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Tips to Understand Traffic, Even when it’s “Not Provided” by Google

Google DarkBack in October, Google made a huge change to their algorithm that affected SEO professionals significantly. In short, Google encrypted their signed-in search data to a secure socket layer (SSL), and now they do not pass along any organic referral data. This move toward encrypted data has made it more difficult for those looking to make strategic search engine optimization website decisions to make well-researched updates. While the organic click no longer displays the query string, and is defined simply as “not provided” to search marketers, there are still a few methods to help search marketers understand their traffic, even in the wake of Google’s algorithm updates that limit access to keyword data. Here are some tips to help you.

Use Google’s Webmaster Tools

While Google’s Webmaster Tools is not quite as comprehensive as Google Analytics, Google’s Webmaster Tools does provide some additional helpful information that may help you glean important information about how your organic search terms are performing. In order to capture this information, simply login to your Google Webmaster Tools dashboard, click on “Search Traffic,” and then click on “Search Queries.”

This tool will provide a graph that displays your queries, impressions, clicks, and also a list of your website’s keyword performance.
One of the best indicators of which organic keywords are performing well for you is determined by the click through rate of your keywords from Google Search. Thankfully, this information is provided in Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Set up Site Search through Google Analytics

Another way to find out which keywords people use to find information about your products and services is through site search. When you add a search box to your website, you are able to see the queries visitors are using on your website.

In order to get analytics for site search, go to Google Analytics, select the account and website where you would like to add a search box, then click “view settings,” pick “site search stings,” and finally select “do track site search.” Then, all you have to do is fill out the requested information including.

    – Query parameter (when you type in a search term in your search box, you should see a URL change to something like this: Whatever comes after the question mark is what should be used as the query parameter. In this instance, the letter “q.”
    – Strip query parameter out of URL
    – Site search categories


Once you have filled out the requested information, you are ready to see what search terms people are using on your site. Simply return to the Google Analytics dashboard, click on “Behavior,” then “Site Search,” and finally “Search Terms.” The information in this report will give you a good idea of what people are searching in order to find information on your website. This helps you understand what keywords you should target in order to make your content more relevant to what searchers are hoping to find on your website.

This may be a roundabout way to understand your target audience and your traffic patterns, but it’s an effective way to monitor your keywords and make adjustments as necessary.

Use Keyword Insights from Paid Search Data

Fortunately for us, Google didn’t go dark on all of their keyword data. This means while you may not have access to organic keywords, you still have access to your paid search key terms through AdWords. If you have an active AdWords account, you can conduct keyword research by monitoring your paid keywords closely. In order to leverage your PPC account to monitor response rates to keywords, you simply have to login to Google Analytics, find the AdWords section, and look at the displayed data under “Matched Search Queries.” It’s important to remember that this only shows you data related to keywords you’ve already paid for, rather than all keywords you are targeting. That means if you want to use this as a method for SEO keyword research, you are going to have to fork up the extra dough to pay for additional search terms.

Check out the Google Keyword Planner Tool

While Google eliminated their old keyword tool that provided lots of in depth analysis, they didn’t leave us completely in the dark. The new(ish) Keyword Planner Tool offers a considerable amount of information to help you with keyword suggestions and brainstorming. In order to access this keyword data, you must create a free Google AdWords account. Once you’ve created an AdWords account, you can login, click on “Tools,” and then click on the Keyword Planner. Then, Google will present the following options:

    – Search for new keyword and ad group ideas
    – Get search volume for a list of keywords or group them into ad groups
    – Get Traffic Estimates for a list of keywords
    – Multiply keyword lists to get new keyword ideas

By using these tools, you can get keyword ideas, understand basic information about potential search volume, and determine roughly how much traffic you can estimate from a certain keyword term. It’s not the ideal tool, but it will help you gather information that will help you with your search engine optimization efforts.

Google is Not the Only Answer – Check out Bing and Yahoo!

Keep in mind that while this article is primarily talking about Google’s keyword research tools, there are many other keyword research tools available to help you with both your paid search efforts and your search engine optimization strategy.

For example, feel free to branch out to either Yahoo or Bing’s keyword data tools to collect information. Yahoo and Bing do not receive nearly the amount of traffic that Google receives, but these search engines still receive enough traffic to make reliable inferences about traffic patterns. Additionally, both of these search engines have robust tools to help you with your research, and they both still pass along data about referral traffic.

Check out Google Trends

While you are conducting your keyword research, take some time to analyze what is happening on Google Trends. Google Trends can help you with keyword research in 2 different, and important, ways.

First of all, Google Trends can help you with brand monitoring. All you have to do is type in your brand’s name into the search box, and Google Trends will return a graph that shows you how your branded keyword term has performed over time. For example, I typed in the brand “Nike” into Google Trends, and the interest graph has surely and steadily risen over time. This may indicate that their keyword strategy is working well.
Next, Google Trends can help you compare search terms, segment them by geographical location and date, in order to tell you what searches are popular according to both location and date. Additionally, Google trends will tell you which search terms are most popular by category. For example, if I run a travel company, and I am interested in knowing what the top searched honeymoon locations were, I could use Google Trends to find this data.
Ultimately, Google Trends is a good tool to help you with branded keyword research, getting ideas for trending keywords, and understanding popular keyword searches within various categories, or within your particular industry.

Trust Yourself; Trust your Brain

While there are tons and tons of tools out there to help you with keyword research, it’s important not to obsess over the data. Rather, not to rely solely on trying to find data. Sometimes the best indicator of what keywords work well for your company website or blog will come from your own expertise, and your own research. Here are a few ways to gather information just by using your head.

1. Consider your Audience – You know your target demographic better than anyone out there. You’ve put in the time to conduct focus groups, look at Google Analytics, read your social media demographic insights, and most importantly, interact with your customers. It’s probably safe to say that overtime you’ve come to understand who your audience is and what they like. Don’t be afraid to try something new that you think will appeal to your audience, even if you can’t see it in the data. After all, innovation sometimes is the best breeder of success. Don’t believe me? Consider Apple.

Apple is constantly undercutting cool products that people are completely gaga over in order to introduce new innovative features that they know their target audience will love. Once you get to know what your audience thrives on (in Apple’s case, the latest and greatest gadget), you can trust your instinct on campaign details.

2. Ask your Audience – If you don’t know what your audience likes, then take the time to create a relationship with them and ask them. You can do this via your blog, forums, social media, or actually sitting down together in person to discuss.

3. Create excellent content – One of the reason Google went dark on keywords is to get search marketing professionals away from looking at only how to target the best keywords, and to instead create value for their customers. One way to do this is to make sure you have a solid social media presence, solid blog content that appeals to your audience, and a decent author rank.

These are just some of the ways to refine your keyword strategy in light of Google’s “not provided” move. If you have other ways you think are useful, feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below.


Guest Author Ashley R. Cummings
Guest Author Ashley R. Cummings
Ashley R. Cummings is a freelance writer, specializing in online marketing, education, and travel. Connect with Ashley on Facebook or , and learn more about her on LinkedIn.