What is not provided keyword in Google Analytics?

As the name suggests, ‘(not provided)‘ means Google is choosing not to provide the keyword data to you. Technically speaking, ‘(not provided)’ keyword is a keyword without ‘keyword referral data’:

not-provided-keywords

The keyword referral data tells you which search term was used by a person on a search engine (like Google) to visit your website.

For example, if someone visits your website by typing ‘web analytics training’ on Google, then the keyword referral data is ‘web analytics training’.

Similarly, if someone visits your website by typing ‘google analytics bounce rate’’ on Google, then the keyword referral data is ‘google analytics bounce rate’.

There are two types of keywords referral data:

#1 Organic keywords referral data – It tells you which search term was used by a person to visit your website after he/she clicked on an organic search engine listing on Google.

#2 Paid keywords referral data – It tells you which search term was used by a person to visit your website after he/she clicked on a paid search engine listing on Google. This paid search engine listing is the PPC ads you see on Google.

Google has been hiding the ‘organic keyword referral data’ since October 2011 by encrypting its organic search data. This has been done in the name of protecting user privacy. But the real agenda of Google is most probably to force more marketers/advertisers to use Google ads, as optimizing search campaigns without keyword referral data is not very effective.

Google does not hide the ‘paid keyword referral data’. It hides only the ‘organic keyword referral data’.

All web analytics tools (including Google Analytics) no longer report the ‘organic keyword referral data’ from Google search engines in their reports. Google Analytics reports ‘not provided’ in place of actual keywords in your organic search traffic reports.

But since Google does not hide the ‘paid keyword referral data’, Google Analytics reports the keywords which generated traffic, sales, and other conversions on your website through Google Ads reports.

You would need to find alternate ways of uncovering new keyword opportunities:

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Google Analytics ‘Not Provided’ Keywords Analysis

‘Not provided’ keywords do not fall into the category of either branded keywords or non-branded keywords.

Therefore they deserve their own separate category and analysis called the ‘not provided’ keywords analysis.

In a world of multi-channel marketing, people are exposed to multiple marketing channels (organic search, paid search, display, social, etc) before they make a purchase or complete a conversion.

Therefore it is important that we calculate the impact of ‘not provided’ keywords on all the marketing channels and not just on organic search.

In the next few minutes, I will show you, how to calculate the impact of ‘not provided’ keywords on:

  1. Organic Branded Keywords
  2. Organic Non-Branded Keywords
  3. Paid Branded Keywords
  4. Paid Non-Branded Keywords
  5. Direct Traffic
  6. Social Media Traffic
  7. Email Traffic
  8. Affiliate Traffic
  9. Display Traffic
  10. Assisted Conversions
  11. Last Interaction Conversion
  12. Total economic value

Before we start our calculations, we need to create a new ‘custom channel grouping’ in Multi-Channel funnel reports in Google Analytics.

Some background information about Channel Labels and Channel Grouping

A channel label is a label applied to a digital marketing channel. For example ‘paid search’, ‘organic search’, ‘social’, ‘display’ etc are all examples of channel labels.

There are two types of channel labels in Google Analytics: Default Channel Labels and Custom Channel Labels.

The default channel labels are the predefined channel labels. For example: ‘paid search’, ‘organic search’, ‘referral’, ‘display’, ‘email’, ‘social’, ‘direct’ and ‘other advertising’ are default channel labels.

The custom channel labels are the labels defined by a user.

Branded keywords and non-branded keywords are examples of custom channel labels.

channel-labels

Channel Grouping is a set of channel labels.

There are two types of channel grouping in Google Analytics: Basic Channel Grouping and Custom Channel Grouping.

  • The ‘basic channel grouping’ is the set of predefined channel labels.
  • The ‘custom channel grouping’ is the channel grouping created by a user.

To learn more about channel grouping in GA, read this article: Channel grouping in Google Analytics

Creating Custom Channel Grouping for advanced keywords analysis

Follow the steps below to create a new custom channel grouping for advanced keywords analysis:

Step-1: Login to your GA account and then navigate to the GA view which contains at least 30 days of historical data. More the better.

Note: If you use the keyword hero tool then use the GA view set up by the tool, as you will see more keyword data there.

Step-2: Navigate to the ‘Top Conversions Paths’ report (under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels) in Google Analytics:

Step-3: Scroll down the report and then click on the ‘Channel Groupings’ down drop menu:

Step-4: Click on the ‘Create a custom channel grouping…’ link from the drop-down menu:

Step-5: In the ‘create or edit channel grouping’ dialog box, enter the name of the channel grouping and then click on the ‘Define a new Channel’ button:

We are going to create 5 new channels in total for this custom channel grouping.

Step-6: Enter ‘Organic B Keywords’ (which stands for organic branded keywords) as the name of the new channel and then set up the rules as shown in the screenshot below:

In the ‘matches regex’ text box, enter the regular expression which matches all of your branded keywords.

Here we are defining all those keywords as branded organic keywords that contain your brand name in the keyword phrase and the medium of the traffic is organic.

To learn more about regular expressions, read this article: Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager Regex (Regular Expressions) Guide

Since organic reminds me of vegetables, I have selected the color ‘dark green’ for this channel label.

Step-7: Once you have set up the conditions for the rule, click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-8: Again click on the ‘Define a new channel’ button.

Step-9: Enter ‘Paid B Keywords’ (which stands for Paid Branded Keywords) as the name of the new channel and then set up the rules as shown in the screenshot below:

In the ‘matches regex’ text box, enter the regular expression which matches all of your branded keywords.

Here we are defining all those keywords as branded paid keywords that contain your brand name in the keyword phrase and the medium of the traffic is either cpc or ppc.

Step-10: Once you have set up the conditions for the rule, click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-11: Again click on the ‘Define a new channel’ button.

Step-12: Enter ‘Organic NB Keywords’ (which stands for Organic Non-Branded Keywords) as the name of the new channel and then set up the rules as shown in the screenshot below:

In the ‘matches regex’ text box, enter the regular expression which matches all of your branded keywords.

Here we are defining all those keywords as organic non-branded keywords which:

  • do not contain your brand name in the keyword phrase
  • do not contain ‘not provided’ keywords and
  • the medium of the traffic is organic.

Step-13: Once you have set up the conditions for the rule, click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-14: Again click on the ‘Define a new channel’ button.

Step-15: Enter ‘Paid NB Keywords’ (which stands for Paid Non-Branded Keywords) as the name of the new channel and then set up the rules as shown in the screenshot below:

In the ‘matches regex’ text box, enter the regular expression which matches all of your branded keywords.

Here we are defining all those keywords as paid non-branded keywords which:

  • do not contain your brand name in the keyword phrase
  • do not contain ‘not provided’ keywords and
  • the medium of the traffic is either cpc or ppc.

Step-16: Once you have set up the conditions for the rule, click on the ‘Done’ button.

Step-17: Again click on the ‘Define a new channel’ button.

Step-18: Enter ‘Not Provided Keywords’ as the name of the new channel and then set up the rules as shown in the screenshot below:

Step-19: Once you have set up the conditions for the rule, click on the ‘Done’ button.

Once you have set up the new channels, you will now see a screen similar to the one below:

Step-20: Drag rules to specify the order in which they should apply:

Step-21: Click on the ‘save’ button.

You should now see a screen similar to the one below:

Calculating the Impact of Not Provided keywords on Organic Branded Keywords

Step-1: Make sure that the custom channel grouping ‘Advanced Keywords Analysis’ is selected and you are viewing the ‘Top Conversions Paths’ report (under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels) in Google Analytics.

Step-2: Select the time period for which you want to do the analysis.

Step-3: Click on the ‘advanced’ filter in the reporting interface:

Step-4: Set the conditions as shown below:

Step-5: Click on the ‘Apply’ button.

You can now see the impact of ‘not provided’ keywords on organic branded keywords:

From the report, you can determine all the conversion paths in which ‘not provided’ keywords played an important role along with the ‘organic branded keywords’ in initiating, assisting or completing a conversion.

Without the role of the ‘not provided’ keywords in the conversion process, these conversions would not have occurred in the first place.

Calculating the Impact of Not Provided keywords on Organic Non-Branded Keywords

Step-1: Make sure that the custom channel grouping ‘Advanced Keywords Analysis’ is selected and you are viewing the ‘Top Conversions Paths’ report (under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels) in Google Analytics.

Step-2: Select the time period for which you want to do the analysis.

Step-3: Click on the ‘advanced’ filter in the reporting interface and then set the conditions as shown below:

Step-4: Click on the ‘Apply’ button.

You can now see the impact of ‘not provided’ keywords on organic non-branded keywords:

From the report, you can determine all the conversion paths in which ‘not provided’ keywords played an important role along with the ‘organic non-branded keywords’ in initiating, assisting or completing a conversion.

Without the role of the ‘not provided’ keywords in the conversion process, these conversions would not have occurred in the first place.

The number of such conversions was 1251 and the total value of these conversions was $9,382.58

Calculating the Impact of Not Provided keywords on Direct Traffic

Step-1: Make sure that the custom channel grouping ‘Advanced Keywords Analysis’ is selected and you are viewing the ‘Top Conversions Paths’ report (under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels) in Google Analytics.

Step-2: Select the time period for which you want to do the analysis.

Step-3: Select ‘Source/Medium Path’ as a secondary dimension.

Step-4: Click on the ‘advanced’ filter in the reporting interface and then set the conditions as shown below:

Step-5: Click on the ‘Apply’ button.

You can now see the impact of ‘not provided’ keywords on ‘direct traffic’:

From the report, you can determine all the conversion paths in which ‘not provided’ keywords played an important role along with the ‘direct traffic’ in initiating, assisting or completing a conversion.

Without the role of the ‘not provided’ keywords in the conversion process, these conversions would not have occurred in the first place.

The number of such conversions was 84,219 and the total value of these conversions was $814,667.41

Related Article: Complete Guide to Direct Traffic in Google Analytics

Similarly, you can calculate the Impact of Not Provided keywords on:

  • Social Media Traffic
  • Email Traffic
  • Affiliate Traffic and
  • Display Traffic.

All you have to do is to make some changes in your advanced filter.

Calculating the total economic value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords

The total economic value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords is calculated as

Assisted Conversion Value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords + Last Interaction Conversion Value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords

We can determine the assisted conversion and last interaction conversion values through the ‘Assisted conversions’ report (under Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels) in Google Analytics.

Follow the steps below to calculate the total economic value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords:

Step-1: Navigate to the ‘Assisted conversions’ report in your Google Analytics account.

Step-2: Select the custom channel grouping ‘Advanced Keywords Analysis’.

Step-3: Select the time period for which you want to do the analysis.

Step-4: Apply the on-page filter ‘keywords’ so that you can see only the custom channels in your report.

You should now see a screen like the one below:

You can now determine the number of assisted conversions and last interaction conversions generated by ‘not provided’ keywords along with their conversion value.

Just sum up the assisted conversion value and last interaction conversion value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords and you will get the total economic value generated by the ‘not provided’ keywords.

In our case, it is:

$40,420.41 + $21,726.22 = $62,146.63

Who would have imagined that the total economic value of ‘not provided’ keywords could be $62k?

Similarly, can determine the total economic value of:

  • organic branded keywords
  • organic non branded keywords
  • paid branded keywords
  • paid non branded keywords.

What the point is of measuring the impact of “not provided” keywords? How would you use this info to optimize your website or gain customer insight?

First of all, the point of any analysis is to gain insight.

Once we get the insight, we then need to determine whether this insight is useful or not. Insights are generally useful because you get to know your business/campaign better.

But what is even more useful is the ‘actionable insight’.

Can we take any action on the basis of the insight we have gathered? In our case, the answer is ‘yes’.

It is a common practice that before we fix a problem we assess the size of the problem.

Yes ‘not provided’ is a problem. It is a big problem for marketers who rely on keywords to optimize their marketing campaigns.

The first step toward assessing the size of the ‘not provided’ problem is to measure the total economic value generated by ‘not provided’ keywords. If this economic value is small or negligible for your business then you don’t need to worry about ‘not provided’ keywords yet.

However, if the total economic value is large or very large or the performance of your marketing campaigns is deeply affected by ‘not provided’ keywords then you have got work to do.

For example, if only a few organic branded conversions occurred because of the role of ‘not provided’ keywords in the conversion process then we can conclude that the majority of ‘not provided’ keywords are non-branded and our acquisition strategy is weak.

We are targeting keywords that have low conversion potential for our business.

This conclusion is based partially on the observations of customers’ online behavior over the years and partially on the assumption that the majority of people eventually convert through branded keywords.

People generally start their conversion journey by searching for non-branded keywords (provided they are not already familiar/loyal to your brand).

But as their understanding of what they are looking for increases, they refine their search queries.

Also, people rarely buy on their very first visit. They do comparison shopping, check websites for reviews; look for better deals before they make a purchase decision.

So when they return to your website and convert, the source of traffic is generally either direct or branded keywords (because branded keywords are easy to remember).

Because of this customers’ behavior, the majority of conversions are attributed to direct traffic and branded keywords.

So if the majority of conversions on your website are occurring as a result of direct traffic and branded keywords then it could be a sign of maintaining a strong brand image.

Contrary to this if the majority of conversions on your website are occurring as a result of non-branded keywords then it means you are either a new business or your brand retention is poor.

These are some of the useful insights you can get from the analysis of ‘not provided’ keywords.

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Himanshu Sharma

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Himanshu helps business owners and marketing professionals in generating more sales and ROI by fixing their website tracking issues, helping them understand their true customers' purchase journey and helping them determine the most effective marketing channels for investment.

He has over 12 years of experience in digital analytics and digital marketing.

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