If you've been only moderately interested in looking at your search reports in Omniture, Google Analytics, or whatever tracking software you're using for your website, you've probably noticed an alarming growth in the number of referring search keywords that are (not provided) for you to see. If you're in this space heavily, you're probably well aware of it, and you may be a bit miffed at Google for taking away these insights from you.
I've also come to enjoy the sorts of insights made available by this data, but take some comfort knowing that the sky is not falling. Your jobs just got a little more interesting.
Why did Google do it? Folks are saying it is a response to being dinged in the public arena for cooperating with NSA's prism program to track what people are doing online.
If you understand how we actually get our data in Google Analytics, you know this explanation is curious. Excepting third-party CRM applications, we can't actually see who is searching. In Google Analytics, we can only see what they are doing in the aggregate, once they get to our site. Why can't Google send the aggregate data as they have been, so we can see which keywords are having the greatest success, so that we can optimize our site for the better-performing keywords?
Happily for us, there is a solution, which unfortunately means more specialization and attention than before, with fewer actionable insights. But it isn't nothing.
Note for beginners: Always have a Google Analytics profile with no filters applied. If you don't know what this means, I recommend picking up the excellent Avinash Kaushik's Web Analytics 2.0. I may address this at a later date, but he's your man, if you want to learn how to do this stuff.
Essentially, you have to "trick" Google Analytics to tell you what landing pages people are arriving at, when you're examining keywords from Organic Search. This doesn't tell you the keyword, but you see where they're going. Here's an excellent tutorial by Kiss Metrics that explains how this is done.
Also, install Google Webmaster Tools. From there, you can see which keywords are bringing people to your site. Even the "encrypted" ones (See? Was that so hard, Google?). What you can't see is what they did when they arrived at your site.
Examine your paid search performance to use as a proxy for organic search. In this case, Google isn't really telling you what people did, they're telling you what you're paying them for.
Continue your keyword research using whatever you've been using to try to identify opportunities for content development and writing.
Rinse and repeat.
So what's coming? I have no idea. It's crossed my mind, however, that either Google is leveraging this unnecessary move in the name of a specious allegience to "privacy" to sell more stuff -- either more AdWords, its DoubleClick advertising platform, or access to Google Analytics premium -- meaning free access to Google Analytics basic gravy train would be on the way out (Hopefully a lower-cost option than GA Premium or Omniture, or else smaller companies just wouldn't be able to afford it).
Until that happens, the sky is not falling. And if it does, it will be time for smaller companies to look at other solutions. It's always good to be prepared.