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Google Withholds Referer Data


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#1 iamlost

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 04:42 PM

Google is doing it again: wanting to keep data to themselves and those willing to pay. In this case those signed in to a secure Google service, i.e. gmail, who run a search will do so via https and the search string will NOT show the search term to the receiving site unless it is via AdWords. Organic is being cut out of perhaps up to 10% of search term sharing.

Apparently this will also affect Google Analytics results (although no mention was made of the expensive paid version). Although some 'collective' bucket sorted conglomeration may be added to Webmaster Tools. Ha.

See Danny Sullivan's analysis Google To Begin Encrypting Searches & Outbound Clicks By Default With SSL Search, Search Engine Land, 18-October-2011.

Also:
* Making search more secure, Google Blog, 18-October-2011.
* SSL Search , Google Web Search Help.

What does that mean to website analytics?
Well, it means that some percentage of your visitors' search query terms will be unknown.

Of course that information is available via the visitors browser... but that would be immoral, illegal (in some jurisdictions), and fattening... so no sites will decide the ends justify the means... right?

#2 FP_Guy

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 05:59 PM

I know that McAfee has a secure search and I have seen examples of secure search when examining a clients shopping cart visitors. But the percentage is very low.

#3 nuttakorn

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Posted 18 October 2011 - 09:34 PM

I think it might be single digit percentage of secure search now but it will significant in the future because they will integrate with mobile and google+

#4 jonbey

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 02:15 AM

I am seeing (not provided) at the top of my google analytics keywords today. Anyone else seeing that in Goan?

#5 glyn

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 04:07 AM

Slept on this....


Reporting tools sales will go up - because people will just check keywords on Google using tools rather than in their analytics. That means that Google search volumes will go up as the tools query it. That's a good result for G.

This could lead to polarizing people around certain keywords (ie the big ones that PPC is also suggesting) which is good because for G as it will mean that those keywords that cost a lot of money and which convert (like dung) will be costing more.

Long tail keywords, unless captured by reporting (above) will become impossible to glean from page and therefore any insights that you could gain from analyzing pages on your site that were coming up for keywords not being targeted goes out the window.

99% of users won't know what's going on, so the difference will only be felt by individual webmasters that have a long history of not being listened to by the big G.

PPC data is still sent to analytics, which makes a complete joke of the statment "making search more secure", from their blog, but that my friends is that goog dichotomy we've grown to love, as expressed by Mr C.

Who's gonna be affected: All those companies doing organic SEO that were using keyword reporting as the singular metric for justifying monthly spends to their clients.

I've switched to social engineering now, and that is much better, so Google can do what it wants.

that's about it.

Glyn

#6 Michael_Martinez

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 02:42 PM

I guess most of my Google visitors are not logged in yet, or it will be a couple of weeks before I see many of these "(Not Provided)" referrals.

So far, I'm not concerned.

Actually, I couldn't really care much anyway....

#7 jonbey

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 03:21 PM

If it gets to a point that more than 10% of all keyword referrals are (not provided) then I know to start pushing those Google+ buttons. For the moment it is 1.12%.

#8 DonnaFontenot

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 04:21 PM

Of course that information is available via the visitors browser.


No, it won't be, afaik. The q= will be stripped before sending the visitor on.

Anyway, the real crime here is that Google is lying. Privacy, my donkey. They should just be upfront about the reasons rather than trying to make themselves look good by pretending it's about something it's not.

I'd like to think that G is stepping into yet more hole that's going to finally break their stranglehold on the world, but unfortunately, it'll get glossed over and forgotten soon enough, just like everything else.

And of course, the masses will never even hear of it, and those that do, will just say, "HUH? Oh, G is looking after me, cool."

#9 jonbey

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 05:50 PM

(not provided) just made it to the top phrase for one of my sites, and not a techy one.

#10 DonnaFontenot

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 06:19 PM

How many times has Matt Cutts et al told SEOs to focus NOT on rankings, but on log files? I may go out and do some research to find an actual number to spout, but I can tell you I've seen/heard him say it quite often.

Now it's gonna be..."um, don't focus on rankings or log files...focus on...um...oh hell, just pay us and we'll tell you all that".

#11 iamlost

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Posted 19 October 2011 - 07:20 PM

Anyway, the real crime here is that Google is lying. Privacy, my donkey. They should just be upfront about the reasons rather than trying to make themselves look good by pretending it's about something it's not.

Absolutely, to sentences 1 and 2. Regarding sentence 3, this behaviour is par for the Google course.


Of course that information is available via the visitors browser.


No, it won't be, afaik. The q= will be stripped before sending the visitor on.

Google will strip prior to forwarding visitor. This means that the receiving site server log will not show the query from https searchers (unless arriving via AdWords link or from an educational institution or...); however the visitors browser will probably still retain the information (depending on browser settings). Not that I advocate mining browser data (as I mentioned this may be illegal as well as immoral, unethical, fattening et al) but it has been done, is done, and may well become more widespread...certainly something I'll be watching. :study: :popcorn:

I have read all sorts of speculation on why Google is doing this, now; several are persuasive but none conclusive; but privacy is almost certainly pretext, not purpose.

#12 A.N.Onym

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Posted 20 October 2011 - 12:52 AM

:yawn: :popcorn:

#13 iamlost

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Posted 21 November 2011 - 04:46 PM

An interesting exercise from Avinash Kaushik: Smarter Data Analysis of Google's https (not provided) change: 5 Steps.

I believe that much of this article is designed to blunt the criticism of the 'secure' search referer query loss; that does not alter the value of at least some of his suggestions.

For those of you who utilise Google Analytics his suggestions should be simple and quick to implement, for those using some other visitor analysis tool/methodology it might take a bit longer.

I haven't mentioned it before but as he mentions Google Webmaster Tools and AdWords Keyword Tool are free, and will provide many/most/all of the missing query terms - just not attached to particular visitors.

Also:
I note that Brian Klais, Search Engine Land, 21-November-2011, notes that Google has yet to secure mobile search. A surprising find given their privacy excuse for the behaviour. And one that bodes ill for the final empty referer numbers...

Brian also suggests several behaviours to benchmark data.

So a day for do what you can to salvage what data you can while you can advice.

#14 A.N.Onym

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Posted 22 November 2011 - 06:57 AM

Thanks, but it seems it requires lots of effort to learn minimal information about the "hidden" visitors. Of course, it'll be different for each website, so it's almost pointless to analyze what others have found (other than to glean how they've done it). Then again, if the total amount of visitors or conversion data of unknown search queries become noticeable or important, so there's ROI of analyzing them, then sure, I'll spend some time on it, reluctantly. Yet, known data is probably more precise and easier/faster to analyze/

So, for now, I'll wait for someone to mention that one simply has to keep working on improving the website, creating awesome content and promoting it. Oh wait.

Edited by A.N.Onym, 22 November 2011 - 07:14 AM.




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