Google turns off keyword referrer information for logged in users

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  • October 18, 2011
Patrick Altoft

Patrick Altoft

Director of Strategy

Google has today announced that any users that are logged in to Google.com will be automatically sent to the https version of Google. This has the (presumably intentional) side effect that web analytics tools will no longer be able to see data on the keywords that people used to get to websites.

You might need to read that bit twice because it’s a lot to take in.

The net effect of this is that Google Analytics and all the other web traffic & analytics tools are going to get some very big holes in their data. Of course Google AdWords click data will still be fully available – they are just blocking the organic click data.

What does this mean for sites that receive clicks from Google search results? When you search from https://www.google.com, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query. They can also receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to their site for each of the past 30 days through Google Webmaster Tools. This information helps webmasters keep more accurate statistics about their user traffic. If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.

A full summary of this decision is here but there are a few key points to note.

Firstly this is only for google.com at the moment and only for logged in users so there is no need to panic just yet. However we saw with the Panda update how Google starts off with Google.com and then rolls things out worldwide and increases the number of affected people every few weeks.

Secondly we have seen the growth of Google+ and Gmail is already huge so there is no reason to assume that the number of users this affects will be small. I can see a very large percentage of people being logged in to Google at all times. Why wouldn’t they be?

Thirdly there is no reason at all that Google wouldn’t migrate everybody to SSL in the future whether they are logged in or not.

To me this seems like a move designed both to make Google appear to be protecting users as well as an opportunity for them to take away data that helps big sites build more effective SEO campaigns.

There isn’t much point worrying about this because there is nothing that anybody can do about it. The SEO industry has lots of challenges to deal with and losing what may turn out to be a small percentage of data won’t make a material difference to campaigns at this stage.

If Google turns off keyword data altogether then that’s another matter.

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