How to identify potential Apple News traffic in Google Analytics
Apple News may be contributing a useful amount of traffic to your website but you may not be able to tell whether this is the case. If you have traffic from sites like Google News, you can always track this in Google Analytics because the Source field of such traffic will be listed as news.google.com (or news.google.co.uk, news.google.co.jp etc). However, Google Analytics does not identify Apple News as a specific source.
I managed to determine a potential way of flagging Apple News traffic after an interesting surge in traffic to a news story that we published at the The Institute of Cancer Research. The story was published on a Thursday and traffic declined on the following day (following a typical pattern for our news).
On the Saturday I wrote a blog post about the story on my own science blog and later that day I noticed that that traffic to the ICR news story had increased almost 500%.
Initially I thought that this was due to the link from my blog post to the news item. Then I realised that my blog isn’t that popular and this wouldn’t explain the surge in traffic.
What was odd was that this new traffic was nearly all ‘Direct’, whereas for a typical ICR news story, we would have a high proportion of ‘Organic’ and social media traffic.
Apple News to the rescue
I then remembered that I had set up my blog to automatically publish as a channel in the Apple News app. My post was showing up as the #1 or #2 item in various science categories relating to the topic (e.g. ‘Genomics’).
I suspected that Apple News was probably responsible for the increase in traffic and set about seeing whether I could identify the components of the traffic in Google Analytics and create a segment to easily flag such traffic. Turns out that you can do this with just three rules:
1. set Operating System to be iOS
2. set Browser to be ‘Safari (in-app)’
3. set Source to be ‘direct’
If you create a segment in Google Analytics, you can set the first two rules in the ‘Technology’ section and the last rule in the ‘Traffic Sources’ section. You must select ‘Safari (in-app)’ and not ‘Safari’ (this is because links clicked on stories within Apple News are displayed using the Safari in-app browser).
An important caveat is that this segment might include non-Apple News traffic. If people use other iOS apps with in-app browsers to read your news, then this would traffic would be probably be indistinguishable from what I am calling Apple News traffic.
This may be an issue if your news story of interest features on sites like reddit.
Another minor issue is that, as a user-based segment, you can only look at date ranges of up to 90 days.