Saturday, January 2, 2010

google.com uses AJAX to update search results in place?

My Gmail account appears to be in an experiment where searches from google.com update in place. That is, a search for bolinfest takes me to:

http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=hp&q=bolinfest&aq=f&aqi=g10&oq=&fp=cbc2f75bf9d43a8f

Rather than the classic:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&source=hp&q=bolinfest&aq=f&oq=&aqi=g-p1g2

Apparently this was first reported in January 2009. There was immediately an outcry because the fragment (with includes the keywords used in the Google search) was not included in the referrer, so sites who analyze their traffic using that information were at a loss.

In my version of the experiment, this is no longer an issue because the search results use a URL redirector (which I do not believe is a new practice). Although the first search result is for www.bolinfest.com/, and when I hover over the link in Firefox, the status bar says http://www.bolinfest.com/, the actual destination of the link is:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&ved=0CAoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bolinfest.com%2F&rct=j&q=bolinfest&ei=kYU_S8nZAdC0lAeJ0fmVBw&usg=AFQjCNEgHH2q8kppSggtQt45aSSazDTynA&sig2=G54nS0q_UtfEChH7icC_NA

When I follow the link and run javascript:alert(document.referrer) in the address bar, I see the same thing:

http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&ct=res&cd=1&ved=0CAoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bolinfest.com%2F&rct=j&q=bolinfest&ei=kYU_S8nZAdC0lAeJ0fmVBw&usg=AFQjCNEgHH2q8kppSggtQt45aSSazDTynA&sig2=G54nS0q_UtfEChH7icC_NA

Note that this URL contains the query in the URL parameter q=bolinfest, which should appease those who are concerned with keyword tracking.

What is interesting is that the AJAX request to load the search results appears to be an ordinary GET request to:

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=bolinfest&aq=&aqi=g2&oq=bolinfest&fp=cbc2f75bf9d43a8f

The content of that URL is an HTML page with 21 <script> tags in the <head> and an empty <body> tag.

Also, copying and pasting http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=hp&q=bolinfest&aq=f&aqi=g10&oq=&fp=cbc2f75bf9d43a8f into the address bar of a new tab works as expected (though I do get a JavaScript error when I paste the URL into a new tab that I do not get when doing the initial search from google.com).

It's hard to say what this really means, if anything. Presumably, Google's objective is to make search results load faster without pissing off advertisers. As I'm not in the SEO racket, I'm not terribly interested in the latter, but I am curious whether Google is on to a new technique for loading web content faster!

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