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Google AJAX Powered Serps Kills Referals
Brett_Tabke




msg:3841738
 2:56 am on Feb 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

Story on Clicky [getclicky.com] about Google testing ajax powered SERPs. I believe the finders credit goes to this story [smackdown.blogsblogsblogs.com]. I think it is a major story. It has big implications for site owners and webmasters.

About 7 years ago, in the classic "3 characters from done [webmasterworld.com]" thread we had talked about the ramifications on seo of se's switching from GET to POST'ed data. However, it never came to pass that browser programmers would allow an unchecked form "post" submission. However, the hiding or obscuring of referral data is nothing new:

March 2002: [webmasterworld.com]
Both AOL and Overture routinely encode urls and session strings. There are some meta engines and java script based forms on engines that already hide referral strings. Most of us have seen this effect from search MSN already.

I honestly don't think G is shortsighted enough to do something like that system wide for the sake of obfuscating seo efforts. Websites would have little incentive to look to Google for traffic or optimize for Google. The focus would no longer be on Google for optimization. We wouldn't know what or how to optimize for keywords - optimization would be shots in the dark. Our only option would be to look for other big sources of traffic [webmasterworld.com].

There has always been the unwritten trust between websites and search engines that they could use our data, as long as they sent us traffic. Refererless traffic pretty much breaks that unwritten but implicitly agreed upon trust and treats websites as commodities - just food for the engine.

On the other hand, we have to respect a websites - even Google's - opportunity to innovate. I think we have to see what G is doing with the Ajax before passing final judgment on it and it's intentions. I doubt that it is Googles will to break log analyzers and keyword trackers with this test. I think that is a by-product of whatever Ajax implementation google is currently testing.

On the third hand, it would probably drive alot of webmasters to look to AdWords for traffic. hmmm

 

MatthewHSE




msg:3842576
 11:38 pm on Feb 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

I'm finally seeing this after clearing cookies and restarting Firefox, but it's not at all what I expected. In fact, the average end user will never notice a difference. It's no faster, slicker, more attractive, or anything - just vanilla Google results.

In other words, there's clearly some motive here *other* than improving the user experience.

leadegroot




msg:3842578
 11:40 pm on Feb 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

I think it would be up to the browser manufacters to issue a patch to the browser to send the referal information with AJAX requests. This may in fact, be a good goose to them to get that done. I don't believe the referring page full url (after the #) is available to the website after the click. I don't think it is in the request anywhere - whether by js or http headers.

if we can hope the browser makers patch their product to pull the referer info out of the url, can we also ask server-side product makers like Apache and the PHP team to do the same?

Receptional Andy




msg:3842581
 11:46 pm on Feb 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

can we also ask server-side product makers like Apache and the PHP team to do the same?

You wouldn't need to - referrers just don't work that way. They are always passed by the browser. Either they retain information after the # or they don't. It might require more change to also store the same value in javascript's document.referrer object, but any fix to include the info in a referral would be browser-side.

As far as I'm aware, URI fragments were always a bit of an "add-on" to the URI spec, and thus there's is no real standardisation about what to do with them.

pageoneresults




msg:3842591
 11:57 pm on Feb 4, 2009 (gmt 0)

More information on the Fragment Identifier here...

Uniform Resource Identifier (URI): Generic Syntax - 3.5 Fragment
[tools.ietf.org...]

The fragment identifier is not used in the scheme-specific processing of a URI; instead, the fragment identifier is separated from the rest of the URI prior to a dereference, and thus the identifying information within the fragment itself is dereferenced solely by the user agent, regardless of the URI scheme.

carguy84




msg:3842603
 12:12 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I can't seem to get the results no matter what I try. Perhaps I will try from a different IP address.

blend27




msg:3842611
 12:21 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

NICE: Top referrers / Top search phrases / TOP search engines data all missing. And all because PHD leveled marketing blend is scared for their job at Google. G, wake the el UP.

blend27




msg:3842613
 12:24 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

PG, the Generic Syntax 'syntax' worked before...

Key_Master




msg:3842617
 12:32 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I personally would like to thank Google for letting every website I visit know that I have a Google account. Please tell us, why is your fabulous privacy feature only effective for those who anonymously search Google?

I guess the only solution is to log out and stay out until you Googlers get your priorities in order.

blend27




msg:3842622
 12:45 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I am going to take a chunk from 3.4

-- The characters slash ("/") and question mark ("?") may represent data within the query component. Beware that some older, erroneous implementations may not handle such data correctly when it is used as the base URI for relative references (Section 5.1), apparently because they fail to distinguish query data from path data when looking for hierarchical separators. However, as query components are often used to carry identifying information in the form of "key=value" pairs and one frequently used value is a reference to another URI, it is sometimes better for usability to avoid percent-encoding those characters. --

Now... does that brake the Google appliance indexing/desktop or those are absolute?

And then again, I have not seen Direct response from G at this point here, so may be it is a fluke...

tangor




msg:3842625
 12:58 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I love my raw logs. Just NOT loving them as much as I used to. What was odd in my logs it is non-USA google (eg goggle.de) came in blank. I'm fairly sure those of us here, or in SEO or related biz, are among the very few who know about these things... the vast majority out there have no clue. The hue and cry, therefore, would be lost in the wilderness of ignorance.

blend27




msg:3842640
 1:34 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

As a matter of fact I would love MS to release a silent SP that Disables all referrer strings in IE Browser. Period.

drall




msg:3842642
 1:58 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

What a shame, Brett is right, I am seeing a very large % with no refer data coming in now.

willybfriendly




msg:3842654
 2:15 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Why? To keep users from making use of an improved search tool that gives useful, relevant Web pages an advantage over useless or irrelevant Web pages for a given search string?

How are webmasters supposed to load dynamic content based on user Intent now?

I expect this will break Brett's highlighting feature, which is a shame. That's just one of the implications beyond breaking all the competing analytics apps.

Many uses for referrer string data, and only some are related to SEO.

Google may have every right to further their own interests and provide "an improved search tool". However, with a near monopoly in the search game, I am not sure that they have the unilateral right to "break the Internet" - meaning implementing something that quite literally turns things upside down for such a broad section of users.

Logs and referrer stats have been an important part of web development since the beginning. They are not used only to create useless or irrelevant web pages.

In other words, there's clearly some motive here *other* than improving the user experience.

Yes, it has looked for quite some time like G wants to do far more than "organize" the world's information...

Lorel




msg:3842665
 2:40 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I haven't used Ajax yet but I used to see [google.com...] with no notice of keywords used in my site meter occasionally (not more than 1%) and I've seen this for many months and not known how they were doing this. I just checked and now and it's 10%.

blend27




msg:3842667
 2:53 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

not more than 1% = I am Feeling LUCKY button, as far as I know ++++ Scraper bots

leadegroot




msg:3842671
 3:01 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

What was odd in my logs it is non-USA google (eg goggle.de) came in blank.

Well, I have only a tiny jump in my .au site traffic that is showing as coming direct from Google's .com homepage and no change from the google.com.au homepage, so I was assuming this was a .us test so far - but perhaps in Europe too?

(For those who don't know, you should always expect a small amount of this sort of referer, as an 'I feel lucky' button landing will look like this!)

mack




msg:3842705
 4:08 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

One very importaint issue to take from this is the fact that Google's only concern from a serp point of view is the searcher. Any referal data is simply a bi-product.

Some users have spoken in terms of this breaking the internet, lets be honest. Google have shaped the entire internet to suit its own business model and so long as it doesnt hurt us, we let it happen.

Look at how Google has altered the online ad business. popup ads, how many businesses went under due to Google starting the ball rolling with pop up blockers. The Gogle toolbar alone did a good job of killing that industry.

Another example of Google shaping the web and how linking (the fundimental flow of the web) should work was rel=nofollow.

Is this realy any different to the above examples. Legaly does a search engine need to allow a browser to forward referal data? No.

What we are seeing is another example of Google making a change for its own gain, and ignoring what possible effect this will have for other businesses.

Personaly it will effect me because I manage my own stats using a script I wrote. If Google do go ahead with this my own app will become virtualy useless. I am not alone.

Mack.

steveb




msg:3842709
 4:12 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I'm confused now.

I search Google, I get the # in the browser address bar, but...

The URLs of the search results themselves don't have an "#". They show the old style Google referer URLs (NOT regular URLs like [webmasterworld.com...] Won't this allow searches to be tracked, because the individual URLs have the old style links?

mack




msg:3842715
 4:23 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

does than not mean it will show the Google search page as referal, but won't show the actual keyword. Its the # in the actual search url that is causing the problems.

Mack.

steveb




msg:3842716
 4:26 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Okay, I see, the individual URLs don't have the query in them.

Since I'm not getting any other functionality, there isn't any possible positive in this for webmasters, not for Google either since if a webmaster has no clue that [steamy red widgets] is a good search term they won't buy adwords for it.

mack




msg:3842717
 4:30 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Or the adwords keyword tool will give then all the info! once they create an account.

Mack.

steveb




msg:3842722
 4:37 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

That's true if they know to look for that. If you broad match [widgets] you can find things, but even if you are in the widget business you don't know everything people search for that is about widgets without using the word.

One thing for sure, this change will hurt new webmasters more than experienced ones who have years of legacy data. I certainly know what people in my niche search for. Someone new in the industry will not know that people search for [red steamy widgets] far more than [steamy red widgets], and they will have to use the exact match adwords tool to find that out... assuming Google won't also break the adwords tool too.

willybfriendly




msg:3842734
 5:20 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Another example of Google shaping the web and how linking (the fundimental flow of the web) should work was rel=nofollow.

Yes, that was a real eye opener - even more so when they started expanding upon the originally stated intent/use, things like "paid links", PR sculpting and such.

It was probably at that point where I started developing a healthy suspicion of the company. I suspect that what is legal or illegal now may come under increasing scrutiny and/or regulation in the future. Monopolies are not looked on favorably in many areas of the world, including the US. MS stands as only one example.

Google has fundamentally altered the net in any number of ways, virtually all self serving when one looks closely...

giggle




msg:3842827
 10:00 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Well that's just plain mean. I'm starting to see a lot more direct (i.e. no referals) in my referals report. The .co.uk server still seems to be proving referal data.

I guess if you're big enough you can do just about anything you want to.

brotherhood of LAN




msg:3842838
 10:30 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

The .co.uk server still seems to be proving referal data

I know people are also getting the AJAX version in the UK. redirects to normal SERPs when I try from my IP though.

giggle




msg:3842840
 10:35 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Yes, boL, when I try .co.uk from Bangkok I get the normal SERPs.

stormy




msg:3842879
 11:53 am on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I haven't been able to see this from Spain yet, and I can't figure out exactly how it looks like. <snip>

[edited by: Receptional_Andy at 12:10 pm (utc) on Feb. 5, 2009]
[edit reason] No screenshots please, see ToS [/edit]

Receptional Andy




msg:3842888
 12:05 pm on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

I can't figure out exactly how it looks like

There's no visual or functional change whatsoever - just when you click search the results are retrieved in the background via ajax, as opposed to via an additional page request. if you don't watch for it, you'd probably never notice. As I mentioned above, my theory is that it's a "proof of concept" technology test.

[edited by: Receptional_Andy at 12:18 pm (utc) on Feb. 5, 2009]

SteveJohnston




msg:3842889
 12:06 pm on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

Getting the results in the UK, by logging out of my Google account, forcing the .com not to redirect, using /ncr fix, and then just using it as normal. In Firefox without resetting cookies.

SteveJohnston




msg:3842898
 12:16 pm on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

There's no visual or functional change whatsoever

The strikingly empty - except for lots of javascript - HTML source is a clue too, along with that # in the address bar.

[edited by: SteveJohnston at 12:17 pm (utc) on Feb. 5, 2009]

Receptional Andy




msg:3842909
 12:30 pm on Feb 5, 2009 (gmt 0)

The fp parameter seems to be connected with this - without it I get redirected to the traditional GET results.

Incidentally, using a US IPand with cookies disabled, I can consistently retrieve AJAX results by visiting a URL with the following syntax:

[google.com...]

The value of fp appears to be irrelevant as long as it's present. Google also adds an additional parameter (e.g. &cad=[a-z]) for the AJAX searches.

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