Why you will see an increase in direct traffic from mobiles in Google Analytics

Some of you will be keeping a close eye on mobile traffic through to your websites and noticing that the number is constantly increasing month on month, year on year. No doubt, majority of your mobile traffic will be coming from the Apple iPhone and Apple iPad.

Some of you may also dig a bit deeper to analyse where this mobile traffic is coming from (sources) so that you can see which sources to improve or add more resources to. With the launch of iOS6, the iPhones default browser, Safari, now uses Googles secure search (SSL) meaning the keyword or search phrases no longer pass through to analytics tools such as Google Analytics.

The refferer data is also missing which means if you are analysing the sources of mobile traffic you may start to see a dip in traffic sent via Google. Secure search is the reason why you are seeing (not provided) in your keyword report – it is people searching on Google who are logged into their Google accounts.

So where does iOS6 traffic get placed?

iOS6 traffic is now being classed as ‘direct’ traffic. As there is no referrer data Google Analytics always puts the visit into the ‘direct’ segment. Similar to visits which are generated from untagged email campaigns also get put into the ‘direct’ traffic segment.

Here is what the difference looks like between iOS5 traffic and iOS6 traffic for the Pauley Creative website:

iOS6 v iOS5 search traffic data

iOS5.x v iOS6 search traffic data


As you can see the left pie chart shows visits to the Pauley Creative website last week from iPhones running iOS5.x where 83.33% of the traffic is organic search traffic and we have keyword data available. 16.66% is classed as direct.

The pie chart on the right then shows last weeks traffic from iPhones running iOS6 and you can see the big chunk is direct traffic, over half of the traffic in fact now contains no keyword detail and no referrer data. The 47.82% of organic traffic you can see maybe coming from Google.com, Bing, Yahoo or people using other mobile browsers such as Chrome or Dolphin which is also quite popular.

Here is the data for one of our clients websites and you can see the same effect where iOS6 organic traffic is the smaller slice and direct or none is the larger slice:

ios6 missing search refferrer data

What does this mean for marketers?

Well, quite simply, you’ll have less keyword data available for iPhone iOS6 users and you’ll see a rise in ‘direct’ traffic when analysing the sources within the mobile segment. Not good if you are using search terms to develop  campaigns or content for mobile users.

One worth keeping an eye on definitely.

Thanks to Dan Barker for sharing the dashboard widget to extract this info using Google Analytics.

About Stuart Dinnie

Stuart has worked in the world of digital marketing for over 15 years. With his measured and planned approach, he has delivered robust digital strategies for construction companies to achieve real business growth. He now heads up the team at Pauley Creative as Managing Director and is leading his team & clients towards digital marketing excellence. He’s worked with over 100 construction clients; helping them on their digital transformation journey, providing sustainable strategies that return year on year incremental growth, delivering award-winning websites and adding value from board level to marketing assistant.

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