Reporting Organic Non-Brand Traffic Despite (Not Provided)

Brent Copstead / 13th May 2013 / Comments: 3

Google Analytics: Reporting on Organic Non-Brand Traffic Correctly Despite the (Not Provided) Dilemma

If you are familiar with Google Analytics then you have to be familiar with the great Google (Not Provided) keyword reporting dilemma. If not, let me refresh your memory. In October 2011, Google enhanced their default search experience for signed-in users to protect users’ privacy. If a user is logged into Google or any Google product while searching on Google, their search is conducted over SSL. As such, the referral data relating to that search is now hidden, displaying the keyword (not provided) in Google Analytics (enraging most of the SEO community).

When this enhancement was first announced, even though he would not give an exact figure, Matt Cutts from Google estimated the (not provided) keywords would be in the single-digit percentage. Impacting less than 10% of all Google searches. Today, the impact varies between 20% and 60% of all organic search keyword data.

Google Analytics Not Provided Keywords

Snapshot of Google Analytics Not Provided Keywords

So, why does this matter? Can we not just ignore the (not provided) keyword data? Well, it all depends on what you are tracking. If you are tracking Pageviews, Visits, Sources, or Exits then it is not an issue. But when you truly want to analyze the exact keyword that brought a visitor to a site then you have issues. Initially, with such a small percentage of keywords hidden (usually less then 10%) this was not a big deal. However, now we are seeing (not provided) percentages up around 50%, meaning we are missing out on a big piece of the marketing puzzle.

Organic Non-Brand Traffic

In the SEO world most sites already rank well for their branded search terms (e.g., their name) and will continue to do so with or without SEO efforts. As a result, the focus of SEO is geared towards the more competitive, non-branded keywords (e.g., running shoes vs. Brooks). To accurately report on how well SEO efforts are impacting for your company’s top keywords, you need to analyse and report with precise numbers. The Google Analytics (not provided) results hide valuable data that SEOers should be using.

Here is an example of real data for the month of March 2013:

All Traffic 239,145 100% of All Visits
Direct Traffic 51,403 21.49% of All Visits
Referral Traffic 11,144 4.66% of All Visits
Search: Paid Traffic 18,757 7.84% of All Visits
Search: Organic Traffic 157,244 65.75% of All Visits
Not Provided Keywords 46,762 29.74% of Organic Visits

(* The rows in bold will be the information needed to calculate Organic Non-Brand Keywords)

When reporting to clients, we start by filtering out all the branded and (not provided) keywords from the Organic Traffic. To do this create an Advanced Segment in Google Analytics including Organic Traffic, excluding Branded Keywords and (not provided) Keywords.

Google Analytics Avanced Segment

Google Analytics Advanced Segment Example

After applying the Advanced Segment to this clients data we have removed the Branded Keywords:

  • 79,909 – 33.41% of all traffic

And the (not provided) keywords:

  • 46,762 – 29.74% of all traffic

For a total of 33,086 – 13.83% of all traffic

So, now you can see the reporting dilemma. There is a big difference between 33.41% and 13.83%. Neither of these numbers truly represent the percentage of total website visits that came from “Organic Non-Branded Keywords”. Our actual percentage will be somewhere in between.

The Math

The math is a little tricky but the overall theory is quite simple. All you do is take the percentage of organic keywords that we do know and use that percentage on the keywords that we do not know. This will give us a rough estimate of overall organic non-branded traffic.

We already know that if we remove the (not provided) keywords for the organic traffic, we get an exact number of organic keywords that are non-brand.

157,244 (organic) – 46,762 (not provided) = 110,482 (organic visits, less not provided)

33,086 (advanced segment) / 110,482 = 29.95% (organic non-brand keywords % of organic keywords)

We then take the 29.95% * 46,762 (not provided) keywords = 14,003 (non-brand, not provided keywords)

Now we add the two amounts together:

14,003 (not provided) + 33,086 (advanced segment) = 47,089 (organic non-brand)

47,089 (organic non brand) / 239,145 (all traffic) = 19.69%

So the overall outcome is that we received 47,089 visits from Organic Non-Brand traffic which is 19.69% of All Traffic Visits (this is between 33.41% and 13.83%). Remember that this is an estimate, and not an exact number.

A Google Analytics Non-Brand Traffic Estimator Tool

Many SEOers download this data and use Excel spreadsheets to calculate this information, but I also wanted to visualize these percentages, and more importantly make the process much simpler. So with a little bit of JavaScript code and HTML, I created a quick and easy Google Analytics Non-Brand Estimator Tool.

Google Analytics Non-Brand Traffic Estimator Tool

Google Analytics Non-Brand Traffic Estimator Tool

Conclusion – Wake Up Call

I believe that many Search Marketers and SEO experts are going to have a wake up call when they start tracking their Organic Non-Branded traffic more correctly. More importantly, they will see how much of an impact the (not provided) keywords are truly affecting these search results. Hopefully users will find this tool useful in their reporting efforts. Please feel free to use our Estimator Tool and let us know if there are any modifications you would like to see.

Our first comment: The next step is to automatically connect to GA accounts. Tell us your thoughts in the comments…

By Brent Copstead