Google Blocked Your Referrers -- So Now What?

Two weeks ago, Google began blocking referrers from organic search under the auspices of protecting users and their personal information. Regardless of Google’s intent, the change poses some significant challenges for SEOs.

To learn more about the background of the issue, check out Danny Sullivan’s post on Search Engine Land regarding the whole history of the tracked referrer debate. Also watch Rand Fishkin’s fantastic edition of “emergency whiteboard Friday,” which set up the problem and explains the options you have.

The Sky Is Not Falling

Before you panic, the sky is not falling and the world is not ending. However, this change does mean that SEOs have a lot less information to go on when analyzing organic keyword data.



Sullivan reported that Google indicated that the change would affect less than 10% of search query traffic and shared data from his own sites and from others’ data, confirming that only about 2% of keywords had been blocked and listed as “(not provided).” However, in the time since the change, I’ve seen sites range from blocked keywords as low as 1.06% to upwards of 3.80%. Still, the percentages seem to hold true to the “under 10%” claim.

How to Get Around the Problem (Somewhat)

John Doherty posted a possible solution that he and Michael King have developed that may help address the issue. While I haven’t met Doherty before, I’ve seen King’s presentation on pulling Facebook profile data behind the scenes -- fascinating stuff.

So Doherty and King provide a way to pass your rankings into Google Analytics through custom variables. From there, you may be able to extrapolate which search queries are being blocked from Google. You may not get all of them, but it could be a start.

Feeling Frustrated? Tell Google.

As Fishkin suggests, give Google your feedback. There’s no guarantee that Google will keep this change permanently if the backlash is great enough. Sullivan points out that  Google has retracted similar changes in the past. Here are links to a few places where you can provide feedback to Google regarding this change:


2 comments about "Google Blocked Your Referrers -- So Now What?".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Chuck Lantz from, network, November 1, 2011 at 12:42 p.m.

    "Under 10%"?

    I just checked the most recent referrer list on my GA. Over 60% of the referrers are blocked.

    If I don't know where the traffic is originating, GA becomes a bit useless, unless I have a burning desire to know that a user in Zimbabwe is viewing my sites on an iPhone.

    ... The flag and system icons are pretty, though. Whoopie.

  2. David Culbertson from LightBulb Interactive, November 1, 2011 at 8:15 p.m.

    This article's title is not correct. You still see Google as the referrer, but no organic keyword data is provided.

Next story loading loading..