How To Get Referrer Data From Google's SSL Search

Oh, you have to love the web… the stunningly intelligent conversations, the half-informed speculation, I mean… what’s not to love?

The latest “semi-true” story involves Google’s rollout of a (beta) SSL version of their search engine.

The Marketerati (not a real word) are up in arms, because when you use a secure site (like Google’s new SSL search), your browser won’t pass referrer data on to any non-secure sites that you visit from the search result page.

What this means, is that your non-secure site won’t get any data from Google Analytics on what keywords searchers used when they come to your site from the secure version of Google search.

Oh, Noes!! It’s the death of analytics, and the end of SEO as we know it… or is it?

Well, no. Actually, it’s not the end of the world – even if Google turns on SSL search by default.

Why isn’t it the end of the world?

Well, for the simple reason that you can still get the referral data, including those precious search terms.

Here. Look:

Referring keywords from Google SSL search appearing in Google Analytics

"Good News, Everyone!"

That’s a screen capture from Google Analytics. It shows a search query that I typed into Google’s SSL search. The page I clicked through to is on our secure (HTTPS/SSL) subdomain.

Yep. There you have it – keywords. From SSL search… but how is this even possible? Didn’t the Marketerati tell me SSL search was the death of analytics? (Yes, they did.)

You see, although browsers don’t send referrer data when you click from an encrypted/secure (HTTPS/SSL) page to an unencrypted/insecure (HTTP) page… they do send that data when you go from one secure page to another.

So if Google ever goes SSL by default, so will the rest of us… and the web will be a safer place. With keywords.

(Yes, browser developers could change the way browsers behave. They could also stop sending referrer data in all contexts, by default, which would really be the death of analytics*.)

*Except, of course, that many of your visitors already send no referral data, thanks to privacy settings/software and firewalls and whatnot… and I’d wager there are more people using Norton or Symantec or McAfee’s referral-stripping software right now, than there are using SSL search. The world is still here, and you still rely on your analytics data to make decisions.

5 thoughts on “How To Get Referrer Data From Google's SSL Search

  1. Interesting facts you put in here. I also believe we have become over dependent on Google. But I guess Google will find a way to fix this issue in Google Analytics.

  2. Hey Dan :)

    Now that Google enabled SSL on default for logged in users, are you going to be leading the march for us all to go SSL?

    I thought it was funny that people are writing stuff like, “Is this the death of SEO?”, and that my good ole pal Dan Thies addressed this over a year ago… kudos :)

    • It worked back when I wrote this post, but what they’re doing with this “not provided” business is different – it has nothing to do with SSL at all. The referrer string doesn’t include the keywords, because the URL doesn’t include the keywords.

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