HTTPS and Referrers in Analytics

In early 2016, the year of the NPS Centennial, a new design was rolled out to NPS.gov. Along with that new design, we made some technical changes, including the use of the HTTPS protocol for all webpages in the NPS.gov domain.

HTTPS is the secure version of Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that is used to transmit information across the Internet. All federal government websites were mandated to move to HTTPS before December 31, 2016.

For website visitors, the move to HTTPS was seamless. However, some entities that do business with the NPS and were paying attention to their website’s analytics may have noticed that it appeared as if NPS.gov was no longer sending traffic their way.

This happened for some websites that NPS.gov webpages link to because of the way HTTPS works. If an HTTPS website links to a non-HTTPS website, “referrer” information, the data that analytics software uses to keep track of where people visiting your website came from, isn’t sent. Therefore, even if NPS.gov was sending as many or even more people to non-HTTPS websites, it didn’t look like that according to the non-HTTPS website’s analytics.

The details of this behavior are explained well in the article https to http: Secure-to-Nonsecure Referrer Loss.

If your website is linked to from NPS.gov, here are the different possible scenarios. Please note that in all scenarios, everything will work just fine for visitors. The only difference is whether or not the destination website’s analytics will know that NPS.gov is sending traffic to that website.

NPS.gov has an HTTPS link to your HTTPS website

Great! All is well. Visitors will get to your website from NPS.gov, and you’ll see NPS.gov as a referrer in your analytics.

NPS.gov has an HTTP link to your HTTP website

For visitors clicking on a link to your website from NPS.gov, all will be well. However, because your website is not using HTTPS and NPS.gov is, referrer traffic will not be passed and NPS.gov will not appear as a referrer in your analytics. If you do update your website to support HTTPS, contact the NPS parks and programs that you do business with so they can update their links to your website. Once that happens, you’ll start to see NPS.gov as a referrer again.

NPS.gov has an HTTP link to your HTTPS website

If your website supports HTTPS but links on NPS.gov still specify the HTTP protocol, everything will work just fine for visitors. However, even though your website may automatically switch those visitors to the HTTPS protocol, you won’t see NPS.gov as a referrer in your analytics. If you find yourself in this situation, please contact the NPS parks and programs that you do business with so they can update their links to your website. Once that happens, you’ll start to see NPS.gov as a referrer again.

Commonly Linked Websites from NPS.gov

For some websites that have recently switched to HTTPS and are linked to from many park and program webpages on NPS.gov, we will programmatically rewrite the links on NPS.gov so they use the HTTPS protocol. So, if your organization is on the following list, you’ll start to see NPS.gov as a referrer in your analytics in the coming weeks and there is no need for you to contact the NPS parks and programs that may link to your website(s).

  • archives.gov
  • doi.gov
  • everykidinapark.gov
  • facebook.com
  • flickr.com
  • fs.fed.us
  • instagram.com
  • nationalparks.org
  • nwcg.gov
  • opm.gov
  • pay.gov
  • recreation.gov
  • twitter.com
  • usajobs.gov
  • usda.gov
  • usgs.gov
  • volunteer.gov
  • youtube.com

Last updated: March 7, 2017

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