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25 Mar
2014

GA ‘not provided’ or ‘not set’ traffic

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Google Analytics is considered to be the best service to track website statistics. It allows to define the most effective marketing activities, to identify website traffic trends and another statistics. But sometimes even the most efficient web analytics system fails to show relevant information in its reports: the number of results listed as ‘not provided’ or ‘not set’ is steadily increasing in Google Analytics. As a result, it can be rather challenging to make a precise data analysis.

What does ‘not provided’ identifier mean?

In 2011 Google announced that they started to encrypt visitors’ searches to protect user privacy and limit keyword data by grouping a great number of keywords under ‘not provided’ identifier. In other words, if a user logged in the Google account performs search, the keywords used will not show up in the GA report. Now the percentage of ‘not provided’ traffic may reach up to 80-90% providing no accurate information about website performance in the organic search. Though, it is not true for visits that come from paid search campaigns where keywords are always displayed.

How to recover ‘not provided’ data?

Invention of Google ‘not provided’ identifier is a great challenge for webmasters, SEO specialists and marketers. It has created a strong incentive to find new effective solutions. But first, it is necessary to evaluate the impact of ‘not provided’. If GA reports contain less than 5% of ‘not provided’ traffic, there is nothing to worry about as this missing statistics won’t change the “big picture”. The higher the percentage of hidden data, the higher the chance to misread Google Analytics reports and, as a result, make a wrong decision in campaign adjustments or budget allocation. In other words, GA data has less value or, if the percentage is too high, no value at all.

There are some ways to recover ‘not provided’ traffic. As it was mentioned above, Google AdWords accounts provide complete traffic data. It will give some insight into keywords that are driving traffic and conversions to a website. Another way is to track total organic search performance and see how it impacts conversion and revenue. But it should be pointed out that ‘not provided’ identifier has greatly influenced branded search volume. Today it is quite difficult to differentiate between branded and non-branded segments as the percentage of branded queries has a tendency to disappear from ‘not provided’ traffic.

Linking Google Analytics account and Google Webmaster Tools accounts can help to decode hidden information too. Webmaster Tools alone do not produce exact data in comparison with GA, but consolidated reports can give a glimpse into current keyword rankings and help to recover some parts of the missing traffic. Another good option to cope with ‘not provided’ traffic is to examine landing pages to see which of them get more traffic from Google. With properly optimized pages, it is possible to track keywords that attract visitors to a website. In addition, you may analyze page level data (the search visits and bounce rate).

What is ‘not set’ identifier?

‘Not set’ identifier may be displayed when a visit comes from direct traffic. For example, when a user just type in an URL in the address bar or it can be referral traffic. In other words, search engine is not being used. It also shows up when Google Analytics does not have information for a selected dimension (no data for keywords, landing pages, language, country, etc.). Commonly it relates to technical issues.

How to resolve ‘not set’ problem?

Here are a few must-have checks you need to run if a website experiences GA ‘not set problem:

  • Check whether a Google AdWords account is linked with the Google Analytics account. If there are several AdWords accounts are used to track multiple campaigns, it is recommended to link all account with the GA account;
  • Make sure that links are tagged in a proper way. It is possible to choose Auto Tagging or Manual Tagging, but do not use both. Problems may arise if cost data is not applied or there is URL redirection;
  • If an organic search report contains ‘not set’, it may indicate that a filter has been configured incorrectly or ‘urchin.js’ tracking code used on a landing page is not supported. When you generate content reports, the most frequent causes for ‘not set’ are the removal of a specific pageview by a view filter or missing _trackPageview code.

Combining different alternatives, it is possible to access a considerable part of traffic data and successfully track website performance. As for ‘not set’ identifier, there are more ways to restore missing parts in analytics compared to “not provided” as the problem issue usually relates to incorrect website settings and statistics counter parameters.

If these tips have not solved your problem or you want to share some useful information with us, please leave a comment.

 

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