Is the Golden Age of Website Analytics Coming to an End Already?

It’s no secret, I love online marketing. The reason I love it is that it’s so measurable and you can separate what’s real and working from what’s not. Amazing, insightful analytics make that possible. But now, it looks like the best of those days may behind us.

Keyword Not Provided

The aspect of online analytics that’s currently under the most sustained attack is keyword data from search engines. In the past, if I were to search on Google using some keywords, and then click on a website, Google would be kind enough to let that website know what keywords I used. A website owner can use that information to better understand visitor intent, product demand, website performance, or even understand where visitors are getting the wrong pages for their key phrases. This bit of information is under attack. And Google, of all companies, was the one that fired the first shot.

Logged in to Google? Keywords Not Provided

Google was the first ones out of the gate to eliminate keyword referral data when users were logged in. We’ve blogged about not provided in the past and since that post, this functionality has been rolled out beyond just Google.com. The SSL search functionality is what other providers and platforms are using as well.

Using Chrome? Keywords probably not provided

A cool new feature of Chrome is that you can log in to synchronize your browsing experience across multiple platforms. Part of that synchronization is usernames and passwords, which makes it easier to log in to Google, but it also gives you keyword not provided. Currently, I’m seeing about 30-60% of Chrome users coming in with (not provided).

Using Firefox 14 and up? Keywords not provided

That cool Google search box in the top right of Firefox? It’s been using Google’s SSL search since version 14, which came out July 17th. From here, I can see that about 50-70% of them have upgraded. That means we no longer get any keyword data from those users.

Firefox Not provided
Firefox users with no keyword referring data.

Using Safari on iOS6? Nothing provided!

Apple, Google’s past friend and now foe, also chose to go with SSL search with Safari in iOS6 (released Sept 21). It also doesn’t pass any referrer data at all. You don’t even get to see that those users came from Google. Instead, they come into the “direct” bucket in Google Analytics. The image below shows the incredible gain of direct traffic from iOS users. Understand that the gain in direct traffic means I’m not getting any referrer or keyword data from that traffic.

direct traffic ios
Direct traffic from iOS

Going to use IE10? Nothing provided!

Another Google foe, Microsoft, has chosen the penultimate weapon against Analytics by choosing to implement a “Do Not Track” flag in IE10 as default. Other browsers already have Do Not Track as an option, but none have been so bold as to turn it on by default. This acts like the magic mind erase tool from the movie “Men in Black.” Of course, advertisers and other companies may choose to ignore the flag altogether.

So where does that leave us?

Tracking helps companies make their websites more usable based on how users search for and then browse their sites.  Since advertising pays for much of the internet, these cookies and tracking codes help advertising companies provide ads that are more relevant to your interests. Keyword data was one of the only attributes that told me about a user’s intent. In aggregate, it provided incredible insights into what users expected and wanted. Without that data, I’m going to have to go back to making wild guesses as to what users want. Talk about frustration!