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Google To Change SSL Search Referrer Data

     
5:27 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Google To Change SSL Search Referrer Data [googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.co.uk]
Today, we’re happy to announce that Google Web Search will soon be using a new proposal to reduce latency when a user of Google’s SSL-search clicks on a search result with a modern browser such as Chrome.

Starting in April, for browsers with the appropriate support, we will be using the "referrer" meta tag to automatically simplify the referring URL that is sent by the browser when visiting a page linked from an organic search result. This results in a faster time to result and more streamlined experience for the user.

What does this mean for sites that receive clicks from Google search results? You may start to see "origin" referrers—Google’s homepages (see the meta referrer specification for further detail)—as a source of organic SSL search traffic. This change will only affect the subset of SSL search referrers which already didn’t include the query terms. Non-HTTPS referrals will continue to behave as they do today. Again, the primary motivation for this change is to remove an unneeded redirect so that signed-in users reach their destination faster.

9:23 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

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What the H is that really all about?!

I read it as having to place a referer meta tag on each page that G scrapes - surely that's what "meta tag" means - a tag in the page header? Is that it? What's wrong with just providing the proper querystring, as they used to?

Does this mean we have to modify our pages just for G - again?!

Presumably the extra loading caused by SSL is causing their servers to slow down? If so, how do they suddenly get away with no redirect, if they redirected before? Do they plant cookies on a browser?

I further read it that the referer used does not include any reference to it being a basic G search querystring. Or are they subverting their terms to confuse me?

Thank the gods I don't really need any of their referer info. My sites don't actually need it and none of my site owners really looks at the search terms anyway.
10:14 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

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First article I found about this: [webanalyticsland.com...]

dstiles wrote:
Does this mean we have to modify our pages just for G - again?!

No; this looks like it's something Google will be implementing on their SERPs.

Presumably the extra loading caused by SSL is causing their servers to slow down? If so, how do they suddenly get away with no redirect, if they redirected before? Do they plant cookies on a browser?

I believe they're currently redirecting clicks through their server, which strips out the search query in the Referer header and then redirects the user. This will instruct browsers that support meta referrers to automatically set the referrer to the "origin" (e.g. "https://www.google.com/") and allow Google to skip the redirect.

(Slow down Google's servers, though? Not very likely.)

I further read it that the referer used does not include any reference to it being a basic G search querystring.

Pretty much. Once this is implemented, all you'll get from anyone using a browser that supports meta referrers is "https://www.google.com/" or "https://www.google.co.uk", etc.

Apparently Chrome is the only browser that currently supports this feature, but I wouldn't be surprised if Google modifies their redirect to match what the meta referrer tag provides.

That would mean all logged in searches would only send, essentially, the domain name as the referrer. I think most web analytics software won't even be able to distinguish a "search referral" from a regular referral in this case. That seems... unfortunate.

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10:52 pm on Mar 20, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Here's what I'd like to know for the signed-in users that isn't fully explained by the post:

For all analytics packages (not just GA):

Will the full referring URL be removed to only show "google.com"?

Will this mean that this will become "referral" rather than "organic search"?

Will this mean for any Google property (Google Images, Gmail, etc.) that they will all be "google.com"?
8:03 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Lipstick on a pig.

- John
8:10 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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a BIG FAT pig...
8:34 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Browsers doesn't send referer data on HTTPS pages. Google is going to add a referer meta tag to its SERP pages, and supported browsers will send that referer data to our websites. Basically, the referer meta tag is going to be able to override what browser sends as referer, even on SSL connections.
11:22 am on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I'm all for receiving more information with fewer redirects so I like this change, it makes sense.

What the H is that really all about?!

Unfortunately you're probably right, there are other reasons, so ask yourself who else within G will benefit from this?

Perhaps not picking up referrer data was even a problem for G and their tracking efforts. I doubt it but there are so many different layers and departments within G (and other non-G agencies) that one or more of them may have made the request. It's not a small change in practice.

Does it create any security concerns?
Does it make it easier to track users?
Does it make it easier to sell users data?

Those are what I want to know, otherwise the move seems to be what they say it is.
1:09 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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levo wrote:
Browsers doesn't send referer data on HTTPS pages.

That's really only when going from secure to non-secure. Still...

Checking the 2012 access logs for one of my company's sites, I see a number of HTTPS referrals from google.com. Some of them (from January and early February) include the complete referring URL (even the search query). Since about the last week of February, though, they've been just "https://www.google.com/".

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1:16 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Google is going to add a referer meta tag to its SERP pages, and supported browsers will send that referer data to our websites.


Okay, did some research and found out that it is strongly suggested that referral headers are not sent across HTTPS [tools.ietf.org].

My initial reaction before I had known this was to wonder why Google was trying to create an alternative to HTTP referrer header? [rhetorical question] Then after reading about the strong suggestion from the IETF I tested this theory out by creating a test link on a site served as HTTPS and my site's log showed no referrer was set.

I have seen 'http://www.google.com/' in some referrers of late, not cool at all. This doesn't tell me what my visitors from Google are looking for and in turn I can not improve my site's content. I do improve my site's content and in example wrote a new blog entry about the longevity of AMD's socket FM1 since a lot of people were interested in that based on the referrer data in my visitors log. However I would bet all the gold in the world my PR 4 personal website does not have a link to it sitting on the Google homepage (though I would love to be very very wrong about that).

If Google plans on sending referrer data to webmasters and try to "protect privacy" of their users at the same time then they sure had me fooled! In the most ideal situation for everyone someone at Google severally goofed and failed to realize you address technically competent people first without fail, privacy advocates who aren't technically competent come second to those who are technically capable and yes, many of us who are technically competent do advocate for privacy. However that's a very very optimistic hope for a company that has proclaimed that they would drop support for the license and patent encumbered H.264 codec backed up likes of Hollywood, the RIAA and MPAA.

So until Google makes good on fully restoring referrer headers I'll be sticking with Bing and Yandex and advocating to everyone I know not to use Google.

- John
2:59 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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So if we start seeing visits from "https://www.google.com", then I guess we know it's coming from a Google user, logged in to their account, using Chrome ?
3:25 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Panthro wrote:
So if we start seeing visits from "https://www.google.com", then I guess we know it's coming from a Google user, logged in to their account, using Chrome ?

You might be getting these already, actually. It could be the result of random, pre-release testing on Google's part.

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4:44 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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It might also be coming from a logged in user who clicked on a shared link in their Google+ or even someone in-house who clicked on a link in your Webmaster Tools account. Such events have already been showing up in Google Analytics - and inflating the (not provided) stats.
5:07 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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AFAIAA (judging by a little close reading), it is only https referrer data so we will now at least be able to see that these came from google through the meta, whereas before we could not even see it came from Google. Normal http logged out users will track the same.
5:10 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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I have been seeing visits from "https://www.google.com" recently, so this explains that. Now I need to dig deeper and see what is included/excluded on those visits. It sounds like we will be getting less useful information.
5:19 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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@not2easy We are getting more information than we were before aren't we? At least we can now see that Google is sending us that traffic and it is not from a secure referrer which could have been any website.
10:42 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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For a long time now I have blocked any access which has a referer of ONLY http://www.google.com OR http://www.google.com/

Reason for this is that although a very few are (possibly) triggered by "lucky" search, almost all of them are fake, either from G or from a scraper.

I will continue to block these. Hopefully I will find no reason to block the https versions but don't bet on it!

The whole thing is a farce engendered, in my opinion, by a) technical incompetence; b) G trying to get more money for providing the full referer (just wait and see!); and c) reducing the load on their servers (which I'm sure was at the back of the "Your site is too slow" campaign.

Please, Bing, Anyone - get a bigger slice of the UK so we can forget about G!

[edited by: tedster at 3:25 am (utc) on Mar 22, 2012]
[edit reason] de-link the example URLs for clarity [/edit]

11:23 pm on Mar 21, 2012 (gmt 0)

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Here's what I'd like to know for the signed-in users that isn't fully explained by the post:

For all analytics packages (not just GA):

Will the full referring URL be removed to only show "google.com"?

Will this mean that this will become "referral" rather than "organic search"?

Yes, and yes again. But I'm obviously missing something, because I've been seeing this in both Piwik and raw logs for ages. Not simply the concealed "q=" but the complete "www.google.com" as referer. What's new?

Nasty thought: g### could be doing this deliberately to sabotage SEO work by preventing people from seeing what searches bring people to your page. The fact that it also prevents you from making a better page is apparently irrelevant.
8:42 pm on Mar 22, 2012 (gmt 0)

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In statcounter it shows any Google search traffic from https as a big fat (No referring link) No term no Google nothing. I know because I tested it and could see my search to landing page I hit. I get info on the user just have no idea from were or what.