Is this Related to iOS 6?The timing of the initial not provided jump coincides with the return of some referrers for iOS 6 devices, but this appears to be only one piece of the puzzle. As we've noted in previous posts, until the very end of July, no referrer information at all was being passed for around 75% of Google organic searches conducted on iOS 6 devices. Without the referrer, those clicks were viewed as direct site visits by web analytics, rather than organic searches. This had the effect of hiding about 14% of Google organic searches in Q2. RKG's latest data suggests that referrers are now missing for only around 40% of iOS 6 Google searches. That translates to about 6-7% more Google organic searches being accurately identified as such. But, since iOS 6 defaults to secure search, the return of those visits should be adding to the not provided bucket. Looking at a daily view of not provided share, we can clearly see when the iOS 6 clicks make their return:
Looking beyond the intra-week usage patterns, there was a one time spike in iOS 6 share of Google organic visits at the very end of July. Since then, iOS 6 share has been stable, if not trailing off a bit as more users make the move to iOS 7, ahead of its official release date next week.
Google "Racing to Encrypt"Three months after it helped to break the NSA surveillance story by publishing the documents Edward Snowden leaked on the PRISM program, the Washington Post asserted last week that:
Google is racing to encrypt the torrents of information that flow among its data centers around the world in a bid to thwart snooping by the NSA and the intelligence agencies of foreign governments...The story, written by Craig Timberg, is somewhat vague on the timing of the changes. It notes that the "encryption initiative" was approved last year and, but accelerated in June. The article later adds that, "the project is expected to be completed soon, months ahead of the original schedule." Although imprecise, that picture fits pretty well with what we are seeing with not provided searches. I should note that Timberg doesn't offer a clear mechanism by which more search queries would become not provided to websites under Google's new initiative, but rather he focuses on Google increasing encryption on the communications between its own servers. Still, the data suggest that in tandem with its internal overhaul, Google is pushing more users to secure search, regardless of their browser version or logged in status.
Not Provided by Browser VersionLooking at Google organic search data by browser version, we see that the percentage of not provided queries has risen much faster from early July to early September for some browsers:
Less Query Data, Less Representative DataThe flip side to all of this is the question: Where are the queries that are still being passed via referrer coming from? It's anecdotal, but I can't seem to conduct a Google search that does pass the query regardless of my browser, device, or whether I am logged in. Going back to the chart above, it is interesting to see that there are a number of browsers where not provided share is still close to zero. Among the most popular browsers, these cases are almost all older Safari or iOS versions. This raises the obvious question of how representative the remaining search query data is. Taking a look at the share of Google organic traffic overall and the share of Google searches that do provide the organic search query, there is a clear contrast:
Safari 5.1 is generating just 3% of Google organic visits overall, but it represents 12% of visits that pass the search query. Chrome 29 accounts for 28% of total visits, but just 8% of those that include the query. We know that user behavior can differ significantly by device or even browser version, so trying to extrapolate the remaining referrer-based search query data to the larger picture could very easily be leading to a skewed perspective on Google organic performance.