Organic Search: Half-Truths About Half Of Google Traffic

Funny what you can learn in the “news” today…

In a recent blog post on MarketingVOX, a rather astounding and confusing claim was made, buried amidst an odd pileup of sub-headlines…

“Half of Google Traffic Unattributable”

Over here at Amplitude Digital, this caught our eye instantly, so we curiously scrolled down to read all about it.

Here is what we then found, buried at the bottom of the bullet-riddled page:


  • About half of traffic coming from Google is not attributable to its source due in good part to the rise of encrypted search.

That’s right. That was it. That was all she – or he; there’s no attributed author here, which is quite understandable to us – wrote.

We have to admit this much – the whole thing got us digging for more. So we clicked on that highlighted “encrypted search” link…and it took us to a recent blog post on Search Engine Watch.

And the headline there?

“Google ‘(Not Provided)’ Traffic Highest for Tech Industry Brands at 56% [Study]”

And the opening sentence there read thusly:

BrightEdge recently released findings that confirmed what many marketers are dealing with today: Google’s “(not provided)” designation in Google Analytics is up. Way up.

If you’re a bit confused here, don’t worry. We were too. Even though we’ve addressed some fishy “fact-finding” and odd “reporting” before here at the official Amplitude Digital blog. And, lo and behold, that blog post also covered some rather “creative reporting” from the very same folks over at MarketingVOX.

And, just as we relayed that 54% does not constitute “most” in that case…56% does not equate to “half” here. Or there. Or anywhere. Obviously. But that was far from the biggest issue here. Obviously.

Obviously (to us, at least), this Search Engine Watch blog post was talking about organic search traffic…not ALL of Google traffic, which is what was stated, or at least implied, by the original headline.

And if one was to actually take the time to actively read the aforementioned Search Engine Watch article, even more detail and nuance would be revealed. Which, once again, seems obvious to us, as lifelong readers.

As the article’s author intelligently and accurately outlines, the “(not provided)” data has expanded since Google first released encrypted search in beta in May 2010, and then launched it across all searches for signed-in users in 2011. From then on, several site owners began seeing “(not provided)” in Google Analytics where information on individual queries driving traffic to their site should have appeared. This was done in order to protect Google users’ privacy during online searches.

The article’s author goes on to outline the toll “(not provided)” was taking on Search Engine Watch itself, writing:

Search Engine Watch is certainly experiencing the wrath of “(not provided)” as well. From June to December of 2012, “(not provided)” accounted for 47.1 percent of all organic visits, and from January to June of this year, that number ballooned to 60.2 percent. 

Of course, just like any other problem in life, there are viable solutions out there when it comes to “the wrath of “(not provided)”…and the article’s author accurately detailed some of these solutions as well.

Google Search Console, for starters, can allow and empower digital marketers to recover “(not provided)” keyword data.

You can also expand your thinking when it comes to measurement, and begin relying less and less on keyword data to measure your brand’s or clients’ success.

Instead, use different sets of data to gauge success, such as content and web page visits. After all, if everybody is going to say and speak and write and post about how “content is king”…well, then maybe they should practice what they preach too.

No matter what you do, just keep in mind not to believe everything you read. And take a little bit of time to dig into what you are reading.

You just might be surprised at what can emerge, the digger you deep…

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