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Why Traffic Stats Are Screwed Up: Google’s “Not Provided” Search Data

I’ve got the Google Traffic blues.

Smart online writers depend on the search queries in our traffic stats to show us what our readers are looking for, want to know, or might want to read more about. This helps us improve our existing content, by tailoring it to our readers’ needs. Search traffic records also help us look for leads about new topics to write on which might get traffic.

Over time, observing search traffic can give you instincts about what kinds of things people tend to search for on the web, and what they don’t. This is very useful knowledge for an online writer to have.

There’s just one problem.

Google is hiding more and more of this information. As a result, traffic stats on sites like Squidoo are starting to look weird:

“Direct” traffic? Just what does that mean, anyway?

Originally, “Direct” traffic indicated visitors navigating to our websites via a bookmark, clicking on a link in a private email, typing the URL in directly, or some other source that provided absolutely no information that our traffic software could track.

To this we may now add Google search queries on iOS6. Google doesn’t usually hide search data this completely, but in some cases, it’s encrypting/concealing search data so much that when a user performs a Google search and arrives on your site, Google won’t even let your traffic software know, “Hey, that visitor came from us.” It’s as if Google were walking behind the visitor with a broom, sweeping away their footprints.

So that’s why our traffic stats now show so much so-called “Direct” traffic. It’s search traffic arriving under Google’s invisibility cloak.

But all the rest of Google’s search traffic is filed under “Google,” right? And then the search queries should show up under the “Keywords” chart?

Sadly, no. In many cases, Google is only telling Squidoo, “Hi, I just sent you a visitor,” without passing along the actual terms/keywords they searched for. So many Google search traffic visits are now filed under the “Referrers” chart, instead of the “Keywords” chart:

If you check Google Analytics, the keywords for these searches are all listed as “Not Provided.”

Unfortunately, since Google is blocking the data from its end, there is absolutely no way to ferret out what words those visitors searched for to find your page.

Not all Google search queries are hidden. In some cases, they still show up under “Keywords.” But more and more of them are not showing up. This has been going on for a while, but it’s getting worse.

In 2011, Google started encrypting (hiding) search data for users logged into Google or Google Plus. At the time, Matt Cutts of Google claimed that this “not provided” data would be a very low percentage of our traffic stats data, “in the single digits.” That was an underestimate, of course.

More recently, Firefox has started voluntarily encrypting searches from users using Google search at the top of its browser. More and more web applications are following suit.

Since more and more third-party browsers and apps are voluntarily using Google encryption when their users do a Google search, the percentage of search terms “not provided” by Google keeps growing. Some websites are reporting as much as 50% of their search traffic is concealed by the “not provided” filter.

Google claimed that blocking search data was done to protect visitor privacy, but it’s a pile of crock. Google advertisers get access to search query data which is “not provided” to the rest of us. Basically, you have to pay Google now to get complete data on what your customers are looking for. If you’re doing it as a commercial advertiser, you get to snoop on people’s web searching habits; if you’re doing it as a writer trying to learn what your readers want, tough.

Luckily, we’re not entirely dependent on Google to help us learn what our visitors want. Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines are still reporting their search data to Squidoo, so we’ll still see plenty of examples of what kinds of searches are bringing visitors to our pages under the “Keywords” column. But we’re missing a complete picture. We may not be seeing the most popular searches bringing visitors to our pages, or, at the least, only a fraction of those searches are turning up in our “Keywords” column, with the rest hidden.

Maximize Traffic from the Front Page of Squidoo

We’ve had a SquidU discussion about the recent SquidCademy quest, whose prize was getting your lens featured as one of the rotating selections on the front page of Squidoo.

I’ve been pondering how to squeeze the most traffic out of the two to four week window when your lens is part of the rotation.

Here’s some things to remember.

  • If Squidoo HQ issues a challenge or quest with a Squidoo front page feature, go for it. It’ll mean extra traffic for two to four weeks if you get accepted.
  • They favor lenses with strong, visually appealing graphics. Once I entered one of these challenges and got the points and purple star, but did not get a front-page feature, probably because the graphic wasn’t as good.
  • The number one way to maximize traffic from the front page of Squidoo is through the lens graphic. People arriving on the front page of Squidoo didn’t arrive via a search of a topic, so they’re not targeted traffic. Instead, they’re liable to click the picture that stands out from the rest with its visual appear.
  •  So use a crisp, clear, compelling graphic with a strong silhouette, possibly a white background (See my “Hook Visitors with Key Art Designs” tutorial for tips).
  • Check to see how it looks on Squidoo’s front page (especially if your graphic’s not square; Squidoo will crop it to a square). You can safely tweak, adjust, upload the graphic, and republish until it looks good (thanks to KathyMcGraw for asking if changing the graphic would cause any problems — it doesn’t. The graphic changed on the front page immediately after republishing).
  • While a front page feature will bring visitors because of all the people landing on the gateway, it’s useless for SEO purposes. I Googled cache: and double-checked with Webconf’s Search Engine Spider Simulator, and both of them show that the current featured lenses are not crawled or indexed. The lens gallery is generated only when you’re viewing live, so Google doesn’t see those links.
  •  Oddly, the testimonials are stored, so a random few lucky lensmasters get extra backlink juice if their testamonial is showing when Google’s spider comes by (which happens often). If Squidoo ever solicits us to write more blurbs, do it.
  • Also, of course, Squidoo Categories are featured in the sidebar, and those links are hard-coded, so getting your lens on any of the category or subcategory pages will get some trickle-down pagerank from the top level of

Lens Updating Tip: A Google Spot Check

Keeping 400 lenses reasonably updated is serious business. We can do a quick scan for broken images, links and videos, but here’s a meaningful update you can do in five minutes: a quick tweak that can improve traffic to a lens.

  1. Click “Stats” under the lens name.
  2. Click the “Traffic” tab.
  3. Change the “Date Range” pulldown menu to 90 days.
  4. Look at the “Keywords” chart that shows what searches have brought people to the lens. Figure out which is the top keyword phrase (often combining a couple different variants from the list). For instance, here I tried “wooden rack oven puller,” whose words include a few of the other top searches:

  5.  Do a Google search for that phrase and turn OFF personalized search results (which are tailored to your own web browsing habits) by clicking the globe button at upper right:

  6. Look closely at the blurb / description. This is what the majority of people searching for your lens will see. Is it as good as it could be? Or is there something you could do to add a Call to Action, encourage people to click on the link (see How to Get More Clicks, Sales)?

    In this example, it’s a “how to make your own X” page, which is very obvious from the lens title and link. In fact, the page is also a “where to buy X because you’re too lazy to make it” article! But the blurb gives no indication that I’ve included “where to buy” as well as “how to make” information. Therefore, I improve that sentence very slightly, taking care not to disturb the keyword search phrase (or popular variants):

    It’s a clumsy tweak, but now the blurb should attract buyers as well as DIYers.

  7. Ping it with the ping tool added to the lens workshop’s sidebar by SquidUtil’s workshop add-on.

The wording of your blurb depends on (a) your goals for the article (sell something, inform people of something, get them to click on a free download button, get them to visit your website — to name a few) and (b) what your audience is looking for. Make sure your page has what they’re looking for, then make sure your blurb tells them you have what they’re looking for!

The above steps can be done fairly quickly: (1) check traffic stats (2) search the top phrase(s) and see what the blurb looks like (3) edit your lens in that spot to make sure the wording is as good as possible.

Over time, this may be a simple but effective way to boost traffic to the lens.

Thoughts on Squidoo’s Revised Activity Stream

UPDATE: This post is now obsolete, as Gil has continued tweaking the new activity stream and has taken our suggestions onboard. There are now TABS that let us filter our Squidoo activity stream according to sales or other specific info we might want to see, and the data goes back more than 200 entries. YES! THANK YOU, GIL!



Squidoo is testing an update to our Dashboard. Squidoo quests, LOTD, and HQ announcements appear in the Activity Stream. Participation in polls has been removed. Participation in quizzes is still there, for the moment. The stream gets truncated after listing 200 items from our own lens activity, but will show HQ blog posts, LOTD notifications, and other HQ announcements going back a month (I think).

Here’s HQ announcement about the New Squidoo Activity Stream A/B Testing.  Obviously, it’s not finalized.

The revised version has been unrolled for many Giant Squids, so it’s gotten my two big Giant accounts. The sales data that I rely on has now been lost, and cluttered up with a bunch of things I used to filter out using Fluffanutta’s Workshop Add-on from SquidUtils. I wanted to share this comment I made in SquidU’s discussion of these changes, because I think it’s an idea that has broader applications:

I would’ve loved if they’d just made Fluff’s tool canon and then added a set of checkboxes that stuck, so we could set our dashboard up once and for all to show the stuff we care about.

I’m a victim of the A/B testing. It only shows the 200 most recent items from lens activity. For me, that’s 100+ people taking my quizzes, and there’s not even a day’s worth of sales records. Every Sunday, I sit down and review my sales for the week. I’d grab the info right out of the activity stream and GREP it into a tab-delimited chart that I could plunk into Excel. Now there is no easy way to do that.

Every one of us has a different lens profile and different goals. Some people may WANT to track how many quizztakers and polltakers they’ve got. Maybe someone’s built some polls for research purposes and honestly wants to see that. Whereas others of us are here to earn a living and don’t want the quests, monsters, and points cluttering up our dashboard — we’re only interested in real-world results. If we could customize it to fit our needs, instead of being mashed into what Squidoo thinks we should use Squidoo for, that would be really great!

I loved Fluff’s tool because it did exactly that: let us focus on whatever we think is important.

It’s hard to make custom tools that show different information to different users. It’s much easier to extrapolate what most people use a site for, and create an interface tailored to that particular kind of user, figuring that everyone else will manage anyway. Big sites like Squidoo have so many features and stats (yay!) that it’s hit the point where they can’t show everything. That’s a given. But what we’d love is to be able to tailor those features and stats to suit our own needs, instead of being given the options package the car dealership thinks we want.

Squidoo Takes a Page from Facebook?

There are two different Web 2.0 approaches.

One is to provide tools, widgets and open-ended features that let users share their content. This is an “opt in” model, in which you provide really useful tools, and users find powerful ways to use those tools which you didn’t even dream about. That creates goodwill and draws more traffic to your site.

The other is to repurpose users’ existing content, mining and exploiting it and redistributing it in new ways that users may not have imagined. Following Facebook’s lead, this approach is usually presented as a fait accompli. If there’s enough user pushback, the company may add an “opt out” option.

Squidoo has provided us with many handy tools and new modules — building blocks — and let users find great ways to use those blocks. It’s also taken some building blocks away, including powerful ones we still miss. (Squidcasts and favorites.)

Other building blocks have broken, or never worked properly. I keep hoping Squidoo will shift from the attitude of, “If you can’t put up with a site that’s got frequent glitches, bugs, and nonfunctional tools, then Squidoo’s not the site for you” to “Our site has fabulous tools, more than any other publishing site, and we’re going to nurture and cultivate that edge. Tell us what’s broken so we can fix it and maintain Squidoo’s superiority over other user-generated content sites.”

Instead, in the past year, Squidoo has been moving in the Facebook direction.

  • Our lenses get featured in Squidoo magazines — except, in practice, our lenses don’t actually appear in these magazines. Our lenses simply get links across the top promoting the magazine, boosting its search engine rankings, and diverting traffic away from our lenses. Lenses hijacked by Squidoo magazines also get yanked from the SEO-friendly Squidoo category tree. For example, Google search results will display a lens under the breadcrumb trail “Happy Snowman” instead of “Holidays > Christmas > Christmas Tree Decorations.” “Happy Snowman” is less informative, so less likely to get clicked on, and it undercuts search relevance for “Christmas Tree Decorations.”  After a user pushback, Squidoo gave us the ability to “opt out,” but refused to change it to “opt in.” That means that every month, more of our lenses are hijacked by Squidoo magazines, so we have to keep “opting out” if we care about SEO.
  • The Facebook Gift Guides mined our Facebook friends’ personal information to create for-profit pages which implied our friends had endorsed them. Member pushback, pointing out the illegality of this, convinced Squidoo to make Gift Guides “opt in” rather than “opt out.”
  • Now Squidoo’s added a “pin it” button to the top of each Squidoo lens, granting members of a third party website, Pinterest, permission to copy, share, repost, redistribute, and embed full-sized images from our Squidoo lenses not just on Pinterest, but on any blog or third party website. I’m not sure that the temporary traffic spike of a social media share will compensate for having my best photos posted who-knows-where on the web, forcing me to compete with myself for image search traffic (which is responsible for most of my lenses with 500+ visitors a week). Pinterest’s TOS  also claims the right to redistribute, manipulate, or sell images posted on its site. That’s against the TOS for Zazzle images, affiliate images such as Allposters and Amazon, or images that we have paid license fees to use on our own articles.

What other ways will Squidoo repurpose our content?

I’m concerned that Squidoo’s focus is shifting from creating and maintaining tools for us to publish content to finding new ways to use and exploit our content.  

That approach may well work for lensmasters who aren’t getting much return out of their content. However, for me, it’s a reason to reconsider which kinds of content to post on Squidoo, which elsewhere.

Rel=”me” Rel=”author” UPDATE for Squidoo lensmasters

I just got a note from Gil on my Rel=”author” Squidoo tutorial. (Thanks, Gil!)

The slots on our Squidoo Profile for “other profiles” (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace) are now labeled with rel=”me” automatically. So is the “My Blog” slot.

More importantly, Squidoo has now added a slot on our lensmaster profile for a link to “Google Plus” (which will work just fine for a regular Google profile account as well). This link is automatically marked with rel=”me” in the code.

Therefore, in order to connect your Squidoo lenses to your Google profile, the process is now:

  1. Create a Google Profile
  2. Edit your Google Profile, add a link to your Squidoo Lensmaster Page in the “Other Profiles” box
  3. View your Google profile and copy its URL
  4. On Squidoo, go to My Settings > Profile, scroll down, and paste your Google Profile URL into the “Google Plus” box
  5. Save, and you’re done!
(You don’t have to fuss with rel=”author” at all, because the bio box in the upper right corner of lenses automatically creates rel=”author” from each lens to your lensmaster profile page.)

P.S. Remember those slots in our Squidoo Profile that we haven’t been able to access since the Dashboard update? They’re editable again!

Three notes on Rel=”me”, Rel=”author” (They work!)

EDIT: DRAT. I spoke too soon. Google has changed how rel=”author” works, and try as I might, I can no longer get it to recognize authorship with Squidoo pages. Or at least, Google’s snippet validator isn’t recognizing it.



Three notes on rel=”me” and rel=”author,” which I talked about last month.

  • It WORKS with an ordinary Google Profile, as opposed to a Google+ profile, if you’re annoyed with Google+ for various reasons. Here’s a screenshot of some Google results showing my author icon, linked to an ordinary Google account not Google Plus. (Alll the way at the bottom, but at least it draws the eye). Ignore the cache on the right… or don’t, because as you see, it’s one more way users may decide whether or not to visit your page:

Notice how the author icon  makes my link stand out from other text links on the same page, although perhaps I ought to create and add a “how to” YouTube video  as well to see if I can land in that section of Google results.

  • Your author icon will not appear next to your claimed content immediately. Over time, more and more content pages are showing my author icon. For search results that do not show my authorship icon, my author name is not listed either. This suggests that the author icon appears next to authored content AFTER it is re-crawled. 

Therefore, to get the author icon to show up on your older articles, edit and tweak the content, and PING them (on Squidoo, get SquidUtils’ Workshop Add-on and then click “ping” on the SU link that appears in the “Just published” page. Or just wait. Google re-crawls everything eventually.

Haven’t implemented rel=me on Squidoo yet? Here’s that tutorial again.

  • Thirdly, Google has CHANGED the way links are listed on your Google Profile. They’ve now been divided into “Other Profiles,” “Contributor to” and “Recommended Links.” The first one, “Other Profiles,” is obviously where you put your Squidoo, Wizzley, Twitter, Facebook and other social media accounts. But what about blogs? I tried moving my blog-links to “Contributor to,” and it dropped rel=”me”  and tagged those links with rel=”contributor-to” instead. That doesn’t seem right. I’m still trying to figure out where one files blogs.

I think, perhaps, the best thing to do would be to create an Author Profile page on each blog where you are an author, set the other pages/entries on the site to point to that profile page with rel=”author,” and set up reciprocal rel=”me” links between the author profile and your Google profile. In other words, mimic the rel=”author” and rel=”me” setup that I’ve suggested with Squidoo, which we know works (see screencap above). But I haven’t implemented this yet, so I’m not sure I’m right. Why is it so bally complicated? Well, I’m sure we’ll be doing it with our eyes closed just like basic HTML in a few years.

Claim Authorship of Your Content on Google

Claiming authorship of your unique, original content could help your content rank better in Google, if Google determines that you generally write good content. It also might help Google find your new content faster, since it will check your author profile (lensmaster profile) from time to time. Most importantly, if you establish yourself as the author of content in Google’s eyes, it will privilege the original content above that of scrapers.

The downside is that while HTML has a mechanism for you to establish your content linked to any username, Google will only recognize your authorship if you link it to a Google profile including your real name and a photo. This is a serious problem for millions of web users who have privacy concerns, especially minors and women who are sometimes targets of stalkers.

But if you already have a Google+ account, and/or you’re willing to take the risk, here’s what to do:

How to claim authorship with
rel=”author” and rel=”me” : a Squidoo Tutorial

I did this at the beginning of September, and saw my traffic spike across most of my lenses. See my Squidoo Stats for the week of Sep 4-10, showing my weekly traffic jumping from about 12,500 to 15,000, and this chart of my top 25 lenses by lensrank:


Traffic increase a week and a half after implementing rel="author"


I wish I knew whether these traffic spikes were coincidence or significant. I did not see similar almost-across-the-board traffic increases from other search engines; some were up and some were down. If you’re an established web author with a lot of good content on the web, I’m curious to know whether you’ve seen similar results after a week or two of hooking up your content to your Google profile with rel=”author” and rel=”me”.






Squidoo Pay Day Coming: Two Things to Check

Squidoo Pay Day is almost here. Someone usually posts a thread in SquidU when earnings start showing up in our dashboard.

You can find them by clicking the “stats” link under an individual lens, then the “earnings” tab. There’s an Ad Pool “earnings” amount showing for 7/30. That’s July earnings, which will be paid in September.

Nice to know, but first something to check: are your Payment Settings correct?  It’s a bummer when a charity drops from Squidoo’s list, so that your donation to your favorite charity goes to another instead. It’s even more of a bummer when you make a co-brand lens that sends all your earnings to charity by default, or when Squidoo glitches and sends your earnings to charity. I’ve started taking a screenshot of all my lens payment settings for my records.

You get to the “Payment Settings” overview of which lens is set to donate to which charity by clicking “My Settings”  at the upper right of Squidoo’s control strip, then “Payouts,”  then scroll down and click “Individual Lens Settings.”

One more thing. Do you have multiple accounts? There are advantages and disadvantages to niche accounts. One disadvantage is that you pay the Paypal transaction fee on EACH account, which is (I think?) something like 2%, capped at $1. I’m a little worried about Squidoo glitches and the hopper, but I’ve just raised the payout threshold on my accounts to $50.

Shortcut to Squidoo Login Pane

I get it. They want us to visit the front page of more often. The trouble is, if one is working between three accounts all the time, every time you logout, you get tossed to, and then you can login, and then you get tossed to, and THEN  you can get back to your dashboard. Argh!

It was fun for the first day in the half, but I am tired of having to go to Alberta by way of Atlanta. (TWA frequent flyer program — I hold long grudges.) Therefore, here’s a shortcut to the Squidoo login pane.

Bookmark this:

Don’t bother logging out. Just go to that URL and you can log in and get back to work.

Thanks to TheFluffanutta of SquidUtils for reminding me of this.