You may have noticed a recent plunge in traffic coming to your website through Yahoo organic search. It seems alarming at first, but there’s a reason why Google Analytics has started to report an increase in referral visitors and a decrease in “Yahoo / Organic” data. Don’t worry – you’re not losing traffic. Earlier this year, Yahoo made a fundamental change to the way their search operates. The change is a symptom of a much larger switch taking place that will affect both marketers and consumers in some important ways.
Changes in Yahoo Organic Traffic
The apparent drop in Yahoo’s organic traffic stems from their switch to secure search (SSL). This will mean certain things for consumers and different things for marketers. Yahoo, by sending search data through a secure server, is preventing consumer queries from being accessible to third parties. In other words, if you make a search on Yahoo, your query will be protected from potential eavesdroppers.
This also means that marketers receiving traffic from Yahoo won’t know they’re receiving traffic from Yahoo. The traffic previously attributed to Yahoo searches will appear as referral visitors to your site because of the switch to SSL. So the drop in Yahoo organic traffic isn’t really a drop at all – it just appears as a drop, as a result of consumer queries being encrypted.
Other Search Engines and Their Security
All three major search engines are jumping on the SSL bandwagon, but not in the same way Yahoo is choosing to operate. Here’s a breakdown:
- Yahoo uses secure search by default, provides no search terms, and passes no referrers except for advertisers.
- Google uses secure search by default, but still passes search terms and referrers to advertisers.
- Bing provides secure search optionally, and passes no search terms and no referrers when SSL is enabled.
With their current configurations, Yahoo is the most secure engine, where Google is somewhat secure while remaining a little more friendly and informative from an analytics standpoint. Bing offers the type of security that Yahoo provides, but not by default.
Interpreting Yahoo Traffic in Google Analytics
Across all of our clients, about 20-50% of Yahoo’s organic traffic now displays as a referral from “r.search.yahoo.com.” It’s clear that while there hasn’t been an actual decline in traffic from Yahoo organic search, this traffic has been split into two different sources. Traffic from “r.search.yahoo.com” has no keyword data, but some keyword information is still coming through the Yahoo / Organic source.
For the time being, the switch search engines are making to SSL has positive effects in terms of privacy and security of information. However, search is obviously still in a period of transition, and your traffic information through Google Analytics may be confusing at times. Rest assured that your traffic is not declining as a result of secure search – it is only being represented in a different way.
How to Track the Yahoo Change in Google Analytics
A Customized report and two Advanced Segments have been created and shared in Google Analytics Solution Gallery. When logged into your Google Analytics account, this link will direct you to the “Be Found Online’s Yahoo Fix for Organic Traffic” post while this link will automatically prompt you to download the two segments and a customized report. Both segments and the customized report include the “r.search.yahoo.com” referral which will aggregate the correct data in your Organic reports.
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