eBrandz Blog

How a Google Change may wrongly attribute search traffic to referral traffic?

Google’s set to make a major change to the way it reports key referrer information for its Chrome browser user. Some analytics programs, as a result, may start listing search online visitors as if they instead arrived directly from Google sans doing a search. The change posted on the Google Webmaster blog, will take some effort to understand what’s actually happening.

Precursor to the proposed changes

Late last year, Google started blocking referrer or ‘referer’ info from getting passed along by those using its search engine, in case they were signed-in and employing a secure connection. The company stated that the change was for better privacy protection. It was a precursor to stop ‘eavesdropping’ of private searches in particular, which might occur as part of ‘Search Plus Your World’. Google apparently continued passing along to paid advertisers this referrer data. If it’s already withholding search term information for signed-in users, what else that could the company really pull back? And then how about reporting even if a search occurred…

Come April, the search engine giant is going to use the referrer meta tag to report a ‘simplified’ referrer. This tag will allow it to override the real referrer, which would go out. Let us check how the Referrer Meta Tag will turn user searches into referrals.

If you do a search for ‘hotels’ and click on any top listing, the URL won’t lead directly to the travel site. Instead, it will redirect through the search engine itself, in a way that it can record what’s in the URL for tracking the click better. Google embeds itself in the URL details someone searched for the term ‘hotels’ and clicked on the results’ first listing that took them in turn to the page at a travel site. If the search is conducted while signed-in via a secure connection, Google will drop the search term portion.

An analytics program can inform that a search took place by checking the ‘q=’ part in that URL. However, the actual word itself has been apparently stripped out by the search engine. So even while Google Analytics can’t report what the search terms were (and hence states ‘not provided’), it yet can reveal that a search did happen!

No apparent indicator of a search activity

The new change will take out almost everything but the start of the relevant referrer. If you do a search on Google employing Chrome, and this is all, which will be reported: ‘https://google.com’. In other words, there is hardly any indicator of a search having taken place, an analytics program might interpret that visitors have arrived from a link on Google.com rather than having conducted a search there. What it means is that search traffic would get wrongly reported as ‘referral’ traffic.