What is dark social?

What is dark social?_5ee33d1d820e1.jpeg

Dark social traffic comes from private social channels. This can be emails or messenger apps containing links that don’t contain any kind of identification. For example, if a link to a product page on your site is shared in a group WhatsApp message, you won’t know that this is how the traffic has reached your site, it will be listed as direct.

The problem is that Analytics software is not capable of tracking the traffic origin when it comes to dark social channels, so it’s typically classified as direct. Social platforms which show in your analytics data as ‘direct’ include;

  • Emails
  • Text messages/SMS/iMessage
  • Apps such as Snapchat WhatsApp
  • Secure browsing

Can you track dark social traffic?

It might be obvious from the opening remarks, but there is no way to 100% accurately track your websites dark social traffic – after all, it is called dark social for a reason.

It’s clear why your user traffic from WhatsApp or emails is labelled as direct – GA thinks you’ve bookmarked or typed in the URL directly in your browser, ergo direct traffic.

However, if we’re smart, we can put a few systems in place, which can help us potentially identify dark social traffic.

URL filters

If you’re seeing high levels of direct traffic to a long URL, for example;


We can see from the length and complexity of this URL that it would be very unlikely that someone has manually typed this directly into their browser.

Within Google Analytics you can create segments that could help you determine the source of some of your direct traffic.

Once you have created a segment for direct traffic only, you can integrate a filter to exclude pages that are easily remembered, quick to type and potentially bookmarked. This should include the likes of blog, contact, careers and any other short URLs in your site structure.

You should ensure you include direct traffic only within your Traffic Sources and ensure that your filters are set up to exclude any return visitors. You may need to segment this more closely, ensuring that it is aligned with how you understand your visitor’s activity and behaviours on your site.

Share buttons and UTM tags

Share buttons make it super easy for your users to share information with their friends and networks, whilst ensuring that your tracking codes remain intact.

Equally, ensuring you add UTM tracking codes to any links that you share, is another way to alleviate the guesswork. They’re easy to generate and alongside a simple tracking document, you can more easily attribute your traffic to specific efforts.

For example, rather than just knowing that traffic to your new blog post has come from Twitter, a UTM can be customised with the day or time you posted, the source and the campaign.

Through this, you more easily find the right times and days of the week to post to certain channels. Equally, you can use them in your email marketing to identify which elements in a specific campaign have been clicked on such as a header or a button. This can help you determine what content yields the highest CTR. Here’s an example of a UTM link:


From this, we can see that anyone who clicks this link, has done so from this blog post. This works the same way with swapping out the source, medium and campaign to whatever channel details the link is being shared to. This can be easily generated using Google’s UTM URL builder.

You should ensure that you save all of your UTM links in a document so that you can easily go back and make sure you haven’t already used that UTM URL structure to save confusion in the future.

Why should I care about dark social traffic?

It’s important to at least try to understand your dark social traffic. The reason for this is that it reveals more information about customer brand trust.

As consumers, we typically only send links that we trust to friends, family, peers, and colleagues, so dark social has the capability to reveal what brands people are talking about and what content they are sharing.

These conversations can be a gold mine for companies who can access and utilise the data effectively allowing them to build their future activities around user preference and see better ROI from their activities, as a result.

With over three quarters of consumers’ sharing content from publishers and brands websites to dark social channels, it’s valuable for businesses to try and analyse this to build a better understanding of what their customers want from them.

Customers typically only share the things that matter to them which can inspire brands to shift their content strategy and ensure their activities are geared towards ROI and building the brand experience.

For more information on how to better track your website traffic and make the most of your dark social data, get in touch with us today.


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