Organic Search Queries

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Overcoming the (not set) and (not provided) problem in Google Analytics

When you check out the analysis of your website, you’ll likely find a percentage of (not set) keywords in double figures along with a significant percentage of (not provided) keywords. This means you have no access to these query terms. To understand why this is occurring, you need to know what each term means:

  • (not set) means Google Analytics has no information for the item dimension. This typically occurs due to a direct or referral visit, both of which contain no campaign information.
  • (not provided) occurs when the visitor is logged in as a Google user. The key term is encrypted to protect privacy.

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Both situations are unhelpful to you, as they lead to no data and therefore no way to determine keyword traffic.

Alternatives to Organic Queries Reports

Luckily, there are several ways to sidestep the problem and find meaning in your data. Here are a few analysis methods to consider:

Gain useful data from landing pages

It is possible to extract (not provided) terms when you look at keywords on landing pages. Although you will be limited to real time, which means the tactic is not useful for historical data, you can use this method to reveal some useful information.

As with any major change in GA, you should create a raw view in addition to your new working view. If you make a mistake, you can revert to this view and recover your previous data.

  • Enable ecommerce and configure search where relevant but without stripping search parameters.
  • The view should not ignore parameters.
  • Neither must you configure the default page.
  • Most likely, you will not want to apply any filters, as these will only change the data.
  • Keep all IP addresses and URLs.

Once you’ve completed your raw view, you can start extracting (not provided) terms.

  1. In your Analytics account, find “Admin” and select “Profiles.”
  2. Choose the desired profile and select “Filters.”
  3. Create a custom filter and select “Advanced.”
  4. In Field A -> Extract A, set the campaign term as (.not provided.)
  5. In Field B -> Extract B, set request URI to (.*)
  6. Under Output To -> Campaign Term, write np - $B1

Before

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After

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Allow internal search on your site

With a site search, you can find what visitors are seeking on your website by examining search terms. This will help you discover which keywords you should incorporate into your site as well as those those already leading to content.

Turn to AdWords

The (not provided) encryption only applies to organic traffic. If you are able, purchase some of your keywords as pay-per-click ads and use the Analytics report for full information about their performance. Although the results will not directly relate to organic search, they will still provide you with a good indication of the value of any given keyword.

Turn to Google search strings

Search strings are redirect URLs and quite different from actual URLs. If you’re willing to get technical, you’ll find there is a huge amount of information pertaining to keywords in the relative link positions of the results. The most important information is in the “ved” and “cd” sections. The process is very complex — you’ll need to follow these instructions. Remember to check out the comments for new discoveries made by other users.

Use other reports and tools

For a site that is reasonably small, a Queries Report may be somewhat useful. You can access data from two days before for a basic overview about organic search. Another option is Webmaster Tools for Search Queries, which you’ll find under the Traffic menu. Again, the information is quite basic, but here there’s a bonus — the tool provides you with the clickthrough rate for keywords. This should give you ideas about where to improve title tags and meta descriptions. Plus, you’ll receive an approximation for search impressions for certain keywords.

The (not set) and (not provided) problem is a big issue when it comes to analyzing your website. However, it is far from impossible to overcome. Although the methods above may require a little extra effort, they will lead you to search for data in new ways and may enable you to make discoveries that would have otherwise gone ignored.

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