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April 30, 2009

What would you like to ask Avinash Kaushik?

boxer The gloves will be tied tight. Brightly colored silk dressing gowns will be shrugged to the floor; gum-shields inserted. In the blue corner: yours truly. In the red (and blue, yellow and green) corner, web analytics heavyweight, Avinash Kaushik. As the crowd bays for blood, battle will be joined. The Garden never saw anything like this.

Well, ok, it’ll probably be a bit more civilized (well, a lot more civilized) than that. But at next week’s E-metrics Summit in San Jose, Avinash and I will indeed be going head to head in the “Rules for Analytics Revolutionaries” session on Wednesday May 6 at 3.25. In that session, I’ll be asking Avinash some genuinely tricky questions to really get to the heart of some of the thorniest issues around web analytics today, such as campaign attribution, free versus paid tools, and what, really, the point of all this electronic navel-gazing really is.

But I could use your help. In my comments box below, or via e-mail, suggest the question(s) you’d most like me to ask Avinash next week. This is your big chance to ask Avinash the question you’re too embarrassed/polite/nervous to ask him in person. If you’re going to be at the Summit, then be sure to come to the session to see if your question gets asked; if not, I’ll post a follow-up post here after the event and shall be sure to include Avinash’s answers to any questions from the blog.

So come on – what have you got to lose? It’s not like it’s you who’s going to be picking a fight with one of the industry’s most revered and respected advocates, is it? Leave that to old numb-knuckles here.

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April 21, 2009

Google adds rank information to referral URLs

The Google bus drops of another visitor in VisitorVille An interesting post on the official Google Analytics blog from Brett Crosby appeared last week, in which he announced that Google is to start introducing a new URL format in its referring click-through URLs for organic (i.e. non-paid) results. From Brett’s post:

Starting this week, you may start seeing a new referring URL format for visitors coming from Google search result pages. Up to now, the usual referrer for clicks on search results for the term "flowers", for example, would be something like this:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=flowers&btnG=Google+Search

Now you will start seeing some referrer strings that look like this:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=7&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.example.com%2Fmypage.htm&ei=0SjdSa-1N5O8M_qW8dQN&rct=j&q=flowers&usg=AFQjCNHJXSUh7Vw7oubPaO3tZOzz-F-u_w&sig2=X8uCFh6IoPtnwmvGMULQfw

Brett points out that the referring URL now starts with /url? rather than /search? (which is interesting in itself in its implication for the way Google is starting to think about its search engine as a dynamic content generation engine); but the really interesting thing, which Brett doesn’t call out but which was confirmed by Jason Burby in his ClickZ column today, is the appearance of the cd parameter in the revised URL, which indicates the position of the result in the search results page (SRP). So in the example above, where cd=7, the link that was clicked was 7th in the list.

As Jason points out, this new information is highly useful for SEO companies, who can use it to analyze where in the SRPs their clients’ sites are appearing for given terms. Assuming, of course, that web analytics vendors make the necessary changes to their software to extract the new parameter and make it available for reporting (or, alternatively, you use a web analytics package that is flexible enough to enable you to make this configuration change yourself).

As you can see from the example above, there are various other new parameters that are included in the new referring URL, which may prove useful from an analytics perspective (such as the source parameter). It’s also worth noting that whereas the old referring URL is the URL of the search results page itself, the new URL is inserted by some kind of redirection (this must be the case, since it includes the URL of the click destination page).

Using a redirect in this way means that as well as providing more information to you, Google is now also capturing more information about user click behavior, since the redirect can be logged and analyzed. Crafty, huh?

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