Another, Better Way to Tackle (not provided)

Michael Wiegand

I know it’s a horribly dead horse-beaten topic now, but (not provided) is a bigger problem than ever for search engine marketers.

If we obsess over it, we lose sight of more important parts of a campaign.

If we don’t address it, the client thinks organic traffic on their bread and butter keywords is plummeting.

Damned if we do, damned if we don’t, right?

And there are several workarounds to guess-timate the keyword data you might be losing, but those are imperfect at best.

There’s a better way.

SEOs are always jealous that PPC folks don’t lose any data to (not provided), but since the two mediums are so symbiotic, why not grok their data on this?

Not only would it be a more educated guess as to what the user was searching for initially, but more importantly, you can glean the intent of these searchers.

Harness Paid Data

Here’s what I mean:

Go to the Top Conversion Paths report in Google Analytics.

screencap of top conversion paths

Some housekeeping at the top of the report — Make sure only your primary goal is selected: an ecommerce transaction or a lead generated.

Another screencap of Conversion paths

Then set the path length to 2 instead of 2 or more. That’ll be most of where the action is, and it’ll make your data export from the report a lot cleaner.

Screencap of particular conversion paths

Then, set your date range wide. I like to do year-to-date, but at least go 90 days.

Screencap of date range from Google Analytics

Then click on Other under Primary Dimension and start typing “key” and select Keyword Path.

Screencap of channels in Google Analytics

Once that loads, click Edit next to the Advanced Filter box. Make sure the path includes (not provided) and then exclude your brand name(s) using a Regular Expression like this:


screencap Regular Expression

Looking at the first few rows of the data, it’ll be awful. Unavailable just means a non-keyword-driven channel like email, direct or referral:

non-keyword driven channel

But when you dig deeper, you’ll find a treasure trove of situations where (not provided) was the first touch or last touch in a string of visits that resulted in a conversion, where there was also a provided keyword! (Blurred out here, but trust me – they’re real!)

Screencap of conversion visits

Export this out to Excel and you can start doing all kinds of things with it! Separate First Click and Last Click using Text to Columns.

Take some of this information back and at least start making some smarter inferences about the kind of data you’re missing.

Screencap of last clicks and conversions
Michael Wiegand
Director of Analytics

In nearly two decades as a marketer, Michael's experience has run the gamut from design, development, direct mail, multivariate testing, print and search. He now heads Portent's analytics practice, overseeing everything from Google Tag Management, to CRM integration for closed-loop analytics, to solving ponderous digital marketing questions. Outside of work, he enjoys recording music, playing D&D, and supporting Seattle Sounders FC.

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  1. Michael, awesome strategy, first one I’ve seen outside of the “Landing Pages” strategy that I actually liked.
    Conversion Paths and a little regex for the win!

    1. Absolutely, Alan.
      The landing page method always bothered me, because hundreds of keywords could potentially trigger a visit to a landing page and not all of those searchers will get the right experience they want.
      (not provided) > provided paid keyword really does solve for customer intent, which is always the bottom line.

  2. I like the reference in the chart to “jedi master” because after testing your theory you are! This is awesome and thanks so much for posting!

    1. Cheers, Sarah.
      Just anonymizing client keyword data in the most awesome way possible. Heh!

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