There is an interesting article over on Sitepoint and originally broken by Michael VanDeMar about recent tests Google has been conducting to offer AJAX search instead of the standard HTML search it currently offers. Essentially, AJAX is supposed to improve the user experience by speeding up search. Besides some Firefox plugins possibly no longer working, there didn’t appear to be any major reasons to be concerned. However, the implications for web analytics tracking tools, it turns out, could be significant. From VanDeMar:
Every single analytics package that currently exists, at least as far as being able to track what keywords were searched on to find your site in Google, would no longer function correctly.
The reason, VanDeMar goes on to explain, is that search URLs in this test include a hash sign (#) which is then followed by the search parameters. Since browsers do not include anything after the hash sign in the referrer string, this information would not be sent to the tracking servers. Every visitor coming from a Google search, therefore, would appear to be coming directly from Google.com without search term information.
Web Analytics providers will be understandably upset if these developments are true. Search engine traffic is a huge part of any site’s traffic so losing detailed referral information would be critical to say the least.
Even if this test is rolled out and the implications turn out to be a problem, I am sure the web analytics community and Google will make nice and come up with a solution. And, while I doubt that Google is intentionally being evil, it is once again a reminder how even routine tests by the internet giant can have huge ramifications throughout the industry.