Not Provided – A Bad Omen for Google

Ian Harris

Executive Chairman

Industry News

Last year saw the final nail in the coffin for visibility of keywords that drive natural search traffic to your website. Google chose to make every search query encrypted therefore hiding the query string from all analytics packages including its own Google Analytics.

not provided

Therefore if you own a website, you can no longer see the search terms that are driving traffic, engagement and conversions – you are effectively locked out of your data. In analytics this will generally be displayed as keyword not-provided.

You can still see the keywords from your paid search campaign however, via Google AdWords, so if you are paying Google for the traffic it’s happy to show you the keywords.

I have asked various Google employees, some of whom are very senior at the company, for an explanation for this move and I either get a ramble about privacy, or the natural search team is nothing to do with us in paid search. They find it a very uncomfortable question to answer.

I can only summarise that the reason for this move is to ensure more people pay for their traffic via AdWords. Only then can they understand the traffic and searcher behaviour and optimise their websites to make the user experience and search engine visibility better.

Conflict of values

So why is it such a problem for Google to admit this? The reason is that it is the first move Google has made that goes against all their principles. My summary of Googles reason for being is:

  • To organise the worlds information and make it universally accessible and useful (this is their mission statement)
  • To make the web a better place
  • To make the world a better place (with their auto-drive cars and similar projects they invest heavily in good projects)

One of Googles self-proclaimed truths is You can make money without doing evil.

The not-provided move goes against all of this because it is not making the web a better place. The mom and pop webstores that Googlers (Google employees) often talk about helping to grow are not helped by their keywords being hidden.

The consumers are not helped because they dont care about not-provided and it doesnt affect them. Even if there was a privacy problem with keyword data, how is AdWords immune from that argument. The only people helped are Google.

Major problem

So what is the problem? Google is simply making money from its technology. Well I think this is a major problem for Google. Google is now massive. It is an organization the size of a small country. Guiding an organisation that size is very difficult. It cannot be guided by a few memos, presentations or all-staff emails.

This huge ship has to be steered by solid principles and at every level everyone in the organisation has to believe in them, practice them and police them. Every now and again someone will go against those principles but the organisation will stomp on it quickly and eradicate it as long as everyone believes it. I liken this to guiding principles of any large population. A set of rules tends to emerge, and tend to form into a religion to help the population stay in order.

Well Google just broke its principles. Not provided is not making the web a better place, it is not making the world a better place, and it is making money from evil; only a little bit of evil, but the principles are broken. When the principles are broken, sanctioned from the very top, in an organisation of this size, I believe the cancer will spread. What that will mean for Google I am not sure. I do believe though that the ripple effect from this move will be massive for Google and it will turn out to be very damaging.