Back in early February Google did a little test. It decided to
test an AJAX SERP.
This meant Google sent natural search result traffic to sites without any passing identifying parameters except the top-level domain google.com. Message Boards and Blogs lit up
immediately. They stopped the test (to 10% of traffic) quickly but in March seemed to try it
again. Two weeks ago, Google followed-up with announced change of URL parameters. Some good and some bad. This week Google again seems to be rolling out AJAX SERPs this time more
extensively for Firefox users. Something is happening here.
It has become clear that we are all Google’s Mr. Jones. The Google Mothership seems to be leaving and we can choose to get onboard for the data ride (Google Analytics would likely still be able to capture queries and the like) or we can live in a netherworld of insufficient data. With
some sites getting 50% or more of their traffic from Google natural search not
using GA in this scenario relegates them to a sort of third world of data and renders their subscription-based analytics platforms limp.
There is no question in my mind that Google owns this referrer
data though I have heard it argued otherwise from the analytics vendors. The
click action takes place in the Google domain and though the link data is
generated from publisher content, publishers are under no obligation to have
their sites indexed. There is also no question to its value. Huge. It is worth mentioning that much of the URL
shorteners now driving an ever growing amount of web traffic pass even less useful referrer
parameters to the linked sites.
This is Google's nuclear option to the world of web data. The fallout will be an analytic winter for many. The face of the analytics, SEO, online publishing, testing, targeting and even the public markets will all change. Does the very fact that Google has so much
data leverage mean they are likely to use it to their advantage at some point?
Would it be so bad to live in a world of (free) GA? They have made great
strides with segmentation and continue to add data visualization. Of course there are plenty of reasons ethical, historical and rational that
Google must leave their URL passable and parseable. It appears now less likely
than ever to happen.