Google Changes Referrer Values Again For Secure Searches

Over the past 6 months Google has made changes to their search experience in an attempt to increase the privacy and security of their signed in users. What this has meant for analytics tools is that the referring URL for those signed in users was stripped of any searched keywords when clicking on Google organic search results.

Here’s what has been happening behind the scenes. All signed in users are now on a secure version of Google (https), and a redirect has been added to each search results click. That redirect is to a non-secure page (http), where the referring URL is changed before the visitor arrives at the page they requested. That new referring URL value has had its keywords removed, but still contains enough information to determine it was a Google Secure search. Workarounds were created to help identify a Google Secure search in SiteCatalyst keyword reporting, as well as Omniture making a change to try and account for those searches.

Since making that change Google has determined that the additional redirect is unnecessary and potentially slowed down the users experience, so they have decided to eliminate it (unfortunately that does not mean analytics tools will be able to see those keywords again).

Today Google announced a change to the way they plan on handling referring URL’s starting in April 2012. Google has decided that they will now begin to use the referrer meta tag for browsers that will support it, as opposed to the redirect to the non secure page. Currently the only major browser that supports it is Google Chrome.

If you are not familiar with the referrer meta tag, what it does is it lets each web page decide how referrer from it should be handled. For example, here’s what a meta referrer tag looks like:

<meta name="referrer" content="never">

What this tag will do is that it tells the browser to never pass any referring information from the page its on. The browser should then set the referrer header value to a blank string for referrers from that page.

Fortunately Google is not going to that extreme. They have decided to use the “origin” value:

<meta name="referrer" content="origin">

This is the referrer meta tag value that Google will begin to use in April 2012. When the change goes live, all search clicks from signed in users will now only have the referrer value of https://www.google.com/. There will be no other information in the referring URL, so no way to determine that it was specifically a Google secure search other than the URL being simply that host value. Non-secure searches, ones made from a user not logged into a Google account, will continue to function in the same way as they do now.

Currently the referrer meta tag is not currently supported in all browsers. I tried it using Chrome 17 and it is working. Testing it in Safari 5.1.4 and Firefox 11, the referrer meta tag has no impact.

So what does this mean as far as SiteCatalyst reporting? According to the Knowledge Base answer #5329, “If the domain of the referrer corresponds to that of a recognized search engine (e.g. “google.com”) and contains the recognized search keyword query parameter for the given search engine domain (e.g. for Google this is “q=”), then the referrer is considered a search engine, and the value of the keyword query parameter is taken as the search keyword.” So no search keyword query parameter, no search is counted. Currently for a Google secure search, the parameter is still there, but it’s unpopulated. Now Google plans to remove it all together.

Hopefully before Google rolls this out publicly Adobe will come up with a solution for SiteCatalyst so there are no interruptions in the Search Engine reporting. If Adobe does not get to it in time, or if Google decides to push the change out before April, then a couple of lines of code added to your s_code.js file will keep the impact to a minimum while Adobe works out a solution.

if(document.referrer=="https://www.google.com/"){
	s.referrer="https://www.google.com/?q=google%20secure%20search";
}

What this will do is look for a referrer with the exact value of https://www.google.com/ and append a q= value to it with the keyword of google secure search. If the .com version of Google is not the one most used by your visitors, then just replace it with the correct tld version applicable to your site. This snippet of code will make sure the search is still counted, and you will continue to keep the same level of reporting that you have now.

UPDATE: If your your visitors are coming to your site from multiple country specific versions of Google, then I have you covered. Just include this plugin in your s_code file and all Google secure searches from every Google domain will automatically be handled. All you need to do is cut and paste.

s.getGoogle=new Function(""
+"var s=this,a=document.referrer,b=a.split('/')[3],c=a.substring(0,19"
+");a&&26>=a.length&&(b||c=='https://www.google.'&&(this.s.referrer=a"
+"+'?q=google%20secure%20search'));return this.s.referrer")();

enjoy!

Comments:

5 Responses to “Google Changes Referrer Values Again For Secure Searches”


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  5. Looks like Adobe is following your lead:

    http://blogs.adobe.com/digitalmarketing/analytics/googles-search-results-referrer-update/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+omniture%2Fblogs%2Fall+%28Omniture%3A+Industry+Insights%29

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