Many SEO analysts and website managers are likely to have experienced difficulty with the recent raft of changes that have been made to Google’s account services, which have come along with the implementation of Google Plus. One such example would be the way in which Google’s privacy options now influence the information that they have available to them through Google Analytics.
Google now applies a secure ‘https’ connection to all users who are signed into a Google account, which means that all keywords search related data coming as organic traffic from search engines is now hidden. Whilst this is probably a good thing for the average member of the public it has the unfortunate side effect of not making this search information available to search marketers.
As you will all no doubt be aware, one of the most useful features of Google analytics is the way it allows you to view the organic keywords that have brought each visitor to your site. If a user has carried out a secure search because they are signed into their Google account then all of these visitors are lumped together into a single “(not provided)” result. What happens if you happen to have “(not provided)” as a keyword is not clear, but it probably involves a significant amount of stress for your web analysts!
So what does this mean for you, the poor harassed website owner who is stuck attempting to make sense of this data?
1) You will have less data to work with – kind of obvious here; you will probably have less data to work with on any specific keyword. Your statistical tests will have less power and you will find it slightly harder to extract meaningful insight from the keywords as a whole.
2) It isn’t just less data though – don’t just assume that the number of keywords or traffic on them has dropped evenly across the board, remember that there are major demographic factors at work here as well. Reports of exactly what percentage of users are now hiding their search history typically seem to fall between 10 and 30 per cent, but that overall figure is going to heavily influenced by how technically savvy the audience for different keywords is. This is potentially a big issue, especially if you have a fairly mixed audience profile for the site as a whole.
There is the potential for other users to hide themselves from Google Analytics completely, either by using an add-on such as noscript to block the Analytics cookie, or because the user is making use of a browser add-ons provided by Google specifically for this purpose. There is obviously a lot of potential for distorted analytics here.
If you want to try and look at how these changes have affected your keyword data across different demographics, then a good starting point is going back to look at how they were individually affected by the changes back in February 2012, when not provided data was introduced in the UK. However, you should be aware that users signed in from the USA will have their data hidden since October 2011.
These changes are nothing to panic about, but the number of Google users sharing their data may well continue to decrease over time, so it’s important to be clear going forwards exactly what is happening with your Analytics data, and what it means for your ability to extract information from it. As always, when working with data, thinking carefully about what you are doing, ideally before you even open the first spreadsheet, and reviewing your findings carefully is advised – even if they seem to be supporting the argument that you want to make.