Posted by KeithMacDonald

August 2, 2012


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Google Secure Search Updates

Over the last few months, Google has been shimmy-shammying around with how they refer traffic from organic search results to indexed pages.  This is a quick n dirty summary of changes Google has made over the past few months to how it handles secure searches.

Secure Search Change

Google announced October 18, 2011 changes to how they manage the security of organic search results.

Google organic search results refers to:



In the good ole days, when you click through an organic search result link, information about where you came from, including the term you searched for, was transmitted to the browser in the referring URL:


Google believes this was a potential privacy violation so they decided to remove the search term from the referring URL:


Google now does this on all searches generated from:

Google estimated this change would impact around 7-10% of all searches.

Impact and Reporting

With this change, observed behaviour across a number of sources claim impact to 15-30% of Google organic searches. Adobe reports an observed impact of 14-20% for most of their clients.  These numbers seem set to rise as Google applies this change to country-specific search domains as well, e.g. and

Reporting of the top 1,000 organic search keywords (both secure and non-secure) for each of the last 30 days is still available through Google Webmaster Tools.

Secure Search Referrer Update

Google announced another change March 19, 2012 to how it handles stripping keywords from the referrer (the original secure search change).

You see in the above examples that the referrer still included &q= (left empty on secure searches).  Google is now stripping that query parameter entirely instead of leaving it empty.  This means there is no longer any indication that the user was referred from organic search, only that they came from Google.

Alternative methods of identifying organic search referrals are discussed in the March 19 announcement.

What This Means for Adobe Clients

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