Unveiling the Truth behind Dark Social

[fa icon="calendar"] Dec 2, 2013 7:30:00 AM / by Katrice Svanda

Katrice Svanda

Unveiling the Truth behind Dark Social.png

Demystifying Dark Social

Dark social: a phrase so mysterious that most people would prefer to overlook its existence.  Dark social is online traffic and shared web content that cannot be identified by analytics software.  In other words, this is the private, or “invisible” sharing of web content.  Google analytics easily traces traffic from social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ because those platforms send referral data.  However, web content links sent privately via email, online chat, or mobile text message do not send referral data.  Analytics programs sometimes cannot track the source of unidentified online visitors.  Don’t let this world of unknown web traffic keep you in the dark!

How Important is Dark Social?

The “Dark Social network” represents unknown online referrals.  You often do not know why or how these visitors arrive to your website.  How can you measure the true success of online marketing without tracking “invisible” flows of traffic?  When you fail to recognize dark social, marketing efforts might be spent in the wrong places and lead opportunities might fall through the cracks, which could result in significant losses in ROI!  Marketers spend time, effort, and money analyzing and improving website traffic.  Online traffic turns into leads, who turn into customers, who eventually turn into brand advocates.  Although dark social is difficult to track, it should still be taken into consideration for marketing strategy and planning.

The Surface Level of Marketing Analytics

Analytics software helps marketers measure the success of online marketing efforts.  It becomes effortless to create easily measurable reports based on the surface level of analytics information. The foundation of marketing strategy is based on segmenting, testing and tracking.  Marketers should measure the ROI of marketing efforts to invest more resources in the things that work and to stop investing in the things that do not work.  When companies only track main social media platforms to determine traffic from referral website links, they ignore private social sharing outside of public social media platforms.  In today’s digital world, both public and private sharing of web content are essential for online marketing, as many marketers depend on customers and fans to spread marketing campaigns.  Avoid the temptation of staying at the surface level of marketing analytics when important information often lies below.

Decoding Dark Social

Although dark social is complicated to track, marketers should at least be aware that it exists.  Google Analytics bundles dark social under direct traffic, although not all direct traffic is dark social.  Direct traffic arrives at your website without any referrals, most often when online users either type URLs directly into the address bar or click on saved bookmarks.  Direct traffic also includes traffic from untracked email campaigns and privately shared content, which are both security-restricted online environments that do not pass referrals.  Traffic from email or chat links should not be classified as the same kind of traffic as typing full URLs into the address bar!  For marketers, there are two ways to decode dark social. 

  1. The first method to find dark social links in Google analytics is to identify the long and complicated URLs that appear impossible for users to recall and type directly into the address bar.  
  2. The second method is to create an advanced filter on Google Analytics.  This will track all visitors who click a deep link and arrive at a page on your website without first landing on the home page.  Using the advanced segment button on Google Analytics, you can add a new segment that excludes the landing page that exactly matches “/” and the source contains (direct).

The perfect solution to dark social is still in the shadows.  Let this be a wake-up call to all marketers that dark social not only exists, but also has value.  Don’t miss out on hidden, yet worthwhile, marketing opportunities! With the ease of online web analytics, we often overlook the importance of testing and tracking the ROI of marketing campaigns.  To gain a competitive edge, dig a little deeper and don’t base your marketing analysis on the surface level of basic analytics software.  Learn how to attract, capture, and monetize dark social traffic by taking analytics for what they truly are, not for how they appear. 

Inbound Marketing Agency Houston

About Digital Impact Agency

Digital Impact Agency is a creative firm specializing in interactive media and inbound marketing strategies for manufacturing and technology companies, professional service firms (architectural, engineering, construction, legal and consulting), nonprofits and enterprise companies. We are a team of innovative entrepreneurs focused on creating the most strategic and effective communication channels for our clients.



Topics: social media, inbound marketing, marketing strategy

Katrice Svanda

Written by Katrice Svanda

Katrice Svanda is a Founder and CEO for Digital Impact Agency, a Houston-based digital media and inbound marketing agency. Her background includes over 15 years of experience in the technology industry from marketing emerging technologies to participating in several technology spin-offs. Katrice has created successful marketing campaigns for business-to-business, business-to-consumer, and business-to-government.