Google’s tracking links – grrrrrrrrr!

Over the past couple days, I’ve become plenty annoyed with Google’s tracking links breaking, or failing to return any data. I get the same experience with Yahoo (which loves redirection) quite often – at least with Google SERPs it’s only a small percentage of links that are getting tracked.

Hey Google, if you’re going to implement a feature that does nothing for users, I hope you don’t mind losing a few users in the process. I’m going to switch my default search over to MSN for a bit. Every time Google drives a user to try another search, there’s a chance that the other engine will win the taste test.

For the geeks among you, here’s an (edited down) HTTP trail from WebBug on a Google redirect link:
GET /url?sa=t&ct=res&cd=9&url=http%3A//www.roundtablepizza.com/&ei=owYJQ-PUCqb4-AG79tG_Dg HTTP/1.1
Host: www.google.com

HTTP/1.1 302 Found
Cache-Control: private
Location: http://www.roundtablepizza.com/
Set-Cookie: PREF=ID=ddccf96dc54d1008:TM=1124665190:
LM=1124665190:S=nwisHxMdrjO4hjbp;
expires=Sun, 17-Jan-2038 19:14:07 GMT;
path=/; domain=.google.com

As you can see, Google is setting a cookie on the way through the redirect. I assume this allows them to see when a user clicks the back button or “bounces” from the target page back to the SERP. Conspiracy theorists, have fun with that… (Note: I added the line breaks in the cookie code to make it fit our page layout.)

Free book: Jump Start HTML5 Basics

Grab a free copy of one our latest ebooks! Packed with hints and tips on HTML5's most powerful new features.

  • http://www.sitepoint.com/ mmj

    Google’s redirects were annoying me when I wanted to ‘right click, copy link location’ on them. It makes using Google to find links a fair bit harder for me – I find that I often use Google to find links to sites, without visiting sites.

  • Weirdan

    Link tracking seems to be a part of their “personalized search” feature.

  • Anonymously

    Dan – I’m a bit mystified by your claim that Google tracking clicks does not benefit its users…

  • http://www.seoresearchlabs.com DanThies

    Anonymous… I’m sure we’re all open to your ideas about how a redirect script that breaks frequently is better for users than a direct link.

  • Anonymously

    Dan- I was referring to “if you’re going to implement a feature that does nothing for users” – not to issues with the implemention of the feature.

  • Todd

    There is the option to turn personalized search off:
    google psearch help

  • http://www.seoresearchlabs.com DanThies

    I’m not talking about personalized search, I’m talking about tracking links that are being inserted for some listings in some search results on google.com.

    Anonymously, leaving aside the fact that the implementation is part of what I’m talking about, I’d still love to hear your thoughts on how this feature benefits users at all.

  • matthewmurcia

    Interesting quote about switching search engines. :-) I subscribe to an interesting business quotes newsletter from a site called woopidoo and curiously today they mailed me one from Sergey Brin himself related to this very topic:

    “Some say Google is God. Others say Google is Satan.
    But if they think Google is too powerful, remember
    that with search engines unlike other companies,
    all it takes is a single click to go to another search engine.”

    I switched my default search engine to yahoo the other day. I think this will get more interesting in the next 6 months or so.

  • ARXL

    Foxy neutralizes click tracking for major search engines: http://www.2-power-n.com.

  • guest

    Today I noticed Google tracks all the result links in the encrypted search. Therefore I installed the Firefox addon HTTPS-Everywhere from EFF and created two rulesets to rewrite the google.com/url?url=… links. After installing the addon place each ruleset tag in a separate XML-File in the HTTPSEverywhereUserRules folder in your Firefox profile and restart Firefox.
    I cut off everything after the first url parameter and rewrite to the fake subdomain notracking. In the second ruleset I replace the urlencoded values and strip the google.com part. This results in just one request to the site I want to visit without Google knowing about it.
    Have fun.