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More and more referrals from Google are without exact referrer string

     
4:01 am on Jul 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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More and more visits from Google in my server log files are without exact referrer information, and have only "http://www.google.com", "http://www.google.com.au", etc. which doesn't allow to find out keyword and SERP page from which this visit was made.

Is anyone else experiencing this? Is there any official information from Google about this?

Thanks.
5:35 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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These may be not be legitimate page requests, but requests with spoofed referrer info from bots or hackers. Do visitors from these IP addresses only take HTML pages, or also images, CSS files etc. Bots often only take the HTML page and no accompanying site furniture so it should be rather easy to identify if these requests are legitimate visitors coming through Google.
5:36 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I've noticed the same on a number of referrals lately. only "google.com".

Yet another cheap Google anti SEO tactic i suspect...

The SEO industry is not good for Googl's special global AdWords tax master-plan.

So they started by eliminated long tail searches (how could that possibly benefit users) and now proceed to starving webmasters from extremely important SEO referral information.

And yes, they are Google referrals alright (these are not bots as far as i can see).
5:48 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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All the visits seem to be legitimate, with loading all images, javascript and css files along with the requested pages. Moreover, adsense code gets invoked as well as there are immediate requests from "Mediapartners-Google" for the same pages. All visits have different IPs and browsers.
5:59 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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It happened before when they were experimenting with Ajax powered SERPs back in February 2009 [webmasterworld.com...] It could be a disaster for traffic analysis for many webmasters if Google decides to roll it out globally now.
8:11 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'm seeing this as well, instead of a search results page my stats show me the Google url that sent the visitor which of course means if I try to visit that Google page it's a 301 redirect page to my site. I can't tell what they were looking for.

Google preaches providing what visitors want, this makes accomplishing that extremely hard (without Google products like analytics and even those aren't as good as raw logs). Google returning 301 redirect pages instead of search result pages as referral is unsettling.

referrals now look like: example.com.au/url? from Australia. They USED to look like example.com.au/search?. Not all "url?" strings show the keywords.
10:24 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Hopefully Google won't start hiding real SERPs referrers... It will really ruin search marketing...

Sgt_Kickaxe, I have such referrers too, but I can see actual query string after "&q=" param. Although not as convenient as with "/search?" urls, it's still possible to view it. In the cases I wrote in my original post, all I see is just "http://www.google.com".
10:59 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Ooops.

I am seeing that as well. Not too many yet (maybe 2 to 3% of all referrers from Google), but still noticable.

I'm seeing this behaviour across many Google domains, e.g.

www.google.de
www.google.co.in
www.google.com
www.google.pl
www.google.com.my
www.google.fr
www.google.sk
www.google.lt

I just hope that they are not serious about this; on the other hand, that will bring me one step closer to blocking Google from access.
11:22 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Someone from Germany without a WebmasterWorld account asked me to share his experience with the rest of you. I'll copy his comments here verbatim:

I can confirm the original observation: more and more accesses just contain a bare "http://www.google.foo/" referrer. It started on July 1st/2nd (a rise from about .1 percent to about 3 percent of all Google referrers), and judging by the HTTP headers and access patterns, these are definitely legit accesses, not bots, in particular as a possible rel=prefetch access (for top-ranked search hits under Mozilla-based browsers) directly preceding the actual user-driven access still _does_ contain the full list of Google search parameters in the referrer.
11:39 am on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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lammert, this is exactly what I'm experiencing and it's been going on for a few weeks now as well. These keyword-less referrals increased dramatically during these 2 weeks. It also seems to me that today it's much more than 3%...
12:05 pm on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Same here from Google.co.UK. Let's hope its a blip or else using it to serve more relevant content to the user is a non-starter.
5:19 pm on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Not at all sure about this, but could it be people using the newly released SSL (https) version of Google? See this in their FAQ:

As another layer of privacy, SSL search turns off a browser's referrers New window icon. Web browsers typically turn off referrers when going from HTTPS to HTTP mode to provide extra privacy. By clicking on a search result that takes you to an HTTP site, you could disable any customizations that the website provides based on the referrer information.
7:41 pm on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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...these are definitely legit accesses, not bots, in particular as a possible rel=prefetch access (for top-ranked search hits under Mozilla-based browsers) directly preceding the actual user-driven access still _does_ contain the full list of Google search parameters in the referrer.

lammert - Thanks. There seems to be a punctuation mark or word missing from what you've quoted, though... so just to make sure I'm understanding... does this mean that these are extra referral reports, reporting the prefetch accesses without referrer strings... but that the actual user-driven accesses still do contain referrer strings?

If this interpretation is correct, then would it make sense simply to ignore the referrals without the referrer strings... as least when looking at actual visitors?

Is anyone who is observing this comparing the server stats with the visitor count reported by a javascript based analytics package like Google Analytics to see if this interpretation provides a good correlation?
9:46 pm on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Hey everybody, I asked folks who would know about this. It turns out there was an issue a couple weeks ago where some code got refactored, and the refactoring affected referrers for links opened in a new tab or window. Right now the team is expecting to have a fix out in the next week or so. Hope that helps.
9:50 pm on July 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Thanks Matt!
1:11 am on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Thanks a lot Matt!
11:43 am on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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hehe,

he lives been a few years since your last post on WebmasterWorld Matt,

thx for the heads up all the same.

Vimes.
1:19 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Quite the lurker, is he not.
1:40 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Quite the lurker, is he not.

Just like the googlebot. Comes visit my website and forum everyday, reads all the content he can get his eyes on but never posts anything.
2:02 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Just like the googlebot.

He *is* the googlebot.
3:35 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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...and I am the walrus...

Goo goo gajoob.
3:48 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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He *is* the googlebot.


nah, the googlebot would never own a cat
3:55 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Was doing some experimenting with referrers today and my Firefox browser was only sending "http://www.google.com/" as the referrer but MSIE 7 was sending the entire referrer consistently.

Anyone else see this specific oddity?
7:44 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I'll admit, I kinda pointed Matt to this thread. I doubt he was reading the forums on his vacation.
7:46 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Can somebody please send that guy Matt our appreciation, preferably a very expensive bottle, with a ribbon on it?
8:16 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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I love that he is a 'new member'. Hee Hee.

j
11:08 pm on July 14, 2010 (gmt 0)

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Glad this wasn't an intentional change, and thanks Matt for jumping in on the discussion.