Google Changes Search Syntax

I just noticed Google “going all Ajax” in their search results.

Whatever they are doing, the net effect is that NO keyword data will be available in third party analytics tools. Indeed… it probably won’t appear in GA either if GA is genuinely using Javascript to do its tracking.

The Old Way

The New Way

The Effect

[EDITOR NOTE…. THAT’S ME… IT’S A PERSONAL BLOG: Beyond the next chart this post has been updated Thursday Morning. Comments prior to that may refer to previous (incorrect) interpretations.]

I originally suspected that they had been testing this for  few weeks, judging by the search term on brand drop in PIWIK analytics integrations:

But then that goes to show what happens when you write up a blog post in a rush. The chart above was not filtered to show Google traffic only and whilst that drop looks interesting, when I DID look at the traffic properly filtered, Google seems to still be happily tracking at least some of the brand keyword at the same level at the moment:

So either it was early checking, or something else was happening to still let my analytics track, because usually anything after a hashbang would get lost, So next I did a search for a tool/script which checks the referrer URL when you land on the page. I found one on so did THIS search to get stardrifter in the hashbanged results:

Clicking on that referrer test should show the referrer URL in the URL bar at the top, yes? But infact Google is redirecting and showing a different (more expected and normal) referral URL – as can be seen when I click on the link:

So… the Hashbang has gone… but then again, so have the keywords. Just a parameter “&q=” with no content. I tried to log out and do a similar test and did not generate an instance where the keyword data was parsed. Maybe someone else can.

12 thoughts on “Google Changes Search Syntax”

    1. Ah – well THAT would be interesting… if the hashbang was only when signed in, but I am seeing hashbangs signed out on Firefox.

  1. Now Dixon,

    You’re showing an example from and

    When I do a search in .com, I still see the question mark. It looks to be an international thing as I checked a few other international indices and they are all using the #.

    Interesting find though. I wonder if they will roll it to .com soon.

    Thanks for the post.


    1. Yes – I needed to change the environment to see the “old” version to grab a screenshot. However – I have now been able to recreate on

  2. Just checked a UK site with the # in the Google Search page, and the data is coming through in Google Analytics with the keyword data.

    Must just be PIWIK that is losing the keyword data from this change.

    1. Actually – I am not 100% sure that the timeline corresponds. It is the Hashbang that I was trying to highlight as significant – but I would assume that a hashbang would scupper most third party tracking.

  3. I checked in

    I did get a # (not a hashbang! – just a hash) and got a perfect &q=check%20url%20stardrifter back from stardrifter. No hash in the referer though.

    Hm – did you delete your cookies after signing out?


  4. thanks for the info, google change their code constantly and I really do not know if i am doing the right thing but for now I know that i am on the right track

  5. Wow, very interesting to see how an update can actually ruin a blog like that. Going to book mark this for my customers to see what the actual affect is when a new google update gets rolled out!

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