In October of 2011, Google announced that users logged into their Google Account would be redirected to Google’s secure search page. If you’re logged into Gmail, Google+ or any other Google product, instead of going to http://www.google.com, you will be redirected to https://www.google.com.
This caused an outcry in the web analytics world. Before November 1, analysts knew the keywords users entered in search engines to get to their website. And that was pretty powerful information. If 10,000 visitors came to your website by using the search term “xyz”, but 9,000 of them bounced, you knew you had better do something to fix up that landing page.
But this information is essentially no more, or at best, flawed. Google claimed the security change would affect a “minority of your traffic” in Google Analytics, but that’s not what we’re seeing. After a few months, the curves show the results for “not provided” climbing astronomically. For most, “(not provided)” becomes the #2 result for organic search, usually behind the branded search. In some cases, it is even ahead of branded search. That is hardly a minority of traffic.
This is an example “dangerous free“. We had very valuable data and now we don’t. But what can we do? It was free. Google had no obligation to give us this data.
I recommend reading Avinash Kaushik’s blog post on the topic. He helps you get beyond your missing data and find other ways to come up with actionable insights in the presence of (not provided).