Google: Analytics Under Attack

This post was written by Internet Marketing John on October 27, 2012
Posted Under: Google

About this time last year, analytics under attack was one of the main subjects of concern throughout the Internet.

Google announced that it would cease providing referrer information in some instances.

In the official Google blog, Evelyn Kao made the following post:

“When you search from, websites you visit from our organic search listings will still know that you came from Google, but won’t receive information about each individual query.”

This change initially affected people logged in to Google accounts and people who were using which according to Google’s claims was only a relatively small percentage of searchers.  However, according to Google’s own blog entry (below) this will likely change.

“As we continue to add more support for SSL across our products and services, we hope to see similar action from other websites.”

The following example shows what Google has actually done.

When you conduct a search for “car insurance” both logged in to your Google account and searching on, and not logged in to your Google account and searching on here are the landing page results for both searches..

  • Referrer When Not Logged In And Clicking On A Natural Link:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.,cf.osb&fp=8e7fa2636e8b849&biw=1680&bih=947

  • Referrer When Logged In And Clicking On A Natural Link:

The main difference between the two searches is that when not logged in, the query for “car insurance” is available in the referrer for Analytics to pick up and use.  It provides the site owner with needed information they are looking for.

When logged in, the query for “car insurance” has been stripped.

A website owner is completely clueless about why Google sent the searcher to that landing page on their website.

When logged in, that referrer is actually a lie.   The previous page visited was not the one in the referrer at all.

The search was actually conducted on and not on

Although this seems like a small change, it has some very large consequences for website owners.

Regardless of what analytics package you use, reports showing keywords become much less useful.

When Google removes keywords from referrer data, then all of the great keyword ideas, keyword techniques and keyword attribution models commonly used in SEO are no longer possible.

So much for making our websites better for users!

The ethical balance that once existed between searchers, search engines and website owners has been upset by Google’s move.  By removing referrer information Google has apparently produced an unethical result.

Alan Perkins broke it down as follows:

  • Website owners can no longer easily optimize their websites to better match the searcher’s needs.
  • Site owners, instead of being treated with dignity are being treated as being “not trustworthy”.  In addition, site owners are being denied a piece of essential information that Google and the searcher both have, (the search query that resulted in that searcher finding their site).
  • This move by Google does not promote the “common good”.  Google gains and the web site owner loses.
  • This move clearly prevents full participation of site owners in something they have had available to them since the earliest days of the Web and something upon which  the Web was built.  Referrer data was provided in the HTTP 0.9 specification and has been there ever since.
  • Google’s move alienates website owners and destroys the spirit of cooperation and teamwork among site owners and Google that had previously existed.  Google’s entire service is built on the content that site owners freely provide.


The patronizing spin that Google put on their announcement;  “Making search more secure: Accessing search query data in Google Analytics” would have been more truthfully stated,  “We’re removing site owners’ ability to pull keywords from the referrer”.
Google originally suggested that the change was positioned to make searching more secure particularly when using insecure Wifi hotspots, however a couple of things don’t jive with this explanation.

Google still strips the referrer when users visit secure Web sites even when it isn’t necessary to do so even though they don’t do it on their Encrypted Search.  It simply isn’t necessary.

When searchers click on an ad instead of getting a natural result, searchers’ referrers still contain keywords.

You can tell where Google’s mind is at from their following blog post:

“we recognize the growing importance of protecting the personalized search results we deliver. As a result, we’re enhancing our default search experience for signed-in users …  [but] … 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”
In short, advertisers who pay Google get treated one way, while the site owners who pay Google by providing the content their service is built on get treated differently.

Clicking on a paid ad instead of a natural result provides the following link in example number three:

  •  Referrer When Not Logged In And Clicking On A Natural Link:,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_cp.,cf.osb&fp=8e7fa2636e8b849&biw=1680&bih=947

  • Referrer When Logged In And Clicking On A Natural Link:

  • Referrer When Logged In And Clicking On A Paid Link:

Again, advertisers who pay Google money get treated one way, site owners who pay Google by providing the content the whole Google service is built on get treated a different way and searchers’ privacy is not really protected.

With Analytics Under Attack by Google, there is not much site owners can do about it except use other search engines such as Bing or Yahoo search.

Both as of this date do not remove referrer data from their search results.

You can also make better use of social media.

If constructive use of social media can lead to regime change in Egypt, surely analytics under attack by Google should not pose much of a problem.

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