“Not provided” and how to screw Google back

Google has announced plans they say are designed to protect the privacy of people using their search engine. The idea is to encrypt the search terms we use, thereby preventing anyone from spying on what we are looking for. In future webmasters will see nothing but “not provided” in their website logs.

Google already uses the same technique to encrypt searches performed by users of their other services, such as Gmail or Drive. Anything you search for is encrypted so that not even website owners know exactly what you were looking for when you land on their site. The idea is to extend this same privacy to anyone using Google search.

Picture of a question mark in response to "not provided" from Google Analytics

What are your visitors searching for? You’ll never know thanks to “not provided”.

But this promise of privacy is, of course, complete rubbish. For the paranoid web user, Google will still have to hand over search data to the NSA if demanded. For everyone else, the fact is advertisers who pay Google still get access to the much of that encrypted data.

In reality Google has encrypted search terms to encourage more website owners to pay for access to search data.

So what?

News of this change has rocked the Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) industry, who rely on search data to identify what is, and is not, working in their efforts to make a website easier to find. Up until now, SEO experts have been able to rely on Google Analytics to tell them exactly how people are getting to a particular site. This knowledge could then be used to further improve online marketing and SEO efforts to ensure that the right people are finding the right information on their website. Essentially, knowing what people are looking for gives you a chance to improve your website and encourage more new visitors to buy from you.

Under the new regime, website owners can tell that people have arrived on their site from Google, but where once they could see the search term used, now all they will see is “Not provided”. Unless you pay your Google Tax AdWords subscription.

What is this “not provided” nonsense?

Google (like me) continues to bang on about how important quality is when it comes to web content. For many years SEO experts have been rigging the system, using engineering to push webpages up search engine rankings in favour of content that is useful and pleasurable to read. Many of these engineered articles appear to have been designed to be read by machines first, with humans coming a distinct second in priority.

Through the use of search algorithm changes, Google has sought to penalise sites that bend their ever-changing rules, pushing heavily engineered pages down the rankings. The idea being that great quality content will be rewarded with higher rankings. Which is where the “not supplied” change could actually help raise standards across the web.

What can you do?

With Google controlling over 60% of all web search traffic, site owners are left with two choices, pay the Google Tax Adwords subscription or focus on quality content. Google are still not revealing just how much of the “Not supplied” data will be open to subscribers, suggesting that there may be further limits imposed. There are also multiple levels of subscription, ensuring only those who pay the most will get access to everything.

But is knowing the search terms people use really the most important factor in running your website? Of course not. What matters is whether people find the information they need to make a purchase. Once again, content is king. Rather than worrying about “not provided”, focus instead on providing top quality web content and what your customers want. If it’s any good, your website will eventually come to the attention of Google anyway.

Do keywords still matter? Absolutely. But great quality content is now much, much more important. Focus on being relevant, and delivering what your audience wants first, and then if you still feel the need, you can try and track down the search term data.


Need help creating content for your site that results in new leads and sales? Drop me a line and we can talk about making your website work for you. “Not provided” will become nothing more than an irrelevance.