Monday, April 06, 2009

Google begins to test AJAX search results and analytics break again

Google's making a return to AJAX powered search results after an initial outcry from analytics companies.

Michael VanDeMar has an overview of the initial outing over at Smackdown where he spells out what started to happen.

In fact, it was that very post where Matt Cutts predicts Google would return to the AJAX test. He left a comment to say;

Hi Michael, I checked with some folks at Google about this. The redirection through a url redirector was separate from any AJAX-enhanced search results; we do that url redirection for some experiments, but it’s not related to the JavaScript-enhanced search results.

The solution to the referrer problem will be coming online in the future. It uses a JavaScript-driven redirect that enables us to pass the redirect URL as the referrer. This URL will contain a “q” param that matches the user’s query.

Matt's prediction has come true. I've been seeing AJAX powered result pages today.


The actual link for that screen grab is http://www.google.com/#hl=en&q=econsultancy+bigmouthmedia&fp=F0mDlalSwOU. You can see from the image above that I am logged into Google.

You can also see that the q= query element has been returned to the URI.

The question is - will that q URI be enough?

Let's take a look at what real time analytics provided Clicky said on their blog the first time round.
Here's what the new search result URLs look like with the new "Ajax" feature:

http://www.google.com/#q=clicky

See how there's a hash mark # in there now, and the "q=test" is after it? The problem is that web browsers don't send anything after the # in the referrer string. This means organic searches from Google will now show up as just "http://www.google.com/", with no search parameters. In other words, no analytics app can track these searches anymore. I started noticing lots of hits from just "http://www.google.com/" recently in our own search logs. I thought maybe it was just a bug with Clicky. But then one of our users contacted me about this article, and my jaw about broke from hitting the floor so hard.

At the time of this post my AJAX SERPS link straight through to the site. For example, the bigmouthmedia link is http://www.google.com/url?sa=U&start=1&q=http://www.bigmouthmedia.com/&ei=yDzaSeXiBN-QjAeg_d2WDQ&sig2=3bw3Mgv0t08-S6i-erHIzw&usg=AFQjCNE_gnDqV53wqv1Im2BxfPJBy-6Fcw

There's a simple way to test whether this version of the AJAX results are analytics friendly. A test.

This blog ranks for [ARHG] (search URL). So it just took a quick search and Clicky's real time Spy feature to see whether or not the analytics package could see the keyword in the referral.



The results showed that Clicky couldn't see [ARHG] as a referral. It looked as if the traffic had come directly from a Google homepage (so would be confused with iGoogle traffic).

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