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Petition Seeks to Keep Google From Blocking Referral Data

Earlier this month, Google announced that it would begin encrypting search queries with SSL as the default experience at for users who search while logged into their accounts. Sites visited...
Petition Seeks to Keep Google From Blocking Referral Data
Written by Chris Crum
  • Earlier this month, Google announced that it would begin encrypting search queries with SSL as the default experience at for users who search while logged into their accounts.

    Sites visited from Google’s organic listings will be able to tell that the traffic is coming from Google, but they won’t be able to receive info about each individual query. They will, however, receive an aggregated list of the top 1,000 search queries that drove traffic to the site for each of the past 30 days in Webmaster Tools.

    “This information helps webmasters keep more accurate statistics about their user traffic,” said Google product manager Evelyn Kao. “If you choose to click on an ad appearing on our search results page, your browser will continue to send the relevant query over the network to enable advertisers to measure the effectiveness of their campaigns and to improve the ads and offers they present to you.”

    “When a signed in user visits your site from an organic Google search, all web analytics services, including Google Analytics, will continue to recognize the visit as Google ‘organic’ search, but will no longer report the query terms that the user searched on to reach your site,” said Amy Chang on the Google Analytics blog. “Keep in mind that the change will affect only a minority of your traffic. You will continue to see aggregate query data with no change, including visits from users who aren’t signed in and visits from Google ‘cpc’.”

    “We are still measuring all SEO traffic. You will still be able to see your conversion rates, segmentations, and more,” she added. “To help you better identify the signed in user organic search visits, we created the token ‘not provided)’ within Organic Search Traffic Keyword reporting. You will continue to see referrals without any change; only the queries for signed in user visits will be affected. Note that ‘cpc’ paid search data is not affected.”

    Since all of this was announced there has been a fair amount of backlash from the webmaster/SEO community. There’s a petition at (via Danny Sullivan) for Google not to take away referral data.

    The about section attached to the petition says: “This petition has been created to show Google the level of dissatisfaction over their recent changes to keyword referral information, and will be presented to the search quality and analytics teams at Google. The argument that this has been done for privacy reasons sadly holds little weight, and the move essentially turns the clock back in terms of data transparency. The argument that this only affects <10% of users is also concerning as this is likely to increase over time, even up to a point where it affects the majority of users being referred from search." It is certainly true that Google is doing a lot to get people signing up for Google accounts (obviously Google+).

    The actual letter that you’re signing when you sign the petition says:

    Dear Google,

    As publishers of content on the internet, we feel that the removal of keyword referrer information from the natural search results damages our ability to deliver good quality content to our users.

    By removing this data Google is not only hurting legitimate websites, but potentially pushing lower quality sites further into black hat data collection methods (ie spyware) in order to compensate for this data loss.

    We believe that the security argument is fatally undermined by the inconsistency in allowing keyword data to still be sent unsecured via your advertisers.

    There are ways of securely sending keyword referral information to websites without compromising privacy, and without negatively affecting webmasters’ ability to create good quality websites, and we ask that you seriously consider alternatives to the current implementation that would support this.

    [insert name here]

    And look at the list. Matt Cutts is even on it multiple times (guessing not really Matt Cutts).

    Do you agree with what this petition is saying? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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