Are you ignoring 74% of all online sharing activity? Everything you need to know about Dark Social

27 July 2016

Are you ignoring 74% of all online sharing activity? Everything you need to know about Dark Social

We all love to track how people find our websites online (that’s not just us, right?) so that we can learn about what is effective and what is a waste of our time. However, an increasing awareness of ‘dark social’ traffic is making it clear that there is an awful lot going on that we don’t understand.

Dark social, also known as the invisible web, is responsible for social traffic that cannot be tracked or traced. In Analytics, dark social traffic can come under the ‘direct traffic’ heading, assuming that people typed in a URL or got to a website from the bookmarks in their browser. If there is no referrer, that traffic could be from dark social sources.

Different to the dark web (a network of underground websites accessible through secure browsers such as Tor, often hosting illegal activities such as drug and gun sales), dark social is simply a way to describe social traffic that cannot be quantified. Perhaps somebody found your article because a friend shared a link to it on WhatsApp, or by text message. Or you copy a link into an Instagram post (where the link is not clickable) and your friends copy and paste this into their browser.

In Analytics, Google groups all of this traffic together as ‘direct traffic’, just because it’s untrackable.

So, how do you quantify and track dark social traffic?

Look at the direct referral traffic you can see in Google Analytics. People who landed at your homepage may well have typed the URL in themselves or relied on a bookmark in their browser. But is anyone likely to have typed in a URL like http://dbdmedia.co.uk/our-thoughts/post/?s=2016-06-16-what-is-adwords-account-automation-a-guide-on-where-to-start? With long, detailed URLs like this, there’s a good chance it originated from dark social.

Segmenting your traffic in this way will help to give you a clearer idea of which traffic is coming from dark social sources, and you can begin to analyse the behaviour and conversion patterns of this traffic alone.

Given that dark social traffic accounts for 74% of all online traffic, it should not be ignored, and we should always be trying to get a clearer understanding of where that traffic comes from and how it behaves. Facebook, the next most popular sharing platform, is way behind in comparison, with 19% of trackable shares.

You can encourage dark social sharing by including share buttons for email and apps like WhatsApp. You can use UTM tracking codes or other trackable links to start to get a picture of which traffic comes from where. The more you understand about where your traffic comes from, and how those referral sources affect behaviour and conversions on your site, the better you can optimise your website to take advantage of it.