“Not Provided” Search Growth Clouds Web Analytics

“Not provided” is now reaching dangerous levels – and it is set to grow even further. I base this assertion on having just updated an analysis of the growth of “not provided” organic search keyword search term data across fifteen websites. To the uninitiated “Not provided” is a class of search term brought about by Google’s decision to keep secret the organic search terms used by website users logged into a Google account. As a term it should not be confused with the “not set” clas of keyword search term. I explain the difference between “not provided” and “not set” at the end of this post.  The data I have used has been derived from fifteen different UK based websites. Six of the sites are primarily for B2B marketing purposes and nine for B2C marketing purposes.

Growth of "Not Provided" Google Search

Growth of “Not Provided” Google Search to August 2012

In my opinion, the “not provided” status of organic search is now growing to dangerous proportions. So much so that it risks devaluing much of the data extracted from web analytics. As at August 2012, the unweighted average of “not provided” search data across these fifteen websites is now 23.6%. This compares with just 12.6% in March 2012. A growth of 87% in just five months. There is an adage I use about website use that “Almost everything is trackable and measurable”.  If current trends continue, this will no longer be the case. Orthodox web analytics, at least when it comes to Google organic search, will be no better than a sampling tool.

My research indicates that across all these websites “not provided” now represents the largest or second largest keyword search term. Amongst the six B2B websites the problem is even more acute as 31.6% of Google search terms were “not provided”. As at August B2C websites have an average of 18.6% of search terms recorded as “not provided”. although lower than for B2B websites, the growth trajectory is much faster, up from 8.3% in March – a growth of 124% in just five months.

As mentioned the web analytics data has been taken from fifteen sites across a range of market categories and sizes. All use Google Analytics to track website visitors. Over the six months of measurement the average number of visits per month, per website, was in excess of 20,000. Having carried out the study I have gained some insight into reasons behind the variation in websites. These are summarised as follows:

  • B2B websites had a 67% higher level of “not provided” search, indicating that business people are more likely to be logged into one of Google’s services, perhaps Gmail, Google Docs or even Google Adwords, than their consumer equivalents.
  • The website with the lowest August “not provided ” figure of 12.7% was also the website with the highest level of use from mobile devices – predominately iPad – and therefore likely to operating behind an Apple controlled, rather than a Google controlled, log-in.
  • Based on this desktop search from commercial locations appears particularly vulnerable to the growth of “not provided” search data.
  • The site with the highest level of “not provided” was a B2B website that had a disproportionately high level of visitors from North America and Asia. This indicates that “not provided” search may be higher in these markets.
  • The B2C website with the lowest level of “not provided” search in March appeared to have a disproportionately high level of “not set” search in the early part of the six months. Much of this has disappeared to be replaced by “not provided” search over the following five months.
  • The lowest level of “not provided” growth was 54.5%.

The Implications of “Not Provided” Growth

I have alluded to one of the major implications. That namely we could enter a new period where it will no longer be the case that almost everything is trackable and measurable. This was always one of the key features that set online marketing apart from offline marketing. Near certainty becomes transformed into guesswork especially once, not if, “not provided” search surpasses 50% of all searches.

As paid search via Google will not be subject to a clarity restriction this puts organic SEO and SEO practitioners at a disadvantage vis-a-vis paid search and paid search practitioners. Particularly at budget setting time. PPC and Google Adwords will be able to prove their ROI much more clearly and easily. I will be following this post on further thoughts on the subject.

The Difference Between “Not Set” and “Not Provided”

“Not set” search has always been with us as users of Google Analytics. One key source was Google Adwords campaigns. Some because the Adwords and Analytics accounts were not integrated. At other times because there was a problem auto-tagging or other dynamic URL features. Essentially, “not set” is used to describe a search where Google is not sure of its provenance. “Not Provided” is strictly used to mask known keyword searches made from logged-in Google accounts.


Google+ Business Pages Replace Google Places

Google+ Local business pages has replaced Google Places. The design and format of the local business service is largely unchanged. I suspect that Google will put more resource and emphasis behind their local marketing project given the benefits of integration of mobile marketing and local marketing platforms with social marketing.

Google+ Local Business Page

Simply Clicks' Google+ Business Page

Google Places has been drifting for some time. However, the new initiative places an increased emphasis on local marketing, particularly for those businesses where location is crucial such as hotels, pubs and restaurants. It may well be worth revisiting Google’s LatLong blog post on how Google local ranking works.


The move means it is increasingly urgent that your Google+ business page is optimised for the activities are likely to be high demand from your local market.



Why are so many SEO Experts Being Hit by the Penguin Update?

I’ve been struck over the last few days how many, supposedly, SEO experts are being hit by the Google Penguin Update. These include iAcquire, WPMU and a number of writers on the Search Engine Land daily newsletter. The problems of iAcquire and WPMU are well documented.

The first mentioned Penguin victim, iAcquire, has been caught actively buying links on behalf of their clients. A definite Google “No, no,” if the paids are not “no followed” and are for the purposes of gaining PageRank. iAcquire are now issuing apologies, blaming a failure of internal management controls.

The second mentioned Penguin victim, WPMU, has been caught using automated links on a large number of sub-domains, as well as a few trivial link building issues. It seems these links worked for a while but have been penalised by Google during the Penguin update. WPMU is a highly credible firm specialising in WordPress. And, indeed, we use the WPMU plugin on this blog. WPMU have carried out a major PR campaign to recover their positon. At the same time cleaning up their link base.

The iAcquire Paid Links Flowchart

The iAcquire Paid Links Flowchart

The third class of Penguin victim includes a number of SEO companies. Some of which merely allude to the problems they are having with their rankings post Penguin. They make posts about lost rankings, not actually owning up to the fact that the lost rankings are actually for their own clients.

The irony of all of this is that is that the personalities involved with these organisations often appear at search engine marketing conferences extolling the virtuesof their uniquely successful and clean (White hat) SEO practises. In actual fact, more often than not, these unuqiuely successful techniques rely on a black hat background. In the case of iAcquire, this appears be a large scale operation.

My own view, endorsed by others in the SEO trade is that link buying and link rental (the latter is often confused with the former) is a widespread practise. Indeed, many supposedly expert SEO companies do nothing more than rent large amounts of paid links from the large link rental companies. These companies, both the link sellers and the link buyers, will need a drastic change of business model.


Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations – Now in Force

The privacy and electronic communications regulations came into force over the weekend. The regulations, PECR for short, and known as the EU cookie law, passed into UK law 12 months ago but website owners were given a year’s grace in which to adopt the code. So far I have only seen two of the 25 or so websites I have visited make any attempt to get positive consent to track user’s behaviour.The law’s intent is to issue website users are informed about the types of information that website owners collect during visits.

Simply Clicks is only involved in using Google Analytics and Statcounter web analytics tracking software. Neither company has issued what is, in my opinion, diefinitive guidance as to the legality of using their services without positive consent. In the meantime we have amended our privacy statement.

The Information Commissioner has issued some guidance on the issue.


Search and Social Media Management

Social media has never been at the forefront of Simply Clicks’ activities. In recent weeks this has changed. Two weeks ago we added the rel=author tag to our blogs in order to exploit the more prominent role played by Google+ in the search engine results pages. The second has been the mass of interest presented by the Facebook IPO.

We believe we have an acute understanding of the role played by social media in the marketing by virtue of our grasp and monitoring of web analytics. Recently, however, we have been involved in two social media workshop activities. The first activity was to create a social media workshop for the local chamber of commerce. The second and most recent activity was the delivery of an in-house social media workshop. The latter workshop was a highly valuable exercise as it gave me a direct insight into how a business in a competitive market category was struggling to come to terms with how social media was currently practised. The conclusion I drew from this experience was the need to create a search marketing and social media management service. In essence, based on my own analyses (see next paragraph), social media as a standalone discipline rarely generates a meaningful return. It is only when when social media is integrated with branding and organic and paid search that it achieves its full potential.

Data relating to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn crops up from time to time within our web analytics. Prior to the most recent social media workshop I analysed individual websites and aggregates of certain categories such B2B and e-commerce websites. I found that average bounce rates tended to be higher and levels of engagement and conversion much lower. Unlike when assessing the value of paid or organic search, working out the return on investment of these activities was difficult. Paid search has a Google Adwords budget and organic search has SEO expenditure. But most social media activity is carried out in-house and uses staff time rather than budgets. In observing and analysing this activity I came up with my own measure or metric which I called return on total effort. In order to maximise the return from this total effort, I propose that integrating search and social provides the way forward.


Google Penguin Update Update

I wrote a recent post on the early feedback regarding the Google Penquin Update. Since my original post I have seen some more ranking movements on client websites. In almost every case these movements have been two or three places higher. Only in one case have I seen downward movements. In this particular example the site has retained most of its top rankings that are domain related and point to the home page but has lost some intermediate terms that point to interior pages.

An area I have yet to explore is the whole concept of negative SEO. This has become a hot topic, especially from the perspective of engaging in spammy activity against competitor websites. Essentially, the philosophy behind Penguin is to punish over-optimisation. From an off-page perspective it would be very easy to create a whole bunch of poor inbound links that could attract a Google penalty. It would be highly unethical and there is speculation that if Google applied a penalty based on this type of activity, that the damaged website may well be in a position to launch legal proceedings against originating websites or even Google. This area is likely to develop very rapidly especially in the black hat and crap hat SEO communities.

The Google Penguin update opens opportunities for  forensic SEO. If any website owner feels that their rankings have fallen since the update went live, they should check out their compliance with Google’s webmaster guidelines.



Google Over-Optimisation Penalty

The Google over-optimisation penalty, also known as the Google Penguin Update, appears to be the latest scare tactic used by unscrupulous SEO companies to generate business. These companies, having sold what I refer to as “craphat” SEO to unsuspecting and gullible buyers, are now selling an apparently magic service to remove low grade and irrelevant links. The key question to ask is whether you have suffered a recent fall in rankings? Secondly, whether that fall can be attributed to the over-optimisation penalty? Thirdly, if you have not seen any change in your rankings so far, are you likely to vulnerable to the update at some time in the near future?

The answer is likely to depend on the sorts of SEO tactics you have used. As a guide if you adhere to the following rules you should be ok:

  1. Generate links from reputable sources
  2. Generate links from topic related websites and pages
  3. Avoid anything that smells of automation
  4. Avoid anything that sounds too good to be true – e.g. 1,000 links for $50 or “Guaranteed rankings”
  5. Do not buy or rent links
  6. Avoid keyword stuffing – That is keyword use that looks unnatural or repetitive

I have one site I control that appears to have lost some rankings. However, the site is new has retained some of its more valuable rankings and could well be suffering from a sandbox effect. Secondly, I have been fed one request to remove links from a third party website that has received a Google email requesting that they sort out some unnatural links. In this particular case I believe my client had picked up a link via a link exchange scheme.

Google updates its algorithm on a periodic basis. Over time these updates are gradually eliminating the more questionable SEO practices. In the past 18 months I have witnessed agressive marketing of ever poorer quality links. In essence, if you avoid spammy SEO you should be ok. If, however, you suspect your website is vulnerable, check out your backlinks for links that should not be there. If you get stuck you are welcome to contact us regarding our forensic SEO service.


Local PPC Campaign Underway

Simply Clicks has launched a local pay per click campaign for Kent based electrical training company Redford Charles. Based in Rochester, Redford Charles specialise in C&G based electrical training courses. The PPC campaign uses Google Adwords and is concentrated within a radius of 45 miles of Rochester, covering Kent, Essex, East Sussex, parts of Surrey and most of London within the M25.


Simply Clicks to Host Digital Marketing Workshops

Simply Clicks has been lined up to host a series of digital marketing workshops on behalf of the Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce. The workshops are part of a business education series put on by the chamber in association with Best Business Events.

The half day workshops run in the Autumn of 2012 and each session serves as an introduction to a different aspect of digital marketing. Each individual workshop is dedicated to a specific area of online marketing.

  1. Search Engine Optimisation
  2. Pay Per Click Advertising
  3. Social Media
  4. Web Analytics

In each case workshop participants will be given the theory and practical examples of how they can use each marketing discipline to make immediate improvements to their business performance.

Simply Clicks has recently completed workshops for the chamber on SEO and PPC. The workshop on web analytics is a new introduction to the chamber’s workshop list. Details will be provided on how to book a place once these are available.


Google Soars 24% Quarter 1 2012

Google revenues have grown 24% to $10.65 billion (£6.81 billion) in Quarter 1 2012. Profits on a GAAP basis are stated at $3.31 billion (£2.17 billion) an increase of 47% on Quarter 1 2011.

Google’s income in the UK amounted to $1.15 billion (£735 million), equal to 10.8% of total revenue and 19.9% of Google’s Non-US revenues.

Despite the upbeat figures, Google reports that average cost per click fell 12%. I suspect that this is more a function of dilution caused by penetration of new markets and new market categories rather than a decline in like for like CPC rates in mature markets such as the UK and the US. As yet I cannot find any reference to the share of business that is attributed to the Google Adwords pay per click programme.

On an annualised basis, Q2 2011 to Q1 2012, Google’s revenues now amount to $39.98 billion. I estimate the UK’s share if this amounts to $4.3 billion or £2.75 billion.

For more information go to the Google investor centre.