Change in Google Referral Strings – Another Attempt to Push Google Analytics ?

Google has again made a change to their search result page URLs that is likely to create trouble with most other web analytics package besides Google Analytics. A few days back they experimented with their SERP URLs by using AJAX and putting the URL parameters after a #. While that experiment had the potential to kill all the existing web analytics package in the market and created a big buzz in the blogosphere, they seem to have stopped that.

Now in their new experiment with the Google Search result URLs, they have done some changes which again would leave most other web analytics package high and dry to track Google referrer data.

At present a typical Google search referrer URL would look like

The New Referrer URL format would be

Now besides showing the complete result page URL and other multiple parameters, the key difference between these two referrer strings is that in the first on the parameters started after “/search?” and in the second one they start after “/url?”. Now most of the present day analytics packages parses the Google referrer string based on the “/search?” part and looks for information after that to figure out which keyword or which page of the search result the traffic came from. Also most of them look for the “/search?” to determine if a visitor is coming from organic search results. Replacing “search” with “url” would leave them all messed up.

Google analytics however does not depend on the “/search?” string in the referrer and would continue to work properly. Also the latest version of Urchin (6.5) would not be affected by this change.

Other analytics packages would probably need to do some changes to adapt to this change in Google referrer string to provide accurate analytics report.

These new referrer String is launched at beta stage and only a small percentage of users are getting this at present but it is likely that Google would soon roll out this in the main stream.

While Google has not explained or given any reason for this sudden changes there seems to be just two possible reasons for this.
a) Making other third party analytics less usable / giving them a hard time – I don’t think other analytics providers would have a lot of problem to adapt this but they would definitely need some time and webmasters would need an option for that period and Google Analytics would be the choice.

b) This new referrer string would allow Google to pass all clicks through their server thereby making it much easier for them to track the CTR for individual sites. As it has always been said that Google uses CTR data as a factor for their algorithm, now that Google can track individual CTR with so much precision I would think that they are very likely going to use these information for further refining the organic results.

Related Post:
Google Planning AJAX Interface – Doom’s Day for Analytics
Google Analytics Blog Post

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Check out the About SRC Page for more details about Saptarshi Roy Chaudhury.

8 Comments to “Change in Google Referral Strings – Another Attempt to Push Google Analytics ?”

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