Say goodbye to keyword tracking

Richard Benson08 March 2012IT Pros, Webcomments

Google recently announced that they are expanding their use of SSL encryption to more local domains around the globe in an effort to "increase the privacy and security of your web searches".  Whilst this seems a noble intention, it will affect every site owner that uses a stats package such as Google Analytics or Piwik and those sites that use keyword data to enhance the user experience for their visitors.



Whenever you click on a link from a web page to another, even across sites, your browser sends information on the "referrer" or the address of the page you were last at.  In the case of a search the referrer field would contain something similar to the following (added emphasis):

Within that information is the term you searched for, so the site you click on knows what you searched for and if you then purchase something or register, it knows that particular keyword is effective.  Additionally any site can then customise their content to show you what you were looking for or related items.  If the site knows you were looking for "bronze widgets" but you clicked on the home page in search, it could suggest the product page for "bronze widgets" to you, or highlight your search terms in an article.



Whilst Google is not the only search provider, it is clearly the largest and most important, so every change that they make affects websites immensely.  Keyword data is the backbone of search engine optimisation (SEO) and allows user experience designers to aid their visitors in getting to relevant information faster.
It also fuels Google's own AdWords business, the very thing that made them the massive company they are today.  Using keyword data, website owners can analyse in detail how their AdWord campaigns are performing and optimise them, feeding more money back into Google.  Removing this ability will make the job of any SEO or AdWord professional that much harder and result in less income for Google.  NOTE: It seems Google passes this information if a user clicks an ad, but not a natural listing, meaning you can no longer see where you perform badly and then purchase ads, you have to purchase them first and then hope you were not listed highly for that term.  Additionally you will not be able to review if you are performing very well in the natural listings for a search term and therefore decide that you do not need the ads, which will probably mean more money for Google over all.
Even those not running AdWords campaigns use keyword data to optimise the content on their site and see what their visitors want when they come to the site, allowing them to grow their business by responding directly to what visitors want to see, even when those visitors do not interact with the site, more than simply looking at it.  At the top of this article is an example of what website owners are already seeing in Google's own analytics package, and if you use Piwik, you'll see something like this as well as search engine visitors appearing as "Direct Entry":
Search Engine Land summed up the response when Google first made the move on their US search - recation was entirely negative.  Google's initial response was that it would be likely to only affect 10% of visitors, but the recent move to use SSL search by default in more countries will increase this number substantially, and as you can see from our example at the top of the page, it is a lot more than 10% already. SEL also have a great piece on how Google are not doing this just for privacy reasons, if this were the case they would not send referrer data to their paying customers.

What to do?

UPDATE: It seems that whilst referrer data is passed, Google are now stripping the search terms from the referrer, therefore this is not a viable option now. (source)

Whilst it might seem that there is nothing to be done, as once Google follows a particular path, nothing stops them, there is something simple and cost effective you can do to your site. Incidentally the costs for doing this have been coming down drastically in recent years.  The problem is caused because (as standard) referrer data is not sent from a secured site ( to an non-secured site ( However it is passed from secured site to secured site, so adding SSL to your website and stats package will give you that information back.  Most hosting providers will be able to set this up for a small additional cost but it could be too much for start-ups or web businesses running close to their margins. Whilst it is a generally a good idea for the whole web to go SSL, the simple fact is that we cannot all do it until IPv6 is the standard, the world does not have enough IPv4 addresses for all websites to go SSL, and even now, getting an additional IP to run your site under SSL is a huge exercise in paperwork, bureaucracy and a certain amount of begging.
Dixcart Technical Solutions are currently working with our partners to be able to provide a low cost SSL option to all our clients without the need for the traditional lead times and the annual costs associated with registering for SSL certificates. We expect to be offering this service to all our customers by the summer.
comments powered by Disqus
Support Ticket
Remote Support
clever girl