Digital Marketing

‘Remove all referrers’ issue with Mobile Safari

Typically, when you click from one web page to another, the web browser sends “referrer” information and reports the URL of the page you clicked on to get to the new page. For example, if you do a Google search for ‘digital cameras’ and click on from the list that appears, Naaptol might say that you came to the page through a Google search for digital cameras. This is because the reference, or “Caller ID for the web” as it is sometimes called, usually contains the information you were looking for.

“Google Dark”

In 2011, Google made a change to SSL search by encrypting searches made by users using over a secure connection. Google explained that it was a measure to protect the personalized search results it offers. But it affected publishers: sites that people reach by clicking on a search result on the Google page would no longer receive “referrer” data revealing the query terms those visitors searched for to get to your site. The only exception was in the case of advertisements. Publishers have become familiar with ‘Not Provided’: All traffic with withheld search terms typically appears with the Google Analytics keyword ‘Not Provided’. Industry observers and SEO experts called these developments “Dark Google” and wondered if this was the end of Google Analytics.

Apple’s iOS 6 Change Affects Google Search in Safari Mobile

Then last September, Apple made a change in iOS 6 that affected Google search from Safari. And Google was not prepared for this. Users searching Google using Safari on iOS 6 will appear to publishers as “direct” traffic instead of “search” traffic. Now, search engine marketing expert Danny Sullivan says he’s found the reason Safari’s mobile browsers look like direct traffic instead of traffic through Google search.

Google introduced the meta reference tag last March so that information would be passed to your browsers through the meta reference tag instead of through your web server. So the page has referrer data embedded. Mobile Safari does not support the ‘meta referrer’ tag and that is why it makes website visitors look more like ‘direct’ traffic rather than ‘search’. Many other browsers also seem to have the “remove all references” problem. However, Desktop Safari is not affected as it supports the meta reference.

The results, Sullivan says, is that many publishers may see a drop in traffic that could be because the traffic isn’t properly attributed and not because search traffic has actually dropped. BuzzFeed reported that many leading publishers, including Rolling Stone and The Huffington Post, saw a drop in their traffic from Google. Even Google’s traffic seems to have dropped lower than Facebook’s, and BuzzFeed says Google alone is to blame!

The solution

Sullivan offers two solutions:

  • Mobile Safari can support meta reference
  • Google may resume the use of web server-based reporting to pass information to browsers instead of referrer meta tag-based reporting. However, this could result in all references being removed if a user visits an unsafe site outside of Google’s protected search environment.

It would seem that the best option is for Mobile Safari to support meta referencing. Otherwise, search engine optimization companies may find that Google Analytics or other analytics programs do not report SEO trends accurately.

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