How Google?s Latest Change Might Upset Your Analytics

Matthew Elshaw By Matthew Elshaw
Expert Author
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Earlier this week, Google made an announcement that may change the way some web analytics programs record Google search traffic.

The change relates to the way Google handles referrer information and may cause some organic search traffic to be labelled as referral traffic instead.

From the Google blog post,

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.

Currently, Google redirects search traffic through Google itself to track various details from the click. Below you can see the actual URLs that are loaded when you click on the first and second listings for the search term “florist”.

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=florist&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CIUBEBYwAA
&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ftd.com

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=florist&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CJEBEBYwAQ
&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.florist.com

You can see that Google records the query term florist (q=), the position of the listing (cd=) and the URL of the result (url=).

Google’s new change strips out this data so that if you perform a search on Google.com the only thing that will be reported is the referring URL. Because there is no indicator that a search has actually taken place, some analytics programs may report this as a “referral” from Google.com, just like if someone had clicked on a link from Google.com to visit your website.

While this may be a little confusing, there’s no reason to panic as Google is working to minimize any negative impact,

  1. This only currently impacts browsers that can support the HTTP referer, which is only the latest version of Chrome.
  2. Google Analytics will automatically adjust to make sure this traffic is not labeled as direct traffic but rather search traffic.
  3. Google will communicate to other Analytics companies about the change in hope they adjust their software as well.

If you are using an alternative analytics provider to Google Analytics, it may be worthwhile checking to see if they have any updates on the issue. If you want to read more on the issue there are some great articles at search engine land and search engine roundtable.

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About Matthew Elshaw
Matt is a marketing professional at ineedhits.com, an international search marketing firm. Matt's passion for online marketing began at university and has proved invaluable in steering product development and marketing initiatives at the company. Matt is a regular contributor to the ineedhits search marketing blog.

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