Over the last few months, keyword referral data in Google Analytics has becoming increasingly less reliable with the requirement to use https:// by Google when you visit the search engine. If you’re logged in to a Google service like Gmail etc then any searches you do won’t show the keywords or terms you used in the Google Analytics account of the the website owner by way of keyword referral data as it is normally.

If you’re not logged in to your Google account then the keyword referral data is passed on but in an internet world reasonably dominated by Google the number of users not actually logged into a Google account is getting smaller as every day passes.

It’s now estimated that 1 in 3 searches now don’t pass on keyword referral data, certainly from websites we have access to this figure is quite accurate, some sites we’ve seen have less so this is a problem that isn’t going to go away; it’ll likely get worse.

Why do you need keyword referral data anyway?

Referral data is used within analytical solutions for a number of reason but is most valuable to those that are responsible for the content of a website. Knowing that people are searching for a particular terms within Google or other search engines allows the website owner to focus effort on certain pages or content and improve it to try and get it to rank better in the search engines.

Not having the keyword referral data is starting to make certain sections of analytical data less valuable; it’s still of use but only getting a small subset keyword referral data you used to get limits the information and impacts decisions that can be made from the data.

Why would Google do this?

Anti Google conspiracy theorists would say that this can only be a good thing for Google as they don’t make revenue from Google Analytics (the free version at least) but they do from Adwords where keyword data is fully available. Adwords profits have been soaring since the turn of the year but there has been a decline in the average “cost per click”, mainly due to increasing mobile targeted ads that are significantly cheaper at present. The recent privacy change would likely aid the growth in their Adwords product for website owners who need the keyword referral data. Data is after all a valuable commodity, without it you’re missing vital information required to make informed decisions.

What other options are there?

Now you could argue, use another analytical tool. You could do that, it’s an option but there aren’t exactly a huge range of choices out there that are free and have the advanced functionality that Google Analytics has.
You’d really be looking at using more advanced tools that attract licence fees like Omniture, Webtrends or Adobe’s SiteCatalyst as there are work rounds available to get around the keyword referral data issue.

You would also need to cover the additional expense, either time or monetary to get over the inevitable learning curve of a new system as well as having to re-tag all of your individual bespoke tracking which can be a big job in itself on some websites.

All of this adds up to a big step back as far as Google Analytics goes, a real shame considering how far its come.

Surely Google could anonymise the keyword referral data associated with a Google Account so that they couldn’t associate individual keyword referral data with a specific user?