Referral String

The search engine Google has the objective to deliver user-relevant information, and to place results at the right time in the right place. To protect its visitors, Google has introduced “Secure Search.” This means that the searches of logged in users will not be tracked.

Moreover, webmasters will no longer know what keywords visitors used to get to their site. Naturally, this has a great impact on search engine optimization measures because keyword focusing is more difficult because of the missing data. The information about the entered keyword is not available. Webmasters get increasingly “not provided” with regard to the keywords.

The referral string is a solution to this problem, because it contains important information that webmasters can use for better keyword targeting.

Elements of referral strings

Through the filter settings in Google Analytics, it is possible to differentiate the referral strings. The URL which is placed between the Google search results and the landing page contains information that can provide some insight. It specifically concerns the parameters ved and cd. Their information is available, even if the keyword is “not available.”

cd values

The value assigned to the parameter cd shows the position of the search result, i.e. cd=1 stands for first place.

ved values

The parameter ved consists of three parts. It contains information about which Universal Vertical the result belongs to, the position in the vertical (relative position), and the position in the search results (absolute position).

Using the Google Analytics filters

Using the filter settings in Google Analytics, it is possible to interpret the keyword. The ved value has to be compared for this purpose. However, it must also be borne in mind that only about 50% of search referrals have this data within Google Analytics.

Creating a Google Analytics profile filter

To create a filter, a new filter has to be added in the Administrator Dashboard. If an existing one is used, it may cause a loss of desired data.

Thereafter, two advanced filters get set up. One filter is used to extract the ved and cd from the referral string and the other, to display the data on Google Analytics. An example of the parameters which are required for the extraction of ved and cd is:

in the first field: (\?|&)(ved)=([^&]*)

In the second field:  (\?|&)(cd)=([^&]*)

One should note that the filter does not act retroactively, but only applies to the newly received data. Therefore, waiting time has to be scheduled according to the current traffic to generate enough data for the evaluation.

Add extended segments

The segment should be assigned an appropriate name which corresponds to the later vertical. The source has to be searched for a specific string, which may have a ved value (see list above) such as QqwI.

Testing of sitelinks

Sitelinks are a subset of the results, a search for a brand. Google’s algorithm determines which links are also displayed, but a webmaster also has the option to downgrade links on the Google Search Console. The ved parameter comes in handy to measure the performance of site link pages.

To find the site link which was sent by the referral string, the cd value has to be examined. This value is part of the referral string. The filter for it has already been set up in step 1, the cd-value is contained in the data.


The following applications allow excellent evaluation options for the “not-provided” search. Here are some examples of the possibilities:

  • ROI calculation and allocation of resources for various SEO measures
  • Optimization of sitelinks for brand searches. If the keyword information is “not provided,” but the ved value xxxxQjB is provided, then it can be concluded that the keyword was your own brand.
  • Image optimization for Google News: The “main link” of a Google News OneBox is mostly a different than that of the thumbnail. The value ved=xxxQqQIw can be divided by ved=xxxxQqwI, it will correspond to the ratio of links to pictures. When there is an imbalance it shows that there is a potential for optimization of the image. Future optimization measures can be developed with this value.
  • Optimization of video thumbnails: Images of videos that serve as a link at the same time, usually have the same source as the link. Marketers can analyze the click through rate based on the ved value, specifically the xxxxQuAlw for image optimization.
  • Analyzing the effectiveness of semantic mark-up: If an event is clicked in rich snippets, it is ved=xxxBE0MGM. In music, for example, ved=xxxQ6hEw applies.

Analysis of referral strings offers new opportunities and at the same time compensates for losses sustained through the Google Secure Search.

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