&rlz= in Google referrer: Organic traffic or AdWords?

We have some campaigns out there on Google AdWords for which we now have some very nice organic rankings.

At the end of each month we like to calculate the number of sales of PPC versus organic for a Canadian life insurance client.

Most of our PPC results have a gclid parameter in them so it's clear as day. It's almost certain that a clean result like this one is organic:

http://www.google.ca/search?q=canadian+life+insurance

While this is definitely PPC:

http://lsminsurance.ca/calculators/canada/term-life.php?PPC-ON-ripped&type=search&keyword=life%20insurance&adid=984186361&placement=&gclid=CLmk9Iruk5YCFQhdswodiCp_FA

What about this one with &rlz= in the URL parameter?

http://www.google.ca/search?sourceid=navclient&ie=UTF-8&rlz=1T4ADBS_enCA248CA248&q=greatwest

I couldn't tell. The long strange string smelled like PPC to me.

It out to be nothing of the kind. &rlz= is the string that Google uses for identifying users of Google Chrome:

You may notice a RLZ parameter in the URL when you do a Google search from the Google Chrome address bar. The RLZ parameter contains some encoded information (like when you downloaded Google Chrome and where you got it from). The RLZ parameter does not uniquely identify you nor is it used to target advertising. Google uses this information in aggregate to find out whether groups of people are using Google Chrome actively. Not all users have the same RLZ parameter. The RLZ parameter is based on where Google Chrome was download from, when it was installed, and when certain features were first used, like search.

A RLZ parameter is sent to Google with every search done using the built-in search box. It is also sent separately on days when Google Chrome has been used or when certain significant events occur such as a successful installation of Google Chrome. The RLZ parameter is stored in the registry and may be updated from time to time. The code that makes this work is not included in the open source project (http://www.chromium.org) because it only applies to the version of the browser that Google distributes, Google Chrome.

Great to know. These &rlz= searches are definitely organic then.

That Google would track you based on your browser is disturbing. However if you ever search logged in, Google can track you pretty well via your IP number, putting two and two together.

On the other hand, there are seven of us behind one IP here so the log might be a bit confusing. Still it could be correlated to exact user agent as many of my colleagues use different browsers as their primary web browser (or even a different OS).

I wonder why Google felt a need to go even further in their tracking. Just put away those images of Will Smith fleeing across bridges in Enemy of the State (blu-ray now too) and go back to your typing.

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12 Responses to &rlz= in Google referrer: Organic traffic or AdWords?

  1. Christopher Woods

    Curiously enough though, the &rlz= variable appears to be appended to all google searches regardless of whether you’re using Chrome or not… As long as you have it installed. It appears on all searches I perform from the search box when I search in IE7 (with Google UK manually configured and chosen as the default search provider).

    Seems that they want to know even if you have it installed, never mind if you’re using it or not!

  2. David Kyle

    I don’t believe it had anything to do with Chrome. I see it in all my IE 7 searches, and I have never installed Chrome.

    What’s interesting is I don’t see it in Firefox

  3. Christopher Woods

    Do you have the Google Toolbar installed?

  4. Hello Christopher,

    No I don’t have Google Toolbar installed (not on any of my computers).

    I do use SearchStatus on Firefox so we are checking page rank against the Google servers if you think that might be it.

  5. So how do you track the referrer and if it’s a PPC campaign on a Web form that collects leads?

    Can you share the code to add into a PHP form.

    Many thanks

  6. Hello Vincent,

    Much as we’d love to share this code (and we talk about it), the code is valuable inasmuch as it’s private. As soon as any code like this goes public, it goes on all kinds of block lists.

    If you really need it for your business, we could license the plugin to you and set it up to work for you – but strictly on a non-redistribution basis. If you are interested, email me directly.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Hi Alec,
    There is alreeady an open source WP contact form plugin that tracks all of this, which I’ve used and works as intended.
    http://yoast.com

    Not sure why it would be on any block list??
    Maybe your code uses some ‘black hat’ techniques?

    The issue is that I would like to do the same on another PHP form on our non WP Website, and I don’t know PHP code well enough to extract the code from the WP plugin.

  8. Hello Vincent,

    I block tracking all the time in my browser. There are lots of downloadable plugins to block tracking. I don’t want our code on the radar.

    If you would like us to do some custom coding for you based on the Yoast plugin, let me know.

  9. SEO

    Chrome is not a good browser..infact nothing works there! I tried with IE and Firefox.

  10. Interesting.. I have been wondering about the rlz code, but I don’t think it is only there for Chrome, as I have lots of visitors to my site using IE or Firefox with rlz strings.

    I will dig further and see if I can find anything else…

  11. ravi

    basically i think the rlz just comes as a part of info collection on chrome.
    the answer is here http://www.google.com/support/forum/p/Chrome/thread?tid=0169b5d789130615&hl=en

  12. Stonecold

    So does Google record WHAT we’re searching or just that we’re searching something and/or internal errors that occur?

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