One of the most common questions of Google Analytics is that why there is “not set” or “not provided” keywords in the keywords report. Although there are a lot of blog posts and discussions around this topic, I would like to dig into it deeper here.
“Not Provided” in keywords
You might already know the cause of it. The “not provided” keyword is caused by Google secure search, which Google introduced to protect privacy a while ago. Google secure search means that the searches are done with HTTPS instead of HTTP. When the destination page is with HTTP protocol, the referrer is not available in the DOM object. Therefore the analytics code is not able to retrieve the referrer. To resolve the problem, Google inserts an HTTP redirect link between the secure search results and the destination URL, so you can still see the referrer is Google with your analytics code. However, Google hides the search terms in the redirect link. That is the reason we cannot see the organic search terms of secure search traffic. It is a decision made by Google. They still want you to know that the traffic is from Google search, they just don’t want to give away the search terms. This only happens to organic search. You should not see “not provided” keyword in your paid search report.
So, who are the visitors likely to use Google secure searches? Google users who logged in to their Google accounts use secure search by default. More and more browsers start to implement secure search as default search method, for example, Firefox and Safari on iOS. In my experience, I have seen the percentage of “not provided” keyword increased a lot since it was introduced. In the organic search report of one of my websites, it is over 75%. And I expect the percentage to continue going up.
There is still a place where you can see what keywords are driving organic search traffic to your websites: Google Webmaster Tools. You can connect your Google Analytics profiles with your Google Webmaster Tools, to import the data into your Google Analytics. However, the data cannot be correlated with user behaviour data and conversions captured by Google Analytics. So, it is quite difficult to analysis the organic keywords’ performance (e.g. conversion rate).
“Not Set’ in Keywords
In some cases, you could see “not set” in your keywords report. There are a couple reasons for that to happen. If you look at the Google official explanation, it says that is because the traffic source is direct or referral. Well, it is not a very helpful answer when you see “not set” keyword in your search traffic source reports.
The typical reason for “not set” keyword in search traffic source reports is caused by Adwords auto-tagging. When auto-tagging is enabled, Google appends the “gclid” parameter to the destination URLs in Adwords ads. The value of the “gclid” parameter is a random string no one can understand except Google Analytics. Google Analytics can look up the campaign, keywords, etc from Adwords backend based on the “gclid” value. But, before Google Analytics conducts the look up, the owner of the Google Analytics profile and the Adwords account must authorize the integration, otherwise Google Analytics cannot access the data. So, without authorization of the integration, Google Analytics captures the “gclid” parameter, knows the visits are from Adwords campaigns, but it has no further information about the campaigns, like keywords, ads content, etc. Therefore, in the reports, the keyword is “not set”. To confirm auto-tagging is the cause, simply apply “campaign” as second dimension in the paid search report as the screenshot shows below, you can see the campaign is also “not set”.
To fix the problem, there are two options. The best option is to authorize the integration between Google Analytics and Adwords, so you can see the campaign and keyword performance in Google Analytics. The other option is turn off auto-tagging, and manually tag the destination URLs with UTM variables.
I hope this article gives you some good ideas about the “not provided” and “not set” keywords. If it still does not resolve the mystery in your keywords report, leave a question and I will try to answer it.