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Google "rewriting" URLs on mouse down when using Firefox
When using certain browsers Google seems to be redirecting search results

 2:36 am on Aug 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

I have been confused about this for some time. Sometimes I see Google redirecting search results through its own website and at other times the links are direct.

Today, I finally figured it out. All URLs on Google search results pages are "rewritten" upon mouse down event using the following javascript function.

onmousedown="return rwt(this,'res','1','')"

To test it for yourself using Firefox, search for something on Google and then before clicking on a search result, right click on the URL and then click on "copy link location". Everytime I paste the copied link location I get a redirected URL instead of direct link.

Interestingly enough, I have been able to confirm that this "tracking" is being done only on Firefox browser (direct searches or through the Google toolbar) and not if you are using Internet Explorer.

Just wanted to share this with everyone.



 6:20 pm on Aug 11, 2005 (gmt 0)

I hope everyone here realizes the implications of this move and how G is setting double standards.


 2:54 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Why? They are tracking people who hate Microsoft cause they are smarter :) jk


 3:08 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

I just verified this on my system. Google is definitely using some dishonest redirects.


 4:16 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Google has been using the rwt redirect for at least one week, maybe 2 by now, but while I've seen them use this type of tracking, either in the url query string, or with the js method here, one thing I haven't seen them do is track users with google cookies off. They are doing it now, and have been doing it steadily. It's not IP based, I checked through proxy servers, and still saw the rwt redirect.

If you use tabbed browsing it's always easy to see when a site uses these redirects, the page loads in the same tab, not a new tab. This is unusual behavior for google, my guess is that they are testing user responses to the last updates more thoroughly than they usually do.

It's just a little annoying, forces me to turn off javascript to use google, no big deal, but the length of time they're running this surprises me.

And if you're running IE with cookies on they are using this currently: onmousedown="return clk(this.href,'res','8','').

This is not a firefox only tracking, though looks like they send you different methods based on certain factors.


 4:34 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

It's just a little annoying, forces me to turn off javascript to use google, no big deal, but the length of time they're running this surprises me

Turning off JS is a solution to prevent G from sneaky tracking.

Brett first reported sighting of this tracking (not sure with rwt) in 2002 on WW.

It will be a big deal once people realize the sneakiness involved. Yahoo is doing it but in a much more overt way.

they are testing user responses to the last updates more thoroughly than they usually do.

I don't buy that. They are sneakily redirecting users. Period.

One should practice what they preach.

[edited by: softwareengineer99 at 4:37 am (utc) on Aug. 12, 2005]


 4:37 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

They've been using the return clk(this.href,' method for years, but always with cookies from what I've seen. If you turned off cookies google would not try to use its tracking, however the newer version they have up now, or maybe it's not new, just first time I've seen it, is always on.

Personally, I have zero problem with google checking the quality of its serps by seeing what users are actually doing in terms of which serp they click for which search, that's totally legitimate as far as I'm concerned, and could lead to better search results.

Maybe they will deliver a slightly different set of serps to users with firefox google search box? Maybe they noticed that firefox users are slightly more sophisticated on average than standard searchers? Hard to say.

What I dont' like is that I have to turn off js to make my searches open in a new tab, small annoyance, no big deal.

It's not clear to me what they preached that they aren't practicing in this context, however - they are a search engine company, their job is to work on their search engine, tracking user behavior is a very good way to do that.

There's much better things to criticize them for IMHO.

The redirect they are using is less sneaky than the one yahoo uses, it can be turned off, for one thing, by turning off js, yahoo's can't be turned off, it's hard code into the urls, has been for years, that's why I don't use them.

<added>Opera users are also getting the rwt js tracker. Maybe they just want to see what smart users click on for various searches?....


 4:55 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

They've been doing this for more that a year. We had several threads [google.com] analyzing their method.

I would like my URLs to be "redirected" through their counter -- It will be a positive indicator of quality, and if that's now an important factor in ranking, so much the better. Not that I think or know that it is, but if so, I'll take it.

A little study of their code will show that they are using the most non-invasive method possible. The JS event increments the counter by fetching an image, and the link is direct to your site (do a view-page-source and look at the code). If everyone used this method, we wouldn't have 302-Redirect "hijacking" problems and "PR hoarding" to worry about.



 5:21 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

No, that's not what he's talking about, that's the clk function, with the image, he's talking about this new one:

function rwt(el,ct,cd,sg)
return true;

onmousedown="return rwt(this,'res','1','')"

This one actually does a redirect, a true redirect. You can only stop it by turning off js. I haven't seen this delivered to IE yet, only Firefox and Opera.

As I said, you can see this in action if your tabs are setup to open new domains in new tabs, the only way that stops opening a new tab is if a real redirect has been done. Those without tabs will not see this redirect.

[edited by: 2by4 at 5:35 am (utc) on Aug. 12, 2005]


 5:34 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

I first noticed it when I clicked on a SERP link and got G's error page. Twice this has happened in the past week.

User searches for widgets:

Clicks on result 1... two minutes later clicks on result 2... two minutes later clicks on result 3... user gives up and tries the query at another SE since the results were getting progressively worse... tomorrow result 3 is result 1.

However, since so many pages have AdSense on them it seems likely that G probably has a much more detailed picture than any other SE. If they compiled the information from AdSense pageviews/clicks with the SERPs that get clicked on, they'd probably be able to pinpoint the most satisfying destinations.

I know a lot of people get upset at the idea of AdSense & SERPs being related in any way, but given the prevalence of AS it seems like a wonderful tracking tool.

Also, the fact that they are targeting a specific set of users (FF browsers) is interesting. I wonder if in time there will be more customized SERPs depending on a variety of factors.

For instance, if a sufer is using Safari (Mac) and they're searching for "graphics editing programs" then Google could use all these statistics to eliminate those software programs from the SERPs that are not compatible with Macs.


 7:42 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

More details, if you switch useragents on Firefox google will deliver function clk to ua MSIE, and rwt to ua Firefox/Opera, this is an active system, with ua sniffing. It hasn't turned off for a while now, wonder how long they'll leave it running?


 8:47 am on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Nice find... I never knew about this one.
I noticed they are also redirecting the Sponsored Links in almost the exact same manner (with same variables passing + a couple more) whilst using FireFox. However it's totally differnt tracking for these on I.E.

I dont see anything to worry about though. Just looks like they need to analyse more about FireFox user trends - they have been tracking IE because of the Toolbar for sometime, and probably a bit behind with other browsers.

If you can think of any bad effects these redirects have, please share!


 12:05 pm on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

Well, if these redirects are tracked by google, and ultimatly effect the serp results, what stops someone setting up automated stress platform and doing a search for widgets and then always selecting either a) their company b)their competitor all through spoofed IPs for proxy servers...


 5:57 pm on Aug 12, 2005 (gmt 0)

using mozilla 1.75 with cookies to search at google.co.uk for 'large widgets', or large red widgets the search phrase for 'Next' and pages 2 > is being chopped at the first word.

Click the 'Next' link and you are just searching for 'large'

Its also just showing the first word of the phrase in the text box at the page bottom

example: for this search...


Next link...


turn cookies off its ok.

IE is OK

google.com seems ok with mozilla

No firefox on this machine so cant try it

looks like maybe somebody got his cloak on the wrong way round!


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