Visitors from the Pinterest iOS app are not being tracked as coming from Pinterest in Google Analytics and other log based tracking programs. This underreporting of Pinterest traffic is significant. In my analysis, Pinterest mobile iOS traffic would have contributed an additional 64% more unique visitors from Pinterest than Google Analytics currently reports. To put it another way, 38% of Pinterest traffic is not showing up as coming from Pinterest.
Google Analytics doesn’t track Pinterest iOS App traffic as coming from Pinterest.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way. When a person clicks on a image in the Pinterest iOS app, they are taken to an external website, that website loads in the Pinterest app’s own browser. I tested this myself, and it was also tested by Joe Simonson, a web developer and regular Google Analytics user.
Google tracks this visit as a direct referal on a mobile device with the browser being Mozilla Compatible Agent.
Pinterest underreported traffic by the numbers
I had the unique circumstance where a new site was getting significant traffic that I believed was 90% from Pinterest. But Pinterest (including mobile) was only showing up as 48% of the referrals.
For reference, here are the top ten traffic sources for the month of June.
Because the site was so new, I immediately believed that this direct, no referral traffic could not all be traditional direct traffic like a user entering the url, clicking a bookmark or having enhanced privacy enabled. Also, all the direct traffic was matching the characteristics of Pinterest referal traffic closely.
The site I examined had these stats for the month of June (all unique visitors):
- Total Visitors: 53,380
- Identified Pinterest referals: 25,607
- Mobile Direct Traffic (No referral): 18,115
- App Traffic (no referral): 16,410
- Browser: Mozillla Compatible Agent
- Mobile: Yes
- Operating System: iOS
- Source: (direct)
- App Traffic (no referral): 16,410
With identified Pinteret traffic at 25,607, the iOS direct traffic would be 64% of that. I can’t say all the traffic is from Pinterest, but based on my observations below, I believe close to all of it is.
While it is possible that other apps would occassionaly send traffic to the site I examined, Pinterest referred visitors and direct traffic (with no referral) track together day in and day out for for the entire month. The only exceptions was the two times that this site got promoted on Twitter. In the example below you can see that both the Twitter and App traffic spiked on June 30th, but then in the next hour Pinterest and App traffic again went back to their very similar pattern.
Pinterest’s site being down on Friday evening (6/29) was further confirmation that this traffic was coming from Pinterest (see the second blue box in the image above). I was monitoring Real Time analytics and the traffic to this site just stopped. Both Pinterest referral traffic and direct traffic went to zero. Once Pinterest was back up the traffic resumed it’s normal pattern.
Joe Simonson examined the Google Analytics for the site and determined:
You’ve obviously got a great case here with the power outage to prove the point. But for sites where direct traffic is a possibility, then it will be hard to segment.
Analysis of hourly traffic [Video]
Implications of underreporting
38% of Pinterest referral traffic now coming from the iOS app
If your website gets traffic from Pinterest, it is likely much more than you realize. The site I examined uses responsive web design, so that is part of the reason it does so well on mobile, but 96% of all traffic was new to the site. Thus the quality of the site doesn’t figure that much into where the traffic is coming from (web, mobile browser or app). This leads me to believe that that 38% of all Pinterest traffic, at least from the site in question but possibly in general, is coming from the Pinterest iOS app. And this traffic is not showing up as coming from Pinterest.
*38% is derrived from:
No Source iOS Mozilla App Traffic / (Tracked Pinterest Traffic + No Source iOS Mozilla App Traffic)
The problems with tracking mobile app traffic
Unfortunately for those who want to track how much traffic is coming from Pinterest, the method I used of segmenting direct traffic (no referral, moblie, iOS, and Mozilla Compatible Agent browser) won’t always provide a clear picture of Pinterest traffic, but it will help you figure out when traffic is coming from mobile iOS apps.
Jim Gianoglio, Manager of Insight: Social & Mobile at LunaMetrics, told me that many app visits will show up this way. He indicated that Facebook has figured out a way to resolve this issue with their app, but that Twitter, while better tracking referrals with the t.co link shortener, still sends traffic from their own apps (as well as many third party apps) without clear referral attribution.
Joe Simonson had a similar perspective. He added that, “Twitter iPhone traffic can be determined by looking at the raw log files, but Google Analytics isn’t going to do a good job of telling you where the traffic came from. So this makes it especially hard for Pinterest traffic. Keeping an eye out for ‘webkit’ strings would give you app traffic, but without some additional info tagged on, it isn’t going to give you the whole story.”
Is there a way to better track these missing Pinterest visitors?
Sadly, no. I did several test pins that had Google tracking code added to them. When clicking through these pins in the app, they just showed up as direct traffic.
My own suggestion is to at least create an advanced segment in your Google Analytics account to be able to track iOS app traffic.
If you already get a significant amount of traffic from Pinterest, the results could be helpful.
If you have any thoughts on this post or have ideas to better track Pinterest iOS app traffic, please post them in the comments.