Google Referrer Using Redirect

Posted by joy


So, just in the past couple of days, I started seeing the referrer URLs from Google.com in the following format.

http://www.google.com/url?q=http://cleverhack.com/category/tech/page/3/&sa=D&usg=AFrqEzf8B4L3sqq1hwGNYSLtBbO9HB8P3g

What’s unique about the referrer URL is that it’s a redirect and my logs are showing the incoming search term as http://cleverhack.com/category/tech/page/3/ from Google, which doesn’t seem right at all. In a perfect world you’d want to see incoming search terms such as “cleverhack” or “tech blogger” or “needs a date on Friday” not the URL that Google served and the person clicked through on.

I’ve been seeing IP addresses from all over - lots of Comcast, Verizon, Bell South, so it’s definitely real people making the requests, but why Google is using a redirect, I don’t know. Is this a side effect of iGoogle?

[tags]Google, iGoogle, Google Referrer, Google URL, Can I get a job at Google? [/tags]


4 Responses to “Google Referrer Using Redirect”

  1. Owen Says:

    To get your answer…

    1. Go to Google, search for “cleverhack”.
    2. Observe results, hover mouse over first result, note URL in Firefox status bar.
    3. Click and hold down on the link for the result.
    4. Observe changed URL in status bar.

    Presumably, this could be used to track which results people click on for a specific search, which would improve Google’s search results.

  2. Harald Koch Says:

    Heh. My security software warns me that those links are suspicious :).

    I just searched for my website, clicked on the link, and the referrer string that arrived at my Apache server was in the old format, with the search terms in the referrer URL…

  3. Stan James Says:

    @Owen: Google has been doing those redirect for years now. But those are [normally] HTTP redirects which don’t show up as the as referrer. (I confirmed this in the Google case by checking the value of document.referrer in Firebug after following your procedure above.)

    So I still can’t figure out what’s going on. It could be a defect of certain browsers that they are replacing the referrer property with those redirects. Joy — is there any pattern in the reported browsers of these strange-referrer visitors?

    This is of interest to me since Lijit just introduced a feature last week which depends on grabbing search terms from those referrer fields! ( http://www.lijit.com/node/358 )

  4. joy Says:

    Stan,

    Actually, it seems that the behavior died down since April 30th. I’ve maybe seen one or two more after I wrote this post.

    However, I could not see a pattern at all - it seemed to affect Firefox and IE browsers, which made me suspect there was some change at Google Web Search, like the iGoogle launch.

Leave a Reply