Google has begun a major shift to encrypting all non-paid (organic) search activity, while continuing to provide keyword data for ad clicks. Within Google Analytics (or other Analytics platforms), this query data was lumped into the (not provided) segment. Anyone involved with online marketing or tracking their website performance with Analytics is likely well aware that this segment of "not provided" keyword data has been growing. Google has confirmed that it has begun shifting all searches to encrypted search, and many marketers have noticed a huge spike of (not provided) this month (Sept. 2013).
A Brief History of Not Provided
Since October of 2011, Google began encrypting search queries for people who were logged into their Google Account. Initially, Google stated that the percentage of keyword data lost to marketers would be in the single digits. Over time, more searches were encrypted, including search boxes & from the Address/URL bar of the Chrome, Apple's Safari browser in iOS6 and Firefox browsers. Marketers began to track the percentage of not provided and finding ways to adapt to the situation.
The Shift from Tracking Keywords to Landing Page Performance
Given the increasing percentage of not provided keyword data since 2011, the quality of the remaining keyword data from Google organic search has been questionable at best over the last year or so. Instead of evaluating your site's Google organic traffic via the associated keyword data, it's time to shift your tracking to a landing page metric. Based upon the landing pages of your site's visits from Google organic traffic, one can infer the type of keyword phrases that were likely used to find each landing page.
Other Options for Adapting to Not Provided
Fortunately, Bing still passes on the keyword data for organic search visits. Bing also provides a very high quality set of Webmaster Tools, complete with keyword research tools and SEO recommendations. Unfortunately, due to their small market share, gleaning data for small niche markets can be difficult.
Since keyword data is still passed onto advertisers, one can use Google AdWords to acquire paid keyword data through CPC advertising. One can measure impression and click through data for a variety of branded and non-branded keywords, and track a site's progress over time.
Google Webmaster Tools provides data on the search queries, impressions, average position, and click data for your website. Currently, Google provides 90 days worth of data, but plans to provide up to one year of historical data in the near future.
Time to Think Beyond the Keywords
In many ways, Google is pushing online marketers and website owners to think beyond the keyword and trying to rank well. If you are not already, it's time to focus on what really matters: the entire experience of your users. Can they find what they are looking for on your website? Are you providing unique, remarkable content to hold their attention? Will they keep your business in mind when they consider all their options?
While I don't buy Google's arguments of protecting users' privacy by withholding organic keyword data while providing keyword data for paid ads, that's the world we live in now.