Organic Search Engine Detection Improvements

Published on 23rd Apr 2013 in Tech

Google is now sending a referrer of "http://www.google.com" without a search term parameter when using Secure Search in Google Chrome.

Infinity Tracking now detects this exact referrer and treats it as organic search. You will see these visits in the SEO channel.

We have also added a bunch of other search engines to our detection process.

Some Background

Analytics systems like Infinity Tracking detect organic traffic from search engines by looking at the referrer URL when you click on an organic link to see if it contains a known search engine domain name and a URL parameter containing the raw search term.

Traditionally when browsing from a secure HTTPS page to a non-secure HTTP page your web browser would not send the referrer URL, and so your visit would show as coming from the Direct channel.

This is what we see when visitors from Google's Encrypted search land on a site we track.

Clearly this is far from ideal for analytics companies and PPC advertisers, so when Google introduced their Secure Search they achieved something of a compromise between privacy and tracking by using an intermediate HTTP page redirect between a visitor clicking on an HTTPS organic result link and reaching the destination site.

This approach allowed Google to control the referrer that was sent to the destination site, and they used this to send a referrer that clearly indicated an organic referral, albeit with an empty search term parameter being sent.

This way it could be detected as organic traffic, but without tracking the raw search term the visitor had typed.

The downside of this approach is that it required an intermediate redirection page which added additional time before the visitor was taken to their destination site, something Google clearly wasn't happy with.

New Approach

The Google Chrome browser is now using a new approach that maintains privacy without the need for an intermediate redirect whilst still allowing analytics systems to detect organic traffic.

The approach is to use a new meta tag in the Google web site that controls what referrer is sent in supporting browsers (currently just Chrome).

More detail about the new meta tag can be found here, however in a nutshell this new tag overrides the old browser rule of not sending any referrer when going from HTTPS to HTTP and instead just sends the current domain name, e.g. http://www.google.com/.

This means that Google Chrome users do not have to go through the intermediate redirect, thus giving the potential for reduced page load times when clicking organic links in Google.

Lets hope other browsers follow suit and that Google updates their site to use the new meta tag if they do, otherwise it will represent an unfair advantage for Chrome and Google users.

Additional Search Engines

Finally, we have also added detection for the following search engines:

  • Lycos
  • Sky
  • BT
  • AVG
Chief Technical Officer

Thomas Parrott
Chief Technical Officer

Tech & telephony geek who makes sure we are at the cutting edge of tech and keeps the phones ringing.

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