Google has just made a very significant change to the way they handle keyword referrers, meaning that website owners will no longer be able to see the keywords that someone searched for to reach their website. For privacy purposes, Google has been taking out the referring keyword and not passing that information to website owners when users are logged in. Google uses a https secure URL when users are logged into Google.
Before today, Google was not passing keyword referring data through a https secure search. But today, Google is now forcing all users who uses Google.com to use a secure https search. This means that Google is no longer passing keyword referral data for all users, not just users who have been previously logged in when they search. So, if you are using Google Analytics for your site’s web analytics or you have domain names parked, you will no longer see the keyword referrers in your analytics.
I tested some searches using both an iPhone using Safari and a laptop using Firefox. The results were quite different as to what referrer data was passed from a “not logged in” https search at Google.com:
Using Safari on an iPhone, if you search from Google.com and are NOT logged in, your visit’s log file shows like this. Notice there is no keyword referrer passed:
126.96.36.199 /page/page-on-site-we-visited/ 9/23/13 1:34 PM 16543 https://www.google.com/ Mozilla/5.0 (iPhone; CPU iPhone OS 7_0 like Mac OS X) AppleWebKit/537.51.1 (KHTML, like Gecko) Version/7.0 Mobile/11A465 Safari/9537.53
Using Firefox on a laptop, if you search from Google.com and are NOT logged in, your visit’s log file shows like this. Notice there is no keyword referrer passed. In this case, the https went to http and now is “not provided”.
188.8.131.52 /page/page-on-site-we-visited/ 9/23/13 1:22 PM 16543 http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CEEQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.keywordreferringurllandingpage.com%2F&ei=z3hAUvXtA4PArQGyt4DYCA&usg=AFQjCNE3dYXKDz6m4AnBD5C7tgPeYMJ19w&bvm=bv.52434380,d.aWM Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 6.1; WOW64; rv:23.0) Gecko/20100101 Firefox/23.0
Notice that the search from https://www.google.com/ (where I was not logged in) resulted in no referral being passed using the iPhone. However, when I used Firefox on the laptop the https secure search at Google.com came unsecure and was switched by Google to be a “not provided” search, meaning that Google is purposely not providing the keyword data. Also, the Google referring URL includes the landing page of the visit, not the keyword.
Google does provide the “not provided” keyword data to website owners who have verified their website in Google Webmaster Tools. So, the data is not really (totally) lost. However, if you look at your current web analytics software (most of us use Google Analytics), you will notice that your keyword “not provided” just made a jump. We will be watching this closely, as I don’t know how this is going to turn out, and where we will get the Google keyword referring data in the future.
What’s important to note, here, is that if you have a parked domain, then you most likely have not verified it in Google Webmaster Tools, so you will not be getting the keyword data anytime soon.
What does this mean for us website owners? Google is becoming increasingly protective over their keyword data. So much so, that they have required website owners to verify their website with Google and get the data using Google Webmaster Tools. We believe that some, if not all, of this data will continue to be available through Google Webmaster Tools, and perhaps the integration with Google Analytics. So, in order to get the keyword referring data, you will no longer be able to rely on your website’s log files to get this data, and the data won’t be available to website analytics software packages other than Google Analytics.
This is a day that I have been waiting for; but I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.