Traffic Solve the traffic source puzzle

An average of 13% of organic traffic is mislabelled

As marketers we rely on data and statistics to analyse and reach conclusions on web visitor behaviour and on how websites, offers, features are performing. But what happens when we can’t take our data at face value?

Recent changes by tech giant, Apple means that on average 13% of organic traffic is now coming up in ‘direct traffic’ in source reports from Google Analytics (and other analytics programmes).

Direct traffic is commonly traffic where visitors have typed your URL into the address bar, book marked your website, clicked on a link in a document or untagged email campaigns, and more. But while this figure grows, we need to look a little deeper. Increase in direct traffic can be attributed to clicks from encrypted searches (and web browsing).

Mislabelled traffic

Last autumn, with the introduction of iOS6 (the operating system from Apple that runs on iPhone, iPads, iPods and Apple TVs devices), Apple now automatically encrypt searches from its search bar in Safari.

This means that the vast majority of searches conducted on iOS devices are now encrypted and this search traffic is being mislabelled in Google Analytics.

It’s important to note that it is only the search bar that encrypts data – normal browsing is not encrypted. 

organic traffic

Put simply, the average amount of reported organic traffic will greatly reduce between iOS versions - as seen here: 

organic traffic

Get the accurate picture

As 2013 is the year that mobile searches are predicted to overtake desktop search, let’s take a look at how this affects your data and how you can estimate your organic traffic.

You will need to look at the overall trend for your website, including the number of mobile visitors, number of iOS visitors and percentage of organic traffic from iOS (before and after the release of iOS6).

When looking at your iOS traffic in general, you will likely see a reversal in traffic attribution last autumn.

organic traffic

By calculating the number of mobile and iOS organic visitors leading up to the introduction of iOS6, you can approximate the average numbers and trends. Using this figure, you can estimate what percentage of visitors should be organic traffic if this trend had continued.

What we have found for our clients, here at Aró Digital Strategy, is that on average 13% of total visitor figures are being mislabelled as direct traffic as a result of iOS6 encrypted searches.

So our Analytics Traffic Source Charts from Pre iOS6 release versus Post iOS6 release look like this:

organic traffic

Using our estimates we change our comparisons to this:

organic traffic

This gives us a more accurate picture of where our web visitors are coming from, but is just one part of the traffic source puzzle. While we know iOS6 is one of the greatest contributors to mislabelled traffic, traffic from Google Local and images listings on search engine results pages is not being put into the ‘organic’ box either.

At 13% (and growing), we can all agree that Apple’s changes, which is already being replicated on Android, is having the most significant impact on our data.