Android Google Search App Traffic Appears as Referral Source in Google Analytics
UPDATE 6/20/16: It appears that Google released updates to both the Google Search App and the Android System WebView browser app on 6/9/16. Since then, referrals from com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox have reduced dramatically. Simultaneously we are seeing a rise of mobile Direct traffic, which is a good indicator that it is going back to what it was. Unfortunately this may be a step backwards, as we are no longer able to differentiate it from other Direct traffic. Seer’s Analytics team will continue to monitor this.
Over the last month, new referral source may have creeped into your Google Analytics reports called “com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox”. What is this? It’s actually organic search traffic from the google android app. This referral source appears to be from Android users on both mobile and tablet devices that used the Google App to search for and access the website:
What's the impact on my Google Analytics reports?
For some, this may have flown under the radar, but for others it may be a little more serious:
As you can see in the screenshot above, traffic from this source can be pretty hefty depending on the website and its users’ search habits.
Around April 27, 2016, Google rolled out an update to the App that added a new identifier which Google Analytics recognizes as a referring website. Prior to April 27, this traffic may have appeared as Direct in GA:
As you can see above, sessions from Direct (orange) started to drop almost immediately when referrals from com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox made their appearance. This means that some Android Organic traffic may not have been recorded as true Google Organic in GA for some time.
Why am I still seeing Google Organic traffic from Android?
Indeed you are! This is what made this even more difficult to detect. You will still see Google Organic traffic from Android users as long as they’re searching on Google using the actual Google Chrome browser app, NOT the Google search bar app. The com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox referral is only attached to the Google search app and its built-in browser.
How does the Google Search Bar App work?
First, a user enters their search query into the Google search app.
It then serves up the results page. Notice it stays in app and does not display the search results in a browser.
When a user clicks a search result from the Google search bar app, it opens it within an in-app browser instead of their device's default browser app. When a link is opened in another app, the referrer is stripped. So previously, when search results were opened in the default browser, the traffic appeared as direct. By adding this in-app browser, the referrer is preserved. In this case, the referrer is an app, and comes in with a referral source of com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox.
Note that within android phones, the in-app browser is Chrome based, so if a user searches this way, it will still show up as Chrome in the GA reports.
How do I fix this?
This is obviously an inconvenience, as it tampers with reports and makes it more difficult to maintain clean attribution for user behaviors. The best solution is for Google to fix the referrer information for the Google app to properly identify as Organic Search. Unfortunately there is no telling when that will happen, so here are the best next steps for now:
- Because we are certain this is Organic Search traffic, a short-term solution could be to create and test a View Filter in Google Analytics to rewrite it as Google Organic traffic. Note: Seer always recommends creating a Test View in GA to verify Filter changes work as intended before rolling out to reporting Views!
- If you’d prefer not to implement a filter, another option is to simply build a GA session-level Advanced Segment to include both Organic traffic and referrals from com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox. Custom Channel Groupings may also be a solution.
- Aside from that, the only other thing we can all do is continue to get the information out there so Google sees it. Hopefully they will implement a fix on the app itself or in the Google Analytics framework.
Is there anything else I should know?
There is actually a benefit to having this come through as a referral in Google Analytics. Sometimes it sends a specific Referral Path beyond just “/”:
In some cases it was showing how many sessions were coming from search suggestions by the Google App. It is possible that the rest (from / and /https/www.google.com) are simply people entering the search phrase in without selecting a suggestion.
We are not seeing this for all clients. We even compared two clients in the same industry and only one of them are currently seeing referrals from com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox. We even have one client who has two GA Properties deployed (one Classic GA, the other Universal). In that particular case only Classic shows the referrals. It may be more isolated to Classic GA Properties, though we are seeing them in a few Universal Properties as well.
Are you seeing com.google.android.googlequicksearchbox in your Google Analytics Referral reports? Know anything else about it? Share your insights in the comments below!