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How Google blocks the keyword in the referrer

Martin here at Arena has just been looking into how Google go about blocking the keyword in the referrer. We did a search for the term “seo” at https://www.google.com whilst logged into a Google Account. With Google Instant turned on it created the following URL…

https://www.google.com/search?sclient=psy-ab&hl=en&site=&source=hp&q=seo&btnK=Google+Search

Wikipedia was top of the results, so we had a look at the html element containing the result, which looked like this…

You’ll see a bit a of JavaScript there bound to the ‘onmousedown’ event, which calls a function called ‘rwt(…)’. Here is the function declaration…

 
There is a lot going on in there, but essentially it redirects the browser to a new URL with the ‘q=’ parameter wiped (as indicated by the wonderful red arrow above), which then redirects to the desired page you clicked on in the search result (which is passed via the ‘url=’ parameter). So, from the search result itself (Wikipedia in this case), the referrer becomes…

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CGoQFjAA&
url=http%3A%2F%2Fen.wikipedia.org%2Fwiki%2FSearch_engine_optimization&ei=GpqeTqSzJsuFhQettaBN&
usg=AFQjCNHfIpCo_Ap336oSDlmNqh1STSriIg

Meaning the ‘q=’ parameter exists, but is empty! This is very bad news for our natural search scripts (and analytics packages full-stop!), the only thing we’ll be able to tell from the referrer is that they came from Google, any brand/generic keyword logic goes out of the window. The only thing we could do is isolate this traffic and track it differently, as we know it’ll be coming from ‘www.google.com/url…’ instead of ‘www.google.com/search…’.


One Comment

  • Tolumi Adamson |

    I really don’t know what they were thinking and I do not believe for a moment that the number of searches it will affect is as small as Google is trying to make it out to be.

    Popular opinion seems to be that this might be tied into the fact that they recently launched Google Analytics Premium…

So, what do you think ?