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When Apple first launched IOS 6 all the talk was about the usability problems with the news maps.

However the new mobile operating system brought with it a bigger issue for website owners, as publishers no longer receive Google referral data from IOS 6 users.

As pointed out by Search Engine Land, the problem is caused by Apple’s decision to route Google searches made through the Safari search box to an encrypted version of Google search.

It means a big proportion of Safari organic search traffic is now being misread as being 'direct' traffic, so publishers don’t know how IOS 6 users found their websites through organic Google search.

To reveal the scale of the problem, e-business consultant Dan Barker has created a free Google Analytics dashboard that compares search versus direct traffic from IOS 5 and IOS 6.

Stats from Econsultancy.com show that organic traffic makes up 51% of visits from IOS 5, but for IOS 6 the figure plummets to 14%.

 

Clearly this is caused by Apple’s decision to encrypt referral data, so as more people upgrade to the new operating system it’s going to become an even bigger issue for website owners.

Barker also highlighted the impact on three anonymous websites. These graphs show the orange 'direct' line rising over time as the blue 'organic' line drops proportionally.

Apple’s decision to encrypt Google referral traffic from Safari follows a similar move by Google to hide data from logged in users.

It means that search traffic from anyone with a Google account now shows up as ‘not provided’ in Google Analytics.

Last year we noticed that this was impacting around 33% of our search referals from the US, and 'not provided' had even usurped Econsultancy brand terms as our top search referral.

This is great news from a user privacy perspective, as it means that two of the world’s biggest tech companies are protecting search data.

However, it means that it is becoming near impossible for websites to accurately measure their search traffic, which removes a key business analytics tool.

David Moth

Published 26 November, 2012 by David Moth @ Econsultancy

David Moth is Editor and Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

1690 more posts from this author

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Eduardo Cereto

There seems to be something fishier here than just defaulting to HTTPS Google. If that was the case I would expect to see all iOS users coming as google/organic keyword=(not provided). But from your tests it seems that it's coming as direct instead.

Google HTTPS still sends a referrer to the site, it just ommits the keyword.

So it's either Apple iOS Safari stripping referrer s that contain "google" or a mibehave of google.com on iOS.

about 4 years ago

Paul North

Paul North, Head of Content and Strategy at Mediarun

Like Eduardo says, this isn't the same thing as 'not provided'. It's more like an error. I've looked at client figures and organic search is coming in 10-15% lower than it should be.

With Xmas traffic already here, I'd say that millions of pounds of revenue is going to be wrongly attributed to direct visits.

about 4 years ago

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Carl Rajkowski

I believe the core problem isn't an error but rather the key difference in Google's privacy protection for users of HTTPS Google for Desktop and HTTPS Google for Mobile. All smartphone searches are passed through HTTPS Mobile. HTTPS Mobile doesn't pass a referral or keywords because it can give away a person's location. Like most people on the go I tend to search for shops and restaurants near my current location with street, town names and even specific addresses. Google is stripping out these details in HTTPS Mobile on purpose to protect a user's location and interest. They don't have to do that for HTTPS Desktop because those types of searches don't occur as much and even if they do it doesn't mean the person is near the shop or restaurant carrying around a desktop or laptop.

I don't see this problem being fixed any time soon since Google would have to change their privacy policy.

about 4 years ago

Ashley Burgess

Ashley Burgess, Head of Web Analytics at Periscopix

As Danny Sullivan at SEL said, this *seems* more like a mistake than a feature but we had all expected it to get cleared up by now.

Eduardo, have we asked Google about this?

about 4 years ago

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Andy Harris

Wondering about whether this is just affecting Google Analytics view of things? On our own webstats tracking software we've tested from ios6 and it's showing us the keyword phrase and the fact it's a Google organic search (from Safari).

almost 4 years ago

Ashley Burgess

Ashley Burgess, Head of Web Analytics at Periscopix

Hi Andy,

It certainly shouldn't be something that is only specific to GA. it looks from some of our accounts that not all iOS6 Safari visits are showing as direct. it could be that location, network or safari or iOS version are factors that would flaw a test on just a few devices.

almost 4 years ago

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Brendan Halloran

It's not just an iOS6 issue - it looks to me from my GA reports that all mobile web browsers that use HTTPS for Google Search are reported as "none".

almost 4 years ago

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James Clarke

If this is a feature of the new iOS then it will be frustrating as tracking will become even harder, especially as iOS has to become such a large driver of traffic.

almost 4 years ago

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