Google’s removal of keyword referral data, is it a BAD thing?

by David Whitehouse
See Dave Speak SMX London

The news of Google removing keyword referral data for logged in users caused quite a stir.

Traditionally, when you went from a search engine to a website it would pass the referrer string with it so you could determine what keyword the user originally searched for. Google are now preventing that data being passed for those users who are logged in and using the secure version of Google (https://www.google.com) – they are also making that the default search for those users that are logged in.

The thing is, Google AdWords advertisers still actually receive data, a lot of people have complained about this being double standards, but if you think about it – it’s not leaving the organisation, so really it’s quite fair, where as passing the referrer string data from organic is allowing the data to be shared with 3rd parties. Or at least we thought so until Dave noticed something…

Dave did a search for “vw campers for sale” on Google (whilst he was logged in):

This ad popped up on the sidebar:

Once you click on the ad it takes you to this page:

Obviously in this case the search term is being passed to the other website, it’s not staying within the Google sphere of products and services – this data can then be captured by Ask on their 3rd party web analytics.

So is it such a bad thing? Dave asked the following question on twitter:

@DaveNaylor can someone give me one good reason why Google’s removal of keyword referral data is a BAD thing

This sparked a hot debate on twitter as to whether Google were right in doing this or not:

@HanParker @DaveNaylor keyword data lets you spot scary stalkers to your blog.

Ok fair point, you can see how people are finding you, but realistically this doesn’t make a big difference does it? If you were talking about how people find your site when typing in your brand, then that would be a more valid point.

@searchrocketseo @DaveNaylor It’s a BAD thing because some lazy people aren’t getting something for free any more :-)

Haha, very true. We’re still getting keyword data, just not logged in users, so there is some data still there.

@DioBach @DaveNaylor breaks keyword referral tracking in 3rd party stats services like clicky, for those of us who don’t want to be part of the Borg.

True, but then it breaks keyword referral tracking for Google Analytics users too – so whats the big deal about 3rd party stats if everything is broken anyway? Also, I think people choose Google Analytics because: a) It’s free b) It’s got some great features c) it’s better than some 3rd party analytics (such as Clicky).

@tamaela @DaveNaylor Tracking of conversions per keyword(s) becomes tracking conversions per visit(s).

Well that is kind of true – but at the moment it’s a very small percentage of users – so realistically your keyword conversion data for non logged in users should be more than enough to cover your logged in users.


@JasonD @DaveNaylor I can give you multiple, but ignoring SE’s for a mo, it will diminish a user’s experience by stopping a page to be personalised

Definitely a good point – you can’t personalise a page according to what people searched. Mind you, Google would probably argue that if you have a page that is relevant to the search term it is kind of already personalised to the search term. For example, can you realise personalise between someone that searched “dave naylor seo” and “dave naylor uk seo”? If it was “dave naylor ppc” then you’d hope you get a different page – if you just get the homepage then I suppose in that case Google would need to do a better job of showing the most relevant page.

@JasonD @jdbreckenridge @DaveNaylor @g1smd It’s a weird one for me, as I think its v wrong of G to do this but is great news for my #Pzyche product

Hahaha, always great to take the opportunity to plug a product. For those that haven’t heard of it, I highly recommend you check out Pzyche it’s a great product.


@Gene_Dastardly @DaveNaylor theoretically, the more people that use google service the more data you would be losing

Yeah this is very true – and there is a possibility that they switch this all to default, what you would be talking about is losing all organic keyword data – scary stuff.

@g1smd @DaveNaylor Always want to know how visitor got here. Sometimes there’s a better page they should be on, so add a ‘related’ link to page.

@Linztm @DaveNaylor one client uses this data to see what they should keep a higher stock of, alter their adwords campaign and see market trends

Fair points here – perhaps Google Insights would do a better job at predicting market trends, but the other points are valid.


@jgianoglio @DaveNaylor Just one? How about lack of accurate reporting.

Not accurate, but you can still make it statistically confident if you understand enough about statistics (to be fair, that’s getting pretty technical though).

@ClicksIM @DaveNaylor @jgianoglio here’s another: It strengthens Google Adwords (PAID advertising!), b/c only advertisers will see data.

Yes it does, funny that isn’t it? I doubt that is a mere coincidence.


cheelo@DaveNaylor bigger dent to your online budget – you have to spend more on Google PPC to see the referring converting terms ;)

Yup, money money money. They are still improving the monetisation of AdWords – they released pay per call this week in the UK and US.

@nickduddy @davenaylor Not to sound elitist but in my experience it also leads to “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing” scenario.

@LordManley @DaveNaylor It is purely their motivation which concerns.

@Cogentis@DaveNaylor 1. Lack of accountability. 2. Lack of transparency. 3. Double privacy standard. 4. Now ‘selling’ data to Adwords

chapter42 @DaveNaylor it’s not that bad. Although motives are skewed and it’s done with false pretentions

As you can see, on the whole, opinions are pretty negative. But then again, we did ask people that it would affect in a negative way, SEOs! So are there actually any benefits? Well yes, I can think of three (weak ones).

1. Since you can determine if someone is logged into Google or not, this is a major advantage when it comes to profiling your visitors.

2. Google users need no longer feel paranoid when they go on a website and it already shows them what keyword they searched for.

3. We don’t have governments cracking down harder by ensuring that consumers are protected. The current way the legislation works in the UK is that we have the ASA and basic legislation – in a nutshell if we don’t do a good job of trying to protect consumer data then the government has to introduce legislation – which is normally a lot tougher. So by Google doing this, although we will lose some data in the short term, in the long term it is going to be better for everyone.

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