Tracking Search Sessions, Start to Finish

I don’t remember what I was doing today that caused me to even pay attention to the following, but while doing a search I noticed that Google was keeping my first query of the session as a parameter in the URL string, no matter what, as I kept searching for new keywords. Huh? Yeah, I’ve tried explaining it several times today. You have to see it to get it.

Example

So I put a “g” (the default shortcut for Google) in the Firefox address bar and do a search for “sugarrae” and Google spits out the results with the following URL showing in the address bar:

http://www.google.com/search?num=10&hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&q=sugarrae&btnG=Search

Next, without starting a completely new session, I add “hoffman” to the Google search box to make the query “sugarrae hoffman” and click enter. Google spits out the results with the following URL showing in the address bar:

http://www.google.com/search?num=10&hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&q=sugarrae&btnG=Search#hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&q=sugarrae+hoffman&aq=f&aqi=g-v1&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=267856ed3ee60de5

Next, without starting a completely new session, I remove “hoffman” from the Google search box and add seo to make the query “sugarrae seo” and click enter. Google spits out the results with the following URL showing in the address bar:

http://www.google.com/search?num=10&hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&q=sugarrae&btnG=Search#hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&q=sugarrae+seo&aq=f&aqi=g2&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=19b464671494ace2

As you can see, Google is “keeping” my first query as a parameter even though I keep changing the query. A few notes:

  • My web history is disabled
  • I never search Google logged in
  • I am using a custom (read: old) Google Firefox shortcut to initiate my Google search the first time
  • I am on a Canadian IP
  • Doesn’t matter if the search terms are not related at all
  • Clicking through to a listing does not change this occurring on subsequent searches when I click the back button and do another Google search
  • Clicking through to a listing and spending time on the site or visiting multiple pages of the site does not change this occurring on subsequent searches when I click the back button and do another Google search

When I give folks I’ve tried to have look at this a URL like:

http://www.google.com/search?q=screen+grab&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a#sclient=psy&hl=en&client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&q=screen+movie&aq=f&aqi=g4g-o1&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=&pbx=1&fp=267856ed3ee60de5

The URL I give them renders. They get the results for the second query, but the URL that shows in their address bar for them is:

http://www.google.com/search?num=100&hl=en&lr=&as_qdr=all&q=%25s+screen+movie&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=

So the first search query from the string is stripped.

Additionally, only one person of the several I’ve shown this to has been able to replicate these results outside of my house (IP address). So, I was a little concerned y’all might think I was crazy if a lot of you reading this also couldn’t replicate it. ;-) So my husband took a screen movie to prove I’m not insane (on this point anyway) or THAT good at making up random Google URLs that redirect to my desired locations. ;-)

You may want to blow it up so you can see the text in the address bar as it’s highlighted.

So who cares?

Most of those that have been in this game a long time had little doubt that Google was likely tracking what we search for and how we refine our queries to data mine for Google Suggest and to potentially determine the quality of search results for particular keywords and possibly adjust the rankings accordingly.

But I tend to liken SEO to religion in a way. Sometimes search engine optimizers with a lot of experience, insight and foresight know things to be true or suspect them to be true enough to err on the side of “they are” when offering advice, even if we can’t see or touch them. Then we get told we can’t prove shit or that we’re paranoid. ;-)

I’m not sure why I can see what I captured in the video above. Maybe it’s a glitch. Maybe I’m seeing something render that is supposed to only “appear” behind the scenes. Who knows how they’re using it or if they’re using it at all [who *doesn't* like to collect data for no reason!]. We can only make [in some cases, educated] guesses.

But either way, it’s pretty apparent that Google is tracking the first thing you type during a search session to the last thing you type in a search session (including queries refined after you’ve visited a site and then used the back button to “continue” your search session). And for whatever weird reason I am able to actually see it happening today.

About Rae Hoffman

Rae Hoffman aka "Sugarrae" is an affiliate marketing veteran and the CEO of PushFire, a search marketing agency specializing in SEO audits and link building strategies. She is also the author of the often controversial Sugarrae blog. You can connect with Rae via Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

Sugarrae runs on the Genesis Framework

Genesis Framework

If you’re someone who doesn’t understand a lot of PHP, Genesis will give a ton of functionality that you wouldn’t be able to obtain otherwise with a simple control panel instead of having to alter code. For the advanced, Genesis has incredible customization possibilities via Genesis hooks.

The theme is not only highly customizable, but it has allowed me to run Sugarrae more professionally, with a much more targeted focus on monetization than it ever has been able to achieve before.

You can find out more about Genesis below:

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