Google Now Using Https For Google.com Search Traffic

No More Referring Keywords

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:

74.203.165.158 /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
220.198.79.184

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”.

74.203.165.158 /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.

{ 9 comments… add one }

  • Geo September 23, 2013, 1:42 pm

    There is nothing new here, it’s been going on for more than six months. If you link your Google webmaster tools and your Google Analytics, you still will see NO keyword data for those searchers who were logged into their Google account. So, this means only about half of the searches will show you any keyword log, effectively only a sampling now. A very distressing trend, indeed!

  • Bill Hartzer September 23, 2013, 2:26 pm

    Geo, “not provided”, which occurs when a secure Google search is performed, has been around for a few years now. A secure search used to only occur when a user is logged into Google.

    But, the new change is actually for all Google users, whether or not they’re logged into Google. All Google searches are now secure, resulting in “not provided”.

  • Nick September 23, 2013, 2:32 pm

    This is the problem with Google getting too big and not having any viable competition.

  • Jen September 23, 2013, 5:34 pm

    Morgan,

    Why have you been waiting for this day? Please expand a bit.

  • John B September 24, 2013, 4:06 am

    Google is the de-facto owner of the internet. The internet belongs to everyone, it is too large a part of the country’s economy to be throttled for the benefit of private interests. Google needs to be broken up ala Ma Bell.

  • Aaron Strong September 24, 2013, 8:52 am

    Google is too big, powerful, and political. Google will continue to give the public less information as it promotes Marxist socialism across the world. The simple fact that Google receives more data but continues to give less back should be a cause of concern.

  • leigh September 24, 2013, 9:09 am

    Wow…Why pay for Google AdSense if you can no longer track what words are successful. I think I just changed my default search engine to Bing…only to support the small business owner.

  • Jen September 24, 2013, 10:39 am

    @Leigh

    You will be able to track your keywords as an Adwords customer provided you have a Google Webmaster tools account. It’s my understanding that you’ll be able to log into your Google webmaster/analytics account and view up to 2000 keyword phrases used to access your site. Unfortunately though, Google does plan to offer a type of paid keyword plan to access above and beyond the 2000 keyword phrases.

  • Nick September 24, 2013, 1:35 pm

    @Jen: That is pathetic (directed at Google). If people just stopped using Google, they’d get the message real fast. We control their wallets, not them.