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SEOs rejoice! Is Apple now passing the refer in iOS 6?

When Apple first launched iOS 6, it caused a bit of an uproar among digital marketers. Depending on how an iOS 6 user searches in Google, it used to be the case that the refer would not always be passed. If the search box in the top right was used, no refer would be passed and the organic traffic would be incorrectly attributed as direct.

This had big implications when tracking campaign performance, as iOS 6 accounts for around 30% of traffic, resulting in approximately 15% of overall traffic being misattributed.

This week, Searchengineland reported that on the latest version, iOS 7, Apple was again passing the refer. But does this now apply to iOS 6 too? That’s what our data at Arena suggests.

Using various iPhones running iOS 6 in the office at Arena, our tests consistently show the refer being passed. Next, we looked at the web analytics of our clients.

Case study one: This client receives 1m+ visits monthly to their website. Gradually, over the past few months, the proportion of their keywords which are encrypted (represented by the green line) has gradually increased. However, since the 30th July, the proportion of encrypted keywords has jumped by 6% in just one day. This is consistent with our observation as, even though a refer is passed, no keyword is passed within it.


When we investigated the web analytics in more depth, we saw a decline in direct traffic.

Case study two: Again, this client receives 1m+ visits monthly. Assuming that the change was made on the 29th, Arena looked at the amount of traffic attributed to organic search on iOS 6 devices and compared it to the same period in the previous week; the amount of organic iOS 6 traffic increased by 50%. Overall traffic was flat period on period, while, as you might expect, direct traffic fell.

As the SEO channel matures, the need for data to support the business case for investment increases. This change will certainly help that cause, and is great news for digital marketers.

So, what do you think ?