Cracking the set of “not provided” Google analytics keywords

Google analytics has long been in the game, from small-time bloggers like me to marketing managers, we all use it. Google is also one of the most popular advertisement platforms and every other newly launched start up I talk to, has their marketing strategy somehow lurking around being prominent on Google search results either via Adwords or just optimizing the content and getting organic traffic.
However, optimizing your content for Google and striving for higher search rankings is not a one-off thing, it needs constant feed of fresh content and analyzing your incoming traffic so you can continue to optimize your content based on the traffic source and keywords used.
But continuous optimization is just one part of the multi-faceted answer to the question of staying relevant in the competitive landscape, other part is understanding your traffic’s behavior so you can start questioning some of your false assumptions. For example; If you are a newly launched startup and following lean methodology you can use your search keywords to get an insight into what features in your product are looked up the most. Having a good idea of your search keywords can also help you in validating your hypothesis, improving your MVP (only prioritizing on the features that are relevant to the most searched keywords) and measuring, learning and building or re-building some features based on your traffic behavior.
But here is the question: Is all this shiny data on Search Keywords that we are talking about readily available at Google analytics platform? sadly, the answer is NO. Almost 80% of the data that can tell you what’s driving your traffic get anonymized by Google. What’s provided is bits and chunks that is not enough to drive insights on how you should position your marketing message or drive product development
I took this screen shot from one of the projects I worked on at my current company. We launched a combined service with another organization but as a separate entity, and I was put in charge of analyzing incoming traffic and position the website where it can have maximum impact in terms of lead volume. This was the first time I ran into the ‘not provided’ keywords problem, from the above screen shot you can see that almost 85% of the data is hidden by Google.
I was pulling the hair out on my bald head because I could not make any sense of this data or provide any insights on what strategic steps can be taken for this entire campaign to have any impact. I searched around the internet but could not find a simple workaround that would just give me enough information to see how that hidden traffic is finding us or where it is landing on the project’s website. However, after much search and playing around google analytics, on one of those weary nights, I found a very straighforward technique that would give me a sneak peak into the hidden traffic’s behavior.
It is a small two step workaround and it gives a very good sense of what’s attracting the traffic to your website and also provides an insight into what keywords were used. Here it goes:

Step 1:

Drill down into “not provided” keywords

Step 2:

Use “secondary dimension” filter to go to ‘behavior’ and then ‘destination page’
Here you can see the column titled ‘Destination Page’ which lists the pages of your website that were the entry points for the subset of traffic where keywords were not provided. These entry points can drive insights into what were the possible keywords that brought this traffic to the website.
This list also tells you where to increase the optimization efforts on the website, and where to place the CTA’s (Calls to Action) and which features of your product to highlight to yield the maximum click-through rate.
Another way of going around the ‘not provided’ keyword data is to actually buy some of the keywords that you anticipate generate high amounts of traffic and see their performance over time. This way, you will be able to keep or drop the keywords based on their performance to optimize your keyword strategy.
There are some advanced techniques that I have found since then, which I will be sharing in future posts but for now I hope this information can help you pass through the road block that many google analytics’ users come across while slicing and dicing their keyword data and assist you in optimizing your keyword strategy.