Google Making Changes to Search Referrals

    April 15, 2009
    Chris Crum

Update: Google now says: We initially reported that Urchin Software might require a patch to handle the new URL structure, but after some additional testing, it turns out no patch is needed. Urchin can handle both the current and new URLs.

Original article: Google is changing referral URLs on results pages. What up until now has looked something like this:

will now look more like this:

Google says that if you don’t analyze your own traffic logs, use Urchin web analytics software, or develop web analytics software, this information probably won’t affect you. Google Analytics is not affected.

"The key difference between these two urls is that instead of "/search?" the URL contains a ‘/url?’," says Brett Crosby of the Google Analytics Team.  "If you run your own analyses, be sure that you do not depend on the ‘/search?’ portion of the URL to determine if a visit started with an organic search click. Google Analytics does not depend on the ‘/search?’ string in the referrer, so users of Google Analytics will not notice a difference in their reports, but other analytics packages may need to adapt to this change in our referrer string to maintain accurate reports."

Niall KennedyWeb Technologist Niall Kennedy does a good job of simplifying the situation. "The way your website interprets traffic from one of its top providers will change later this week," he says. "You will need to adjust scripts and check for updates to analytics software where appropriate. If you notice a huge drop in measured search referrals from Google don’t panic. Just make sure you are measuring the correct actions."

He also suggests that Google is probably making this change to better track search actions and shield URL parameters from sites downstream.

Google says the new URLs will initially only occur in a small percentage of searches. You can expect to see both versions while the changes roll out. Google will be offering a software update for Urchin soon for those using UTM-based tracking. More details here.