A Google Mistake That Could Affect Your Analytics
Google is making a change to how it reports referrer information using Chrome. The result? Some analytics programs might start showing search visitors as "referred traffic" from Google without doing a search. The recent change was posted on Google Webmaster Central blog recently.
Referrers are a kind of "Caller ID" for web browsers. The referrer tells the analytics program where your traffic came from. For example, if you were to click on a link from the search engine results pages for a specific keyword, the referrer information passes along to the destination page's analytics program would show that you were referred to the page via Google's search engine. However, traditionally, Google would show this information along with the keyword used to get to that page.
That's how the website owner knows what search terms are popular for his website and what pages are popular on his site. The change would mean that Google would be providing a simplified referrer instead of more detailed information. It's hard to believe that Google is actually concerned about its users' privacy. The company still collects information and compiles them for its own pet projects like Google +.
Moreover, Google is going out of its way to pass along referrer information to advertisers. That's right. Adwords advertisers still have access to Google's referrer information. Something just doesn't add up. It seems that Google is saying that it's protecting users' privacy, but only in certain instances. Of course, only Google knows what it means when it defers to protecting users' privacy.
If you use Google analytics to track your web visitors, you should be fine. Google Analytics will adjust without a problem, we're told. It goes on record as saying:
"We’re using the meta referrer standard which allows us to choose the origin and still send a referrer to http sites from https search results (without going through a redirect on an http host).
Google Analytics will also adjust for this change, and we’re in the process of reaching out to a number of other analytics vendors to notify them about this in advance."
If you use a 3rd party analytics program it might be fine, but there's no guarantee of that. Whether 3rd party programs comply with Google's update is largely up to the developer of that program.
You're Probably Going To Be Fine
If you use a major analytics program, you'll probably be just fine. however, you'll want to check with your program developers to be sure. Google's answer to any potential problems is to use Google Webmaster Central to pull together any missing data. The only problem is that Google Webmaster Central only goes back 30 days. That doesn't give you much to go on if your analytics program doesn't know how to handle the new changes.
Of course, you do have the option of switching over to Google Analytics. That's not always the most attractive option, of course. But when you rely on Google for traffic, you sort of have to roll with the punches.