Internet Users Privacy Impacts Google Analytics Not-Set Data
In Quarter 4 of 2015, you may have heard the clamor by numerous Minneapolis digital experts and nation SEO’s who found a larger portion of their data shift to “not set” in Google Analytics Search Engine Optimization Report.
User Privacy Choices Drives Increase in Google Analytics not set. We all know that obtaining clean data is absolutely essential in the digital world of marketing. And we need to remember that the individuals who use internet searches for answers need to feel confident that their personal information is safeguarded. Privacy internet issues are gaining notice as online privacy breaches hit the news.
In the Google Analytics Help section, there is a full library of documents under Safeguarding your data. Note the statement: “Google provides the following controls to website owners who have implemented Google Analytics and to website users to provide more choice on how their data is collected by Google Analytics”.
The marketing game is exciting with new opportunities and changes that present themselves daily. As SEO / SEM marketers, we are becoming more data-driven. The amount of accruing structured data is astounding everyone. We obsess and celebrate when our efforts produce better search results and additional revenue for our clients. And much of it comes from a laser focus on the one thing that helps us better understand what users want – insights from Google Analytics.
GDPR and Privacy Compliance
Do you want someone watching and recording your actions online?
Business sites have new technical hurdles to gain consent before tracking begins. Data inventory and mapping is only the start. Data and privacy transparency should be part of your Privacy Impact Assessment (PIAs). This includes anywhere that you are advertising and tracking user engagement such as paid search and intersections with Google Maps marketing strategies.
In part, it means communicating data collection and use practices to users, you internal process that manage consent, and what deciphers your best approach to gaining consents, where it intersects with the User Experience. To be safe, consider this as including every step of the client journey from building a relationship to when someone makes a purchase. A transparency requirement by the GDPR means understanding the platforms that your communications are on and their digital governance of that support user privacy.
Expect Increases in Google Analytics not set Data
So naturally, we are eager to obtain all the data possible about what users do on the websites we own or manage. The very nature of a marketer’s job and personality drives the adventure to pursue knowing what may be in Google Analytics “not set” data. But it is not about us. It is about the user. What Internet users want, and what they do with their privacy settings directly influences how many site visitor details will be reported in Google Analytics.
Persons using their mobile phone have a choice when they find a message popping up saying something like: “We may collect information about your use of your device and …. your location to provide our services or to customize data presented to you.” Many simply don’t select the “Allow” button. That means that what device they are using and what location they are in when they search will not be collected nor reported. It is their right. It is their choice.
Understanding “Not Set” in Search Analytics Report Queries
When it comes to reporting on your marketing efforts and website visitors, knowing that you can count on your Google Analytics reports for accurate predictive data is a top consideration. After a strong implementation phase, over time you may start to see ‘(not set)’ edging into more of your Google Analytics reports. This label offers little value in terms of analytics or decision-making insights and it can pop up in multiple places throughout your data. The knowledge of how search analytics report queries are processed helps marketers have that intuitive red flag moment that signals that something should not be overlooked.
Let’s try to determine what is happening to this undefined black hole of Google Analytics data.
8 Reasons Why We Get “Not Set” Data in Google Analytics
This article endeavors to help you know why you sometimes have the (not set) entry.
1. Privacy: Analytics Google Opted to Strip out These Search Queries
2. Google Account Configuration Mistakes
3. Dropped from Reports When there is “Low Search Volume”
4. Problems with Vague Search Queries
5. AdWords Account is not Linked to the Google Analytics Reporting View
6. Expired Sessions Trigger “Not Set
7. “Not Set” due to Browser and Browser Version
8. Google Server Errors
WHY YOUR BUSINESS IS GETTING NOT SET DATA IN GOOGLE ANALYTICS
1. Google Has Chosen to Strip out These Search Queries
Queries Containing Personal or Sensitive Detail are Eliminated
>While Google doesn’t go into full detail as to why some queries are filtered out, it is clear that what users what and their right to privacy is pivotal to their continued use of Google search. We do know from comments by Google as to why the keyword report is gone after their update to https that it relates to security matters. In the Search Console Help Center, Google also states: “To protect user privacy, queries made a very small number of times or containing personal or sensitive information are grouped as (not set).”
Much depends on the user. If they do no enable location sharing from their devices, say their smartphone, then Google honors that choice and does not add those personal details to search reports. When users have not allowed other systems to pull their location information, their geo information is blocked and will result in higher “not set” percentages within Google Analytics Geography reports.
The individual person searching typically has privacy settings on their device. The way that location settings work is central as to what data is collected; every person is searching from a device that has privacy settings. Going forward, Google and major search engines regard everything that is typed in a search box, or a voice query is now considered secure. This keeps people who use Google Search happy. If the searcher doesn’t have any security in place, it will populate the information.
I spoke personally with Chelsa K on the Google AdWords Team, and she says, “Google lets the user extend the olive branch”.
netvantagemarketing.com offers their explanation: “The largest volume of queries falls under the first category when looking at your report titled ‘(not set).’ These queries are not displayed in order to protect user privacy. These queries often contain personal or sensitive information that Google cannot share.”
Data can now “live” in more places, influencing the higher risk of data loss and leakage—whether from accidental or malicious intent. SMB decision-makers that underestimate the importance of Internet privacy do so at their own peril.
2. Google Account Configuration Mistakes
“To protect user privacy, queries made a very small number of times or containing personal or sensitive information are grouped as ‘(not set)’ ”
After receiving the above message in their Google Analytic SEO Report, someone asked what this message is about on the Google+ Analytics Community*. The answer provided by David C (a Level 9 expert at the Official Google Advertiser Community) is: “Hi, are you asking what and when (not set) is used? Generally as above – when could create identification or if something has not been set up correctly as in AdWords linking.
Another area where incorrect Google account misconfiguration mistakes should be checked for is what is set to fire first on a page load. This may have been set-up in Google Tag Manager where your pageview is not first thing fired when a page loads like it should be. If another action transpires that triggers a fired event before a pageview fires, or it is the only thing to fire on a page, then the “not set” issue may show up.
Solution: Double-check your implementation and make sure pageviews are firing first!
3. Dropped from Reports When there is “Low Search Volume”
We see this in AdWords. I have tried what I considered perfect keyword phrases that matched my landing page and fit the topic – but there was little sense bidding in them in my client AdWords campaigns because there was low search volume.
In the Webmaster Central Help Forum, when William Harvey was asked if the “not set” in the Google Search Console was simply because the numbers are so low, he responded: “Most likely, and if the site is new that the Search Console needs time to collect meaningful data to show. (https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/webmasters/-qJBKitm2gA )
While not all things are equal between platforms, perhaps there is a mindset or approach that follows through here.
Perhaps some of the “one-offs” simply don’t carry enough significant impact to report on every one of them – when considering the added time and processes that would demand. Additionally, Google can only hold so much data. Some searches are so random that if the query is so odd it is not worth holding on it, it may end up in “not set”.
PPCHero states: “The search terms report also won’t show you any terms which had no clicks on a low number of impressions over the past 30 days. This is probably because processing this much extra data is in Google’s opinion not useful for you to see, and would significantly slow down the report”.
SOLUTION: Build your new web pages and blog post after doing your keyword research to determine that the page topic centers on a keyword phrase that has a sufficient volume of searches.
4. Problems with Vague Search Queries
Google Analytics populates its data from real search queries.
And as the U.S world of search becomes more international (just like its population), not everyone uses perfect English or the same English. These search queries come from actual words or phrases that real users type into a search engine. Maybe it’s a teen with a rap form of our English language, or someone more used to the language of texting or quite misspelled. The core of search queries is real-world applications of keywords, meaning there may be odd words and slang words in the mix of what is placed into the search box. That can be challenging for any human or machine to interpret. Google is picking a trend with that person and if it amounts to unusable data, it sort of puts a demographic association to that person. This creates a search result profile that is tagged to that individual via cookies.
More and more – concerning earned search – a lot of users private information is going away, but it is not going away from paid search. When the personal and private information is stripped from search queries, it leaves the data available from the query vaguer. Regardless of the user privacy setting on the device they use, their click will show either way if logged into their Google account, but the information behind it may not be. Google wants to remain a trusted option for organic searches. This makes sense from the users perspective, – even though businesses may find it frustrating to have more bucketed under “not set” in their Google Analytics reports. Think of the many medical situations alone that are searched on, or simply, users that do not want to be advertised to.
For businesses that are paying for advertising via AdWords, the information stays open and accessible. Due to the privacy issue, we will see over time that the results found in Google Analytics data will more and more be “not set” data.
SOLUTION: Accept that it may be fine to not gain this data. If the search query were too vague, the data likely would add little value to your knowledge of keywords bringing visitors to your website.
5. AdWords Account is not Linked to the Google Analytics Reporting View
The Google Analytics Help Site has an insightful article under AdWords Advertising Reports called “What the value (not set) means“ (https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/2820717?hl=en).
Right here we are offered a clear reason why one can end up with (not set) Analytics data under the AdWords section. “(not set) is a placeholder name that Analytics uses when it hasn’t received any information for the dimension you have selected. The reasons for (not set) appearing as a dimension value varies according to the report.”
Monica O’Connor, Director of Online Marketing at AP Electric & Generators LLC offers a reason why “Not Set” can show for some remarketing AdWords campaigns and display ads. “It can also be traffic that isn’t traceable to other search engines like Yahoo and Bing.”
Moz gives thumbs up to one digital strategist who answers why the large volume of “not set” traffic in Google Analytics traffic sources. Hutch explains another scenario behind not set data very concisely: “not set” as a traffic type can really only come from using Google’s UTM campaign tagging wrong. Unless there is a UTM code in a url Google analytics will get some data from the user, if it cannot get any referral data it will code the visit as direct unless told otherwise (this could also be messed up using filters).
SOLUTION 1: Correctly link your Google AdWords account to your Google Analytics.
SOLUTION 2: Narrow your reports to more specific data. Go to: Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium and add secondary dimensions to get more accurate data of the traffic sources and then the keywords in organic and paid search. Use your channels to drill down as needed.
6. Expired Sessions Trigger “Not Set”
One default setting you should be aware of in Google Analytics that impacts “not set” data is that user sessions expire after 30 minutes of inactivity. Unless configured differently, GA measures from the last hit that it receives. Consider this practical example. If a viewer comes in off of your search engine optimization work and t lands on your relevant web page, spends 30 minutes without closing the page, and then returns after an interruption point and triggers an event, like submits a form query, then that new event will trigger a brand new GA session with a landing page of (not set).
This happens more often on web pages with long-form content or when a visitor is viewing a video. Consider how many times you may have opened a web page only to stop and show it to a boss, be distracted, or make a comparison with the end result that you return to complete an action the page at a later point. If the user’s session times out but they haven’t left the page while an additional event triggers there will be no page view data gained before the event has triggered.
SOLUTION: Configure a visitor’s session length for your property in Session Settings under Tracking Info. By adding to your session length here, these events that may have ended up in “not set” can now gain an associated pageview.
7. “Not Set” due to Browser and Browser Setting
When a visit pulls up a web page, the page detects what is termed a user agent. The user agent provided details about which device is being used as well as which browser and browser version. If this Google Analytics report shows (not set), typically it accounts for an insignificant percentage of your web traffic. If Google cannot identify the user agent with a match to its libraries, then the result becomes “not set”.
Extreme changes or levels in your “not set” data signals possible crawlers and bots. It is easy to ferret this out, especially if you have a bounce rate and new sessions percentage near 100% and an average session duration of under a second. Here is where this report is found in GA: (1st) Audience, (2nd) Technology, and (3rd) Browser & OS
SOLUTION 1: Under your basic View Settings double check that the option to exclude hits from known bots and spiders is checked.
SOLUTION 2: If you are still seeing a lot of (not set) hits in your browser reports, add the secondary dimension to decipher which service providers they are coming from and manually eliminate by using view filters.
8. Google Server Errors
While gaining many benefits from the cloud, it is possible that a brief hiccup with Google’s servers may generate some [not set] entries. Vortex Business Solutions offers a comment to soften our impatience: “Google’s servers receive millions and millions of requests all day, every day. No matter how reliable a server is, none are expected to have 100% uptime with zero errors.
SOLUTION: Offer understanding. Predictably, there will be some [not set] entries in every business GA reports. Go the extra mile to make sure all of your coding is current, and product schema is implemented error-free to build online credability.
So there is no one size fits all answer when it comes to the reasons why we find (not set) in various places within our Google Analytics reports. Perhaps we forget sometimes just how complex this sea of big data is, how amazing it is to have access to it, what it must take to process, and how central Internet users privacy is to searches future.
Privacy Filtering is not Something Completely Different
While user privacy filtering in not something completely different, let users be in control of how their search data is stored and shared is gaining increased emphasis. Individuals what to know that their privacy is protected when they use Google search.
John Mueller, Google Webmaster Trends Analyst, stands out remarkably for his willingness to answer lengthy Q&A sessions from all angles of marketing. From his comment below on October 27, 2015, English Google Webmaster Central office-hours hangout (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i_xnKznRNCc#t=355), we learn that Google chooses to strip many queries out of the data report.
“In Search Analytics if you look at the numbers of the queries that you see there, you will sometimes see that we show a top aggregated, maybe a hundred queries, and in a table below if you add the numbers together, you might see 70 queries or something like that. And the difference there is the essential queries that we filter out, and in Search Console, we don’t show them separately and in Google Analytics, they chose to call them Not Set. So that is what you see there, not something completely different, it’s not showing the difference that you’d have to calculate yourself if you calculated the difference yourself.”
SOLUTION: Gain knowledge. Marketers can make good use of the data that is available versus being frustrated over what is missing. The insights gained as to why businesses may see an increase in the percentage of Google Analytics “not set” data may simply assist in our getting better at “living” with it.
Brands can Excel at Personalized Search and Increase Sales
We have learned that 79% of consumers are willing to share information about themselves in natural conversations in exchange for not restrictive information and in which they’re immediately known and understood. Salesforce, recently released their study showing that more than 6,700 customers or “80% agree the experience your brand creates is just as important as the product or service you are selling”. Mathew Sweezey, Principal of Marketing Insights at Salesforce, posted the article titled Four Factors That Will Make Or Break Your Customer Experience goes on to talk about how we can mine analytics for insights and try to dynamically generate a personal experience at each and every moment in the buyer journey. Business can relate better to consumers when they understand how the initial search through to their final purchase, and every moment in between that can simplify the process for the buyer.
Deeper Insights are Found in Paid Google Analytics
In the free-of-charge standard version of Google Analytics, how much are we already being offered for FREE? “Let’s face it, free is a great price point, and the free version of Google Analytics is a great product. In fact, there are numerous multi-nationals using Google Analytics – not because they can’t afford a paid-for tool, but simply because is it good,” says Brian Clifton in his October 29, 2015 article titled “Should you pay $150,000 for Google Analytics Premium?>”
Launched March 15, 2016, we learned about the Google Analytics 360 Suite. It is meant to meet the need to “see the complete customer journey. Marketers require full visibility and context to see what’s happening across all customer touch points, devices, and channels. Google has been asking and listening to what marketers need and want from analytics. Paul Muret, Google’s Vice President of Analytics, Display, and Video Products stated: “Several years ago, Google engineers set out to simplify marketing analytics in the same way we simplified web search with Google.com. With the infrastructure that allows us to handle billions and billions of daily search queries.”
For business who can budget in the cost of the new suite, they will have better customer support at hand to answer further questions about privacy and Analytics data. We are told that with this version of Google Analytics “marketers can turn analytics into action by combining their own data from multiple sources ― website data, audience data, and customer data.”
Further ways to deepen the insights you can glean from your website visitors can be gained by purchasing Premium Google Analytics or Google Analytics 360 Suite.
University of Baltimore Maryland on Complications with Internet Privacy
A publication titled Authorization and Privacy for Semantic Web Services by the University of Maryland, Carnegie Mellon University, and the School of Computer Science addressed this topic.
It states that: “Consider a policy stating that a client never wants to reveal information from which somebody can deduce his home address. Depending on the information exchanged with the service and additional context information, this could mean that the client’s phone number is never released since a reverse lookup could compromise the address. This exemplifies the broad range of policies that are relevant and especially applies to individuals using mobile search. More complex policies that address combinations of these security notions and other user-defined policies will be subject of future work.”
This lends insights as to why you see high levels of not-set data in your analytics reports.
“I think that the next machine-learning algorithm Google will launch after RankBrain would deal strongly with fighting spam and loopholes. If RankBrain worked better than they expected, I’m quite sure that they will use the positive result in shutting down spam and black hat problems.” – seo-hacker.com
“But luckily, some data is still available, and it can act as an accurate sample size…” – thinkbonfire.com
I am passionate about learning all things related to offering clients more value from their Google Analytics reports. Like many other SEO / SEM experts, I wear many hats on a daily basis, one of which is perusing client’s web stats. So I love to solve problems and come up with working solutions. It’s most probable that other methods offer additional solutions to the “not set” problem. Having happily shared some ways in this post that I’ve figured out as how to do something about data gaps, please share your solutions below to help benefit others.
Read more about measurement and privacy disclosures by Justin Brookman, Phoebe Rouge, Aaron Alva, and Christina Yeung.
We gather and analyze the data in your Google Analytics account to deliver actionable insights, and optimize your marketing campaigns which help you achieve your ultimate business goal.
Learn more about our AdWords Optimization Services with Google Analytics