September 10, 2013 - Comments Off on The rise of the unknown

The rise of the unknown

Hi, I’m Tariq Ahmed and I’m currently the newest member of the Bloom family! I come with three years’ experience in agency land, and during that time I’ve made a new best friend in the whole wide world. Its name is Google Analytics!

According to W3techs.com, Google Analytics is used by 79.7% of websites whose traffic can be measured – that’s 50.1% of all websites! The market dominance of Google Analytics is astonishing when you look at the numbers.


On 18th October 2011, Google announced that all searches made through a secure channel won’t send the search term through to analytics. Instead, they’ll be grouped under a key term called Not Provided.

Fast forward to 2013. How has this change affected the way we see data through Google Analytics? To begin answering that question I visited notprovidedcount.com. They’ve been recording the growth of the not provided term on 60 websites across a range of industries.

Using the data available from what they’ve been tracking, it shows that the average amount of traffic in Google that comes through as not provided is currently 63.05%. So almost two thirds of all reported data has been unavailable to webmasters. The not provided figure on 31st July 2013 was 41.88%.

Over the last month the percentage has jumped to 50.55%. The not provided searches have rocketed in growth – unlike anything we’ve seen in the past. There hasn’t been a correlating spike over the last two months in Google Chrome’s market share, which makes this difficult to understand.

So I did some research through my own experience in Analytics to see if there were any obvious clues (while I could still see the data!). After a little digging around I found that Safari’s month-on-month data for not provided had risen in all of our clients too.

In 2012 Safari launched a ‘do not track’ option, which gave users the option to deny data to cookies. Apple is pushing the ‘do not track’ into iOS7, and with future iterations from Safari it’s clear that there’s been more exposure of the ‘do not track’ features.

Also, the ‘do not track’ option is now part of Mozilla. They’ve announced a new browser that will block cookies by default. What all this means is that the amount of data that we’re seeing in Analytics could significantly reduce – by even more than what we have seen so far.

This ‘do not track’ option is most probably not responsible for the sudden increase in not provided. I have seen a link with iOS6 which could explain this rise. Previously, all search traffic from the iOS Google search bar was coming through as direct instead of organic search. This has now been fixed, but with a knock on effect – all searches through the iOS Google search bar are now coming through as not provided (as this is a secure search), which could explain the rise.

‘Do not track’ is a blow to marketers. The major problem is that trying to monitor the traffic coming in to websites has been seriously compromised. The increase in the levels of not provided data makes the analysis tricky. The data that we can see is falling week by week and there’s no guarantee that you’re getting reflective data in the not provided data.

Indeed, it’s a difficult scenario for marketers all over the world. However, I feel it’s not the end – it’s more like a change. I think Google Analytics will be just as powerful as it has been, but it may be marketers who have to adapt the way they use the tool to compensate for this shift in trend.

One of the reasons why I really enjoy digital marketing is because, on the outside, it looks chaotic, with changes in algorithms and access to data. But while all that is happening, there is one recurring theme – that high quality and innovative content will always be rewarded.