An odd announcement form the GA product team was made last night that affects all users of web analytics tools:

When a signed in user visits your site from an organic Google search, Google Analytics will no longer report the query terms that the user searched on to reach your site.Full announcement

That’s a BIG change! Essentially marketers will no longer be able to view the keywords used by visitors that come from Google organic search in their web analytics reports (the fact they came from a Google organic search is still shown). Instead the keyword will be listed as “not provided” The rational for this, as the announcement explains, is to protect the privacy of users who are logged into their Google account.

What’s my view?

As you know, I am a big fan of user privacy and putting the end-user experience first, so on the one hand this is a good approach. However, this does appear to be a little over zealous.

Oddly, paid search is treated differently…

A dichotomy form the announcement is that Adwords traffic is not affected by this. It appears strange to me that Google considers privacy important for organic searches, but not for paid searches.

What’s the impact?

This impacts Google Analytics users and users of *any* web analytics tool. Only Keyword=(not provided) is shown.

And I suggest the impact is very large. Although users who are not logged into Google are unaffected, there are approximately 300m GMail users globally, and anyone who is active with Google services (Google’s whole raison d’etre!) will fall under this catch-all setting. It means a valuable piece of information for optimising your website – both for content and traffic acquisition – is going to be missing form your reports. I find that peculiar coming from a company that focuses heavily on keyword relevance when ranking websites in its organic results. Surely, should be helping website owners with this info…

The following video illustrates the significant impact this is starting to have for the period 10-Oct 2011 – 08-Dec 2011 (idea taken from Michael Whitaker‘s similar observations):

Click to play video showing the impact of 'not provided' google keywords

Your thoughts

This is going to be a major talking point I am sure and I would love to hear your feedback. The comments on the announcement itself are very negative (I particularly like the first one – “where’s the -1” – joking a side, I do think a -1 button would be great to have in search results).

For me, I really do not think this has been thought through fully by Google (something I have noticed happening more often at G in general). I agree the user should have the option to keep their search terms private – the option to switch this on/off in the account settings would make sense. However, at present keywords are removed whenever a visitor is logged in to their Google account – with no choice for the user (I don’t consider logging out a viable option). Thats got to be a bad thing, no?