Season’s Greetings “Not Provided” By Google

A few weeks ago, we blogged about our concerns regarding Google shutting down referral tracking for users logged into their Google accounts.  Google told us not to be concerned, that it was only going to be a small minority of your traffic that you were going to lose and it won’t impact your advertising efforts.  We projected that it would represent approximately 10%-15% of all Google Organic search traffic, an aggressive forecast compared to many others in the search marketing blogosphere that forecasted this figure in the lower single digits.

It appears we were all wrong.

On this past Halloween, Google initiated a dirty trick that has been no treat to Advertisers.  Google clearly attempted to lull search marketers to sleep for two weeks hoping we’d forget about their decision and let the negative feedback simmer before they attacked.  On 10/31, Google began opening the flood gates and the data we’ve been using to deliver higher ROI was washed away.

Overnight, Advertisers were greeted with a 500% increase in “Not Provided” traffic on Halloween.  We have subsequently seen 30% and 15% traffic volume growth in the following weeks with no end in sight.  What many industry pundits thought would not be a major issue now appears to be on its way to becoming a powder keg.

Since Google unleashed its fury on Advertisers, the percentage of unknown traffic quickly moved into the double-digits, but it has gone beyond even the most aggressive predictions.  For the week beginning 11/13, we saw across our client base that 18.3% of all traffic details were being cloaked by Google.  Our maximum rate seen on any one website was 20.14% and the lowest rate seen was 11.89%.  Most concerning is that every website saw its Not Provided traffic grow each week and there is no sign of slowing.

While the acceptance of Google+ by online users grows, the situation will grow worse.  Advertisers can expect that as much as 50%, if not more, of their Google organic keyword performance visibility will be lost.  Google can continue to insult our intelligence all they like, this is not about privacy, but instead a brazen attempt to corner all the data on the market and make Advertisers pay Google, and only Google, to violate the user’s privacy.  If Google was seriously interested in protecting user privacy, they would automatically log out users similar to the banking industry and require proactive behavior by the user to sign in again.  By allowing users to stay logged in forever, Google has shown its motives to the business community and no matter how many people they trot out there to say they are the good guys and its about privacy protection, we aren’t buying what your selling.

At some point, the government will wake up and realize the damage that these anti-competitive actions have caused to Advertisers and online users alike.  If you are a gambler, place your bets on a date after November 2012.  Until then, Google will be laughing all the way to the bank.