Start­ing in mid-2012, a trend emerged in the refer­rer type report that showed decreas­ing search and increas­ing direct/bookmark traf­fic due to a loss of refer­rer data. You may have seen some of this inac­cu­racy in your own refer­rer type report­ing. I explained the details of the cause of this issue back in a post last May. Over the past week, we have seen this trend begin to reverse. A num­ber of Adobe cus­tomers have seen large spikes in Search, par­tic­u­larly in iOS and Android 4.

Referrer Type Reporting for past year

In the graph above, we see that late 2012, Search Engines and Typed/Bookmarked traf­fic inverted. In that past few weeks, that trend is begin­ning to cor­rect itself.

As a refresher, most searches from secure Google (https) that land on a non-secure (http) page pro­vide an empty refer­rer because the non-encrypted land­ing page is unable to view the encrypted refer­rer. On desk­top machines, Google does a redi­rect that removes the key­word and pro­vides a sim­pli­fied refer­rer of www​.google​.com. This is also what leads to “key­word unavail­able” both on desk­top and mobile. On mobile devices, Google only does this redi­rect in cer­tain instances.

In pre­vi­ous test­ing, I found only 3 cases where this redi­rect was hap­pen­ing. I retested on iOS devices and found that where I was pre­vi­ously get­ting empty refer­rer data on an iPhone, I am now get­ting “https://​www​.google​.com” as my refer­rer, but no search query. I ran the test in both Safari and Chrome with sim­i­lar results. When I ran the test on an iPad, Safari was still pro­vid­ing an empty refer­rer while Chrome was pro­vid­ing sim­i­lar results as the iPhone.

The fact that I am now get­ting Google as the refer­rer, but no search query leads me to believe that Google has started using more redi­rects on mobile devices, but not in all cases (my pre­vi­ous research showed only a few Android devices were doing these redi­rects). Unfor­tu­nately, I don’t know how much this trend will con­tinue. I would hope to see 100% of mobile traf­fic redi­rected, but who knows if or when that would take place. Specif­i­cally, I don’t know whether Google will redi­rect all mobile devices or con­tinue their cur­rent prac­tice to only redi­rect a few.

While this increase in redi­rects means improved accu­racy of the refer­ral type report, it also means an increase in “key­word unavail­able” for key­word report­ing. Some clients are see­ing “key­word unavail­able” as high as 70% of their search traf­fic while the major­ity are see­ing 30–50%. As more traf­fic fun­nels through secure search, vis­i­bil­ity into the key­words you should opti­mize will decrease, so this is a win on one end, but a loss on the other.

For ideas on how to deal with “key­word not pro­vided,” check out this post from Adobe on workarounds.