as “(not provided).” 

We’ve made great strides in being able to decode secure searches for automotive dealerships across the country. Our (not provided) breakdown solution is a cost-effective way for marketers to decipher and understand searches and make future decisions based upon their SEO data. Decisions that allow car dealers to strengthen their automotive content marketing and ultimately enhance the web equity of their brand in search and social.

Not to give too much away, but our tool breaks down the exact keyword based upon individual pages tracked (SERPs or Search Engine Results Pages). Our tool takes a number of variables into calculus in determining (not provided) keywords. Once analyzed, our intelligence engine calculates the findings to identify the vital search keywords used in accessing each page of an automotive website.

WorldDealer’s Advanced SEO service will easily afford your dealership to breakdown what (not provided) represents and give you the insight you need for future digital marketing knowledge, by providing keyword positionmonthly search volumeestimated click-through rate (CTR) and (not provided) entrants. See real-world examples below:

Comment by Bryan Brooks on November 18, 2013 at 10:36pm

Jonathan, I agree, a wealth of knowledge can be gained from running a basic Adwords campaign utilizing high funnel tier 2 and 3 marking keywords and break it down utilizing "Matched Search Query" as primary dimension in analytics under paid to find out exactly which words the general populous of a specific area is searching for. As far as having to pay for the data I think we all expected the change and knew it was coming especially with Google's background for monetizing directly off of advertising revenue and not much else and building an empire off of said model ..... I think we just figured it would happen after Craigslist started charging to post an ad or started charging all dealers for the $100 per occurrence for auto posted ads. Regardless, whether or not you know the exact keyword strings the clients are searching for the same basic rules apply.... 1. Original 2. Relevant 3. Informative 4. With strong Titles and Meta Descriptions will continue to rank high! 5. If you understand data at all you know there is still more than enough sample data left over from Google Bing Yahoo to figure a competent strategy.... so don't be scared ... just make sure you have access to said data under a dealership account not your ISM or ISD's personal account and a person or vendor in place who can read it and provide proper action! 

Comment by Jonathan Morales on November 18, 2013 at 7:56pm

I agree with Brian. Through NJSEOs, I personally tend to start a small Adwords campaign for any client I'm working on the SEO for, so that I can make sure that I'm going to target some of the right keywords, plus it gives them the instance boost of traffic while their SEO is built up. It's not necessarily a bad thing but yes, Google wants us to pay to find the best keywords. Or even spend lots of time researching Webmaster tools/3rd party sites for data on the niches we need. 

Comment by Brian Pasch on November 18, 2013 at 7:29pm

It seems very clear to me that Google wants businesses to "pay" to find which keywords are working with Google Adwords.  This data collection, which was once free, looks like it will only be available for businesses that invest in buying keywords so that they can plan their SEO strategy.

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