An Easy Way To Check What Referrer Data Google, Bing Or Yahoo Pass To Your Secure Site

secureWith the three major search engines migrating their default searches to secure search, over SSL/HTTPS, marketers and webmasters want to know what referrer and analytics data will be passed to them and what won’t.

The majority of Google is secure search, Yahoo yesterday defaulted all searches to be conducted over SSL, and Bing is currently testing SSL search for those who opt in.

Testing Referrer Data From HTTPS Search To HTTP URL

The default protocol for passing referrer from an HTTPS URL to a non HTTPS URL is to not pass any referrer data at all. Both Yahoo and Bing comply with that, while Google passed google.com as the referrer in this case. How do I know? I tested it by searching Google, Yahoo and Bing for [what is my referrer] and then clicked on the www.whatismyreferer.com listing.

You see the listing in the search engine:

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.23.44 PM

Then if you click on it, the destination page will show your referrer data:

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.23.53 PM

Bing and Yahoo pass no referrer data at all in this case, as it should – due to the HTTPS protocol.

Testing Referrer Data From HTTPS Search To HTTPS URL

The default protocol is for HTTPS URLs to pass referrer data to another HTTPS, because it is being passed from a secure channel to another secure channel. Google doesn’t pass all the referrer data, they pass as much as they do from HTTPS to HTTP, as I cited in the example above. Bing and Yahoo do pass all the referrer data, as they should due to the HTTPS protocol. It passes both the referrer site and the query data.

But there is no way to search for an HTTPS version of a “what is my referrer” site. So I made one. Now you need to search for [what is my secure referrer] and https://referer.rustybrick.com/ should show up. As you see, the tool is on an HTTPS page, so referrer data can securely pass from a secure Google, Bing or Yahoo URL but do they? As I write this, Google shows it on the first page, towards the middle of the results. Bing and Yahoo have yet to index it but it will soon.

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.15.03 PM

If you click on that from Google, it shows you that Google is only passing that the click came from Google but strips out any keyword data:

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 8.29.33 PM

If you click on the search result from the secure Bing search results, you will see the full referrer details, including the referrer source, the query and more:

Screen Shot 2014-01-22 at 9.08.42 PM

Why isn’t Google complying? I am not sure. They are encouraging webmasters to migrate their sites to run on SSL in their literature. But I know tons of webmasters that would make the switch overnight if Google would pass query data to them if they went over SSL.

Anyway, I hope the What Is My Secure Referrer? tool helps novice webmasters clearly see this information.

Related Topics: Channel: Analytics | Google: Privacy | Google: Web Search | Legal: Privacy | Microsoft: Bing | Top News | Yahoo: Search

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About The Author: is Search Engine Land's News Editor and owns RustyBrick, a NY based web consulting firm. He also runs Search Engine Roundtable, a popular search blog on very advanced SEM topics. Barry's personal blog is named Cartoon Barry and he can be followed on Twitter here. For more background information on Barry, see his full bio over here.

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  • Gary Steel

    Fascinating! Thanks very much for doing this extra work, Barry. It would be fantastic if Google would once again provide the keyword data if we secure our sites. That would certainly eliminate the ‘security’ issues that have been discussed.

  • Li Ma

    This is a great summary of referrer info testing, and thanks for the extra effort to code the tool for HTTPS referrer validation!

  • http://www.rustybrick.com/barry Barry Schwartz

    Of course I read what he wrote, this helps users understand what he wrote.

  • Gareth Mailer

    This is a great post and good tool, too.

    To provide my answer to your rhetorical question “why isn’t Google complying?”, well because privacy matters and is Google’s foremost concern, except when it doesn’t matter (and we ALL know under what circumstances privacy doesn’t matter *cough* Money *cough*).

    Now, remember everyone, “don’t be evil”.

  • Gareth Mailer

    This is a great post and good tool, too.

    To provide my answer to your rhetorical question “why isn’t Google complying?”, well because privacy matters and is Google’s foremost concern, except when it doesn’t matter (and we ALL know under what circumstances privacy doesn’t matter *cough* Money *cough*).

    Now, remember everyone, “don’t be evil”.

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Actually, they are ALL doing it wrong. The original RFC wanted USERS to have the ability to toggle the ability to strip referral data: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2616.txt

  • http://www.seo-theory.com/ Michael Martinez

    Actually, they are ALL doing it wrong. The original RFC wanted USERS to have the ability to toggle the ability to strip referral data: http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2616.txt

  • http://scratch99.com/ Stephen Cronin

    Might be missing something, but how does Google Analytics (GA) know how to separate organic traffic from direct traffic?

    If Google didn’t pass google.com as the referrer for HTTPS searches to HTTP URLs, would GA still be able to distinguish them as being organic rather than direct?

    Does that mean GA won’t be able to distinguish between organic and direct for Bing and Yahoo HTTPS searches to HTTP URL? That would get people moving to SSL…

  • http://scratch99.com/ Stephen Cronin

    Might be missing something, but how does Google Analytics (GA) know how to separate organic traffic from direct traffic?

    If Google didn’t pass google.com as the referrer for HTTPS searches to HTTP URLs, would GA still be able to distinguish them as being organic rather than direct?

    Does that mean GA won’t be able to distinguish between organic and direct for Bing and Yahoo HTTPS searches to HTTP URL? That would get people moving to SSL…

  • http://scratch99.com/ Stephen Cronin

    Might be missing something, but how does Google Analytics (GA) know how to separate organic traffic from direct traffic?

    If Google didn’t pass google.com as the referrer for HTTPS searches to HTTP URLs, would GA still be able to distinguish them as being organic rather than direct?

    Does that mean GA won’t be able to distinguish between organic and direct for Bing and Yahoo HTTPS searches to HTTP URL? That would get people moving to SSL…

  • Rajesh_magar

    That’s really awesome plugin, worth thousand of share!

    Thanks Barry,

  • Rajesh_magar

    That’s really awesome plugin, worth thousand of share!

    Thanks Barry,

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk/ Nathaniel Bailey

    Plugin? What plugin where? Or do you mean the tool lol ;)

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk/ Nathaniel Bailey

    Google mines all the data it can, but it doesn’t mean they will share it with the rest of us, unless you pay for it with adwords!

    To answer your question, the GA code on your site tells GA what site your visitors are from, it has nothing to do whether google hides data from us or not.

  • Rajesh_magar

    Ooh yes the tool! My mistake… :(

  • http://www.nathanielbailey.co.uk/ Nathaniel Bailey

    That Friday feeling ;)

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