Nowadays it is normal to not get any keywords anymore in referrals from Google. However, when somebody uses Google in HTTPS mode, I still occasionally get referers like: https://www.google.de/search?q=key+word.

Why does that happen? I thought that in HTTPS mode, Google would not send keywords in the referer anymore.


Check the User-Agent that correspond to these requests - is it an old browser?

Google uses a referrer meta tag in the head section of the SERPs of the form:

<meta content="origin" name="referrer">

So, regardless of whether the target site in the SERPs is HTTPS or HTTP, only the https://www.google.de/ part (ie. scheme + hostname) of the HTTP Referer is sent by the browser.

But, what if the browser doesn't support this meta tag?

I guess the Referer header could also be "fake", or the user has some kind of browser plugin that "interferes" with it (or even removed the meta tag??)?

I thought that in HTTPS mode, Google would not send keywords in the referer anymore.

Google only uses HTTPS these days.

Without the meta tag described above (or some other intervention) then the full Referer would be passed (query string and all) when navigating to another HTTPS site.

However, if your site was HTTP then ordinarily the browser wouldn't send the Referer header at all (when navigating from HTTPS to HTTP) if it wasn't for the meta tag.

  • Thanks for the background info. The appearance of different referrer strings is still a mystery for me but your answer lets me understand the system a bit better.
    – alexandre
    May 23 '17 at 7:08

@user82217 noted that it could be faked.

I suspect that it is.

Google doesn't send traffic directly to your site when a link is clicked they send the user through some redirects (for tracking I assume) that eventually lands them on your site, so the chances of Google leaking referrer info accidentally are probably non-existent.

In the last few months, I have noticed a new referral spam technique where they domain listed as the referrer is valid such as twitter, reddit, google, etc.

But the actual content (the "referring page") is non-existent or is in someway hacked. I've also seen forged "organic keywords".

That said, Google does seem to pass branded keywords much more frequently than generic keywords so maybe that's related as well.

This question has been puzzling me for a while too...mainly because HTTPS sites still often show up in my GA traffic sources reports for HTTP sites and I didn't think that was supposed to happen at all.

  • It can't be spam since those users also converted into sales. You said that Google does seem to pass branded keywords more frequently than generic keywords. What I understand from that is that Google passes keywords in the referrer string for some keywords? Since it is kind of branded, that would be a good explanation.
    – alexandre
    May 23 '17 at 7:06
  • I find it hard to believe that Google would differentiate between keywords and choose to allow some and not others be sent in the Referer - what would be the logic behind that?
    – MrWhite
    May 23 '17 at 8:02
  • @user82217 They basically do the same thing with Google Webmaster Tools data now with (not set) for queries. I suspect the logic is related to profit...something of a teaser to push people towards AdWords.
    – adam-asdf
    May 24 '17 at 18:23

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