Google Change Decreases Direct Mobile Traffic in Favor of “Keyword Unavailable”
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.
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.