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Many SEOs spend a lot of time trying to improve rankings for non-branded search terms, for all sorts of reasons. We do this too, but I've always kept a very close eye on branded search volume.

When we launched this blog in 2006 one of our primary aims was to improve our overall share of search. Another was to move the key brand metrics in a favourable way, not least because a visitor who adds 'Econsultancy' to a search term is 8-12 times more valuable than somebody who doesn't include our brand in their query.

As such, branded search traffic is very important to us, but the horror show that is 'Not Provided' means that it is increasingly hard to track it. In fact, you will be appalled if you only look at your analytics data.

With this in mind, I thought I'd show you our numbers, and provide a workaround for you to try.

Not Provided

First up, let's look at the rise of 'Not Provided'. Unfortunately this has now grown to about 68% of all organic search referrals within two years. 

Branded Search

Now let's figure out what our branded vs unbranded search looks like.

If you use Google Analytics then aim for 'Organic Search' (in Traffic Sources > Search).

Next, click the 'advanced' filter to add your brand keywords. For starters, your company name, but it's also worth adding your sub-brands, such as products and services.

You can choose to include or exclude these keywords, depending on which view you wish to see (branded or non-branded).

Having done this we can start to look at trends, and I'd recommend that you download a few .CSV files along the way, as you will need them later. 

Here's a look at our branded search traffic in the two years to the end of June. Note the savage decline in volume. We can thank 'Not Provided' for that...

It all looks very bleak, but the reality is somewhat different, and things aren't as bad as they may appear. What we need to do is offset all of that 'Not Provided' traffic, to find some more accurate numbers.

To do this, you're going to have to open up a spreadsheet. I'll walk you through it…

The spreadsheet

The goal here is simply to remove the 'Not Provided' traffic from the equation, in order to try to find a much more realistic branded search volume. 

The chart below shows our analytics data for the past two years, with 'Not Provided' traffic and branded search traffic split out.

An explanation of what's going on in the columns...

Total Search Volume: The number of visitors referred by organic search, per month.

Not Provided Volume: The number of visitors who arrive without any search query data.

Not Provided % Of Referrals: The percentage of 'Not Provided' traffic. 

Branded Search Volume: The total number of visitors (that we know about) who included the word 'econsultancy' in their search query.

Stated Branded Search %: The percentage of branded search traffic according to Google Analytics. However since it includes 'Not Provided' traffic, this number is pretty much meaningless. 

And the two most important ones...

Actual % Branded Search: The percentage of branded search traffic when Not Provided traffic is removed (Branded Search Volume as a percentage of Total Search Volume minus Not Provided Volume). This is the number we want to uncover.

Probable Branded Search: Total Search Volume multiplied by Actual % Branded Search. A much more likely number than the 6,600 suggested for the month of June 2013 by Google Analytics. 

A few observations...

  • By my reckoning branded search may have actually fallen to just short of 8% of total traffic. I would have expected to see a slight decline, given the rise in overall search traffic (which has almost doubled in two years).
  • In terms of overall volume, we're probably averaging more than 20,000 branded search visits a month. Better than where we were at in the second half of 2011, when Not Provided was introduced. 
  • As Not Provided grows, the sample size reduces, which is a threat to accuracy. I still think there is enough data to make some reasonably accurate guesses, but when Not Provided accounts for more than 90% of traffic it could become more difficult to make sense of things. 

Anyway, that's how I do it, and I'm hoping that a statistics wizard doesn't suggest that it's all shades of wrong (but please do if my brain has gone off piste again).

Do you have any other ways of measuring branded search? Please leave a comment below if you have other suggestions. 

Chris Lake

Published 24 July, 2013 by Chris Lake

Chris Lake is CEO at EmpiricalProof, and former Director of Content at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter, Google+ or connect via Linkedin.

582 more posts from this author

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Mike Upton, E-Commerce Manager at Demon Tweeks

A very good guide Chris. I follow a very similar extrapolation process on a monthly basis too to get a guide on how our search traffic is broken down.

The biggest fly in the ointment though is that I believe this still does not give you a clear picture of what is going on unfortunately. There is also the on going reporting issue with iOS organic traffic being reported as 'Direct':

http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/11188-apple-s-ios-6-update-means-86-of-google-referral-traffic-is-encrypted

With this going on then you are also missing a chunk of branded organic traffic here too. So, if that was actually reporting correctly would your figures above actually show that your brand traffic was still accounting for around 9-10% of total traffic? Very possible!

almost 3 years ago

Chris Lake

Chris Lake, CEO at Empirical Proof

Hey Mike,

Yep, you're quite right... IOS traffic is problematic on multiple fronts. I suspect that we are probably nearer to that 10% number, but in any event the days of knowing absolutely are long gone! Extrapolation and guesswork rule the day. Alas.

Cheers,

c.

almost 3 years ago

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Nick Stamoulis

I don't know if you'll every be able to say with 100% confidence what those "not provided" numbers translate into but I think that the system you came up with is a great way to pull out data as best as you can. "Not provided" is only getting bigger, unfortunately, so sooner or later the numbers won't be statistically significant enough to tell you much other than best guess.

almost 3 years ago

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Joe Lineker

Hi Chris,

Good post. I have been estimating branded traffic and non-branded traffic from (not provided) the same way since it was introduced back in late 2011.

Sadly it's only going to get worse. SEOs are going to be increasingly dependant on PPC data for information which is far from perfect. Some clients do not wish to use paid advertising, which makes it very difficult to know what strategies to adopt to improve their commercial success.

It is very frustrating to work in an industry where it is possible to measure virtually everything that we have to be forced into either paying for data that's close to what's really happening or accept we are losing our sight of this priceless information.

Maybe everybody should put in their meta description "please repeat this search whilst signed out" ;) In all seriousness though - very good post - people should take note of this important data whilst he can still get it!

almost 3 years ago

Ben Acheson

Ben Acheson, Digital Marketing Manager at BenAcheson.com

Another excellent post Chris.

Your readers may find this useful:

http://www.digivate.com/not-provided-keywords-estimator/

It's a tool we built to quickly estimate the brand/non-brand split of Not Provided keywords.

Enjoy!

almost 3 years ago

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George Liapis, eMarketing at Buldoza S.A.

Excellent article!

One thought I use is to see the landing pages of the "Non-provided" searches - it gives you a hint of where these people went, so you can estimate what they searched.

almost 3 years ago

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Mihaela

in analytics, I found a report under "Search Engine optimisation" -> Queries. I found there that the total number of clicks reported is just 10% smaller than the number of organic visits (in the organic search traffic report). I think this difference comes from some users entering first time on the site by organic search and the second time by directly typing the url. The second visit, being direct, does not overwrite the __utmz cookie, so the same traffic source (organic search) gets another visit counted for the same keyword. But, as for clicks, it's counted only once.
Of course, the Queries report does not give you much data (conversions, time on site, etc), buy I think it can be used an pretty accurate picture of how your SEO strategy is working. Thoughts?

almost 3 years ago

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Craig

I use a mix of this method with some cross referencing with landing page data.

If your landing pages have specific key word targets in meta, content etc then you can make some good estimates of the search terms used to hit those pages.

Ultimately, it's all about making the best estimates.

almost 3 years ago

Tim Aldiss

Tim Aldiss, Consultant/Director at ThinkSearch

Google kills Search shocker! It's almost as if they are driving us towards Facebook's graph search as a preferred offering. Go figure.

Top tips though Chris

@Mihaela That's Google Webmaster Tools data being pulled in, and not very accurate either.

almost 3 years ago

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David P

Humm great post!

There is another post about web analytics methods to improve SEO despite an increase in the number of “not-provided” keywords: http://blog.atinternet.com/en/index.php/2013/07/23/best-practices/how-to-improve-seo-despite-an-increase-in-the-number-of-not-provided-keywords-web-analytics-methods-and-useful-tips/1432

almost 3 years ago

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Aiden

If I measure branded search traffic I consider not only the analytics data (keywords, landing pages) but the google trends data, too.

almost 3 years ago

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David Sewell

Using Google prediction API you can get closer to the truth hiding in the NP bucket. I have a working prototype that learns visitor behaviour to predict the keywords that lead to each visit. So you end up with 'intelligent' predictions for each 'not provided' visit and this can help get closer to the true brand/non-brand split.
Ask me @seoeditors on twitter if you are keen to try it.

almost 3 years ago

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Sarah Tunstall

The methodology you describe Chris is crude but useful as a starting point when looking for a rough guide to what might be hiding in NP. However, the % splits of known brand and non-brand traffic should look at Google-only traffic, not all organic, as it is Google referrals which result in (not provided) keywords.

almost 3 years ago

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Furlong

I don't even understand how I ended up here, but I assumed this post was once good. I don't recognize who you might be
but definitely you're going to a well-known blogger if you happen to aren't already.
Cheers!

almost 3 years ago

Emma North

Emma North, Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai

The massive rise in (not provided) is a scary one but it will only get worse and tactics like this will soon be essential to get indications of the data we are now losing.

A post I wrote last year on surviving (not provided) is still relevant too http://www.koozai.com/blog/analytics/surviving-not-provided-keywords-in-google-analytics/ and using a combination of landing page analysis and the forecasting tactics you discuss here will likely become the only way to get these stats for organic traffic in a few years time.

I love this site too for monitoring the impact of (not provided) and seeing how the forecasted 100% date changes: http://www.notprovidedcount.com/

almost 3 years ago

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