Impact of HTTPS on Referral Data in Analytics

In previous blog, I discussed about checklist items to look at when moving from HTTP to HTTPS for technical and SEO reasons.

In this second part of the HTTPS discussion, I’ll focus on impact of HTTPS on the referral data within Analytics platform such as Google Analytics.

What will happen to your SEO traffic?

Here is one of the major problem in Google Analytics when HTTPS is involved. It strips away the referral data. If the linking sites are using HTTPS, then all of those traffic previously coming in under organic visits as referrals will start to show up as Direct visits. If you notice a surge in Direct after moving to HTTPs, this is the reason. This is unavoidable as of now, as more sites are following HTTPS protocal, following the Google model, Analytics data will be more and more skewed.  So the issues are

  1. HTTPS website don’t pass referral data to HTTP sites -> This causes all referral traffic on HTTP site as Direct
  2. HTTPS website to HTTPS website, referral data will be received, even sensitive ones.

Introduction of New Meta Tag “Referrer”

With meta referrer, we can tell HTTP Referrer to behave in certain way, with options being “always”, “never”, “origin” or “default”. e.g.

<meta name="referrer" content="always" />

However, this is not yet supported in Firefox or IE yet and would only work on Chrome and Safari. As of now, on HTTPS Google is using Origin, while Facebook is using Default option.

So bottom line, we need to be aware of traffic shift in reporting tools as well as how can we be gentle with meta referrer with HTTPS.


About Ujjwal Bhattarai

Ujjwal is an engineer by education, a programmer by hobby, and an internet marketer by choice. Other than 1 minute chess, and biking, his passion includes SEO, SEM/PPC, CRO, and Web Development. As a lifelong student of Internet Development, he is hopelessly addicted to Internet, and sincerely believes after fire, wheel, and decimal point, internet is the fourth most important invention in the human history. Catch up with him on Twitter at @uj2wal or at his Google+ .

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