Last month, Google announced that they were making search more secure for their users. They announced that users already signed in to Google would have a more secure experience. This meant two things: first, search queries and results would now be sent via HTTPS. This protects the searches of users with unsecured Internet connections, such as most WiFi hotspots.
The second part was far more interesting. According to our tests, Google does not include the search terms used to reach websites anymore in the HTTP referrer header. Here’s part of the URL that Google is now sending as the referring URL:
Note that after the &q= portion, no search term is specified. By contrast, a standard search has a referring URL more like this:
The repercussions are twofold. First, legitimate web sites won’t be able to point out what terms they use are popular. Thus, their own optimization efforts might be impeded. I know that as a web site owner, it’s really useful to have those stats and be able to tune your content so that it’s more easily searchable. To get this information, you now have to sign up for Google’s own analytics services–which may or may not be feasible for all websites.