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Why Google Analytics May Be Displaying Strange Keywords in Your Reports

Knowing how Google Analytics retrieves data from the web is one piece of the puzzle of understanding how well your site is performing. Often we forget all the things that go on behind the scenes and only look at the data as is.

It is important for SEOs to understand that there may be instances where “strange” keywords will appear in your reports. These keywords are classified under source=”google” and medium=”organic”.

So what am I talking about here!?

Those Strange Keywords in our Google Analytics report

Those keywords that we began seeing in our reports were ones like: “view:popular” and “section:”sci/tech”.

I then turned to my colleague Eduardo Cereto and asked if he’s seen anything like this before (if you know Eduardo, then you know that there’s a good chance that he’d seen something like this before). So why is this? Well… Google Analytics identifies a Google organic source every time the referred for the first pageview contains “google” on the domain and a query parameter “q” (the “q” is later used as a keyword).

The Problem

The problem is that Google News seems to send a “q” parameter sometimes and that is not a typed keyword, but instead a result of the user refining news using the left navigation on Google News. We start seeing things like this:

This is what I see on the destination site (mediapost.com in this case). Looking at the cookies and referrer on the console.

> document.referrer
"http://news.google.com/news/section?pz=1&amp;jfkl=true&amp;cf=all&amp;ned=us&amp;hl=en&amp;<strong>q=topic:mobile_industry</strong>&amp;topicsid=en_us:tc&amp;topicnv=__AB21PFx-pvsKyE5VRxBqmfNtRayRrrR_gtVsJVtJmrxLLuIIESymaq2rfAmDJpGfGyXBwwpHskUnpEJNCiSrgAE8lK-fGRxd9bqL6GpqKQX4YyvuOc3jr1g6_Tl7AMtb-4KUsY_xedMOeRfd8G5i-XCnIfGWVsIDADDgY11NdwZkl0Ze1YoOf2XK8R7g-Sk7p4YYUobNMDSAwuXTw-aFFQokPJeWMxhlkolSjtDNwL6BPVKKg0TXnuN_uNmCfw2j63yUXX78Pcue16NStLPgBR_5wh6lL2QqZ5FxKzWrtAn4b0p9MNexuVUq7vH6gNj0yrSA-PBlH27uInox_x9bl8LSnkTHV4WDnVoSCdgJnA8d3x27uyKYyNnxtC_JYyseW-entIRz1J5qyn2EXA4182pwi4juyoNyUVb3h096_4nz9RjLSffb3LQxBNsoCnyYd5W2jz54ASFa1HBf9B3Y2_2YUqzNA7-jG8y81zVoA-IPLnJmxLd6y4ERlYY3uFcfqaKR99Bn80P20RSgMt5D-Wu-ikMOaYLqjcRnvZ82AYjESZKTq2CNe5uJBsdQtDr-KPf6tm4YMIH4Qna0IRxRx7sO6w5_27W1P5SIfqT_TwPDCNjdjE52fME_1LnRZO1ogxVrwwhaqqwQgQSYNgrjw6PwHwD7aOAGo6i32wJtO7orR8DLULWH9Ah6MOgSppXWWHfYtIwDY18OfCP2S62vRcA_p1sZvKK9hVzZyvYDYiMZ6HeGzhUq691-Yxnfn13mOu08JtgMS9kwchQl0iSXHlwkodqbCsqNhnQSyszs-J0u-V5AnX7RHG7TocOm4_FDEMoBq4Hg6y_RoYgPaYc0Tdu9eYxO05RZVMPue6T3xu4twlLYrK2xZnjn4JaOvEuhHZDuucpYoWf2-r8EzgtKy5mbSm3FMV2YLA%3D%3D&amp;ict=tnv0"
&gt; document.cookie.split(';')

["SESSIONSCOPETESTED=1", " HASSESSIONSCOPE=1", " CFID=35991131", " CFTOKEN=83575362", " LASTVISIT=%7Bts%20%272011%2D08%2D24%2015%3A56%3A01%27%7D", " __utma=217479050.1101957297.1314215765.1314215765.1314215765.1", " __utmb=217479050.1.10.1314215765", " __utmc=217479050", " __utmz=217479050.1314215765.1.1.utmcsr=google|utmccn=(organic)|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=topic:mobile_industry"]

Because Google News is using the “q” parameter, this referrers is not a referral visit anymore but an organic visit and the keyword is set to the value of the “q” parameter.  It doesn’t happen every time since sometimes Google News doesn’t use the “q” parameter but we’ve seen a few instances on the U.S. edition that has it. Otherwise, the absence of the q parameter it’s treated as a referral of news.google.com.

‘Temporary’ Workaround

There is a ‘temporary’ workaround for this until Google fixes the bug on their end. I say temporary because once implemented, careful monitoring is required to ensure that this piece of code is removed once the fix comes up on Google’s side.

function fixGoogleNews(){
    if(document.referrer &amp;&amp; document.referrer.indexOf('//news.google.com')){
        _gaq.push(['_setReferrerOverride', 'http://news.google.com']);
    }
}

var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXXXX-1']);
_gaq.push(fixGoogleNews);
_gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);

(function() {
var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
var s = document.getElementsByTagName('script')[0]; s.parentNode.insertBefore(ga, s);
})();

This is not pretty, but it does fix the problem. Have you come across a similar problem? Please share any thoughts you might have below!


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