Dark social traffic and why you need to know about it

Written by Kirsty Perkins


dark social

Dark social is the act of sharing content through a private channel directly to another person, bypassing the standard metric tracking. Private sharing is much harder to manage than content that has been shared on a public platform for all to see.

Let me paint you a picture…

Imagine you’re browsing Facebook on your lunch break when you come across a humorous article titled “10 of the best shamed dogs.” Now instead of sharing this with your network of family and friends on your feed, you decide to share this with the one person who appreciates a naughty dog just as much as you do. Instead, you decide to send it directly through Facebook Messenger – a private messaging app. Of course, they then click the link and appreciate how you’ve just made their day with 10 images of 10 shamed dogs. Well, you’ve just engaged in dark social.

Common traffic channels

The reason why dark social traffic is so elusive, is because we can’t see where it has come from. Some examples of the aforementioned private channels are:

  • Private messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger
  • Email
  • Text messaging/SMS

When reviewing website analytics, dark social is any web traffic that cannot be attributed to a known source. Referral traffic will have a specific tag associated to it, with one of the most commonly used tags being generated with a UTM code.

So if dark social cannot be attributed to social media or referral, what is the source? Well, dark social is part of what is making up your direct traffic.

Dealing with dark social

After you’ve spent all of that time lovingly crafting your content, it’s just as important to measure its performance and know where your engaged readers are coming from. Unfortunately, this isn’t a case of waving a magic wand and it will all disappear – but you can help to minimise it.

If you’re not doing so already, you need to be using tracking links to paint a clearer picture of where your traffic is coming from. Another option is to add share buttons to the original source – adding social share buttons can help track the number of shares your content gets.

Still not sure you’ve solved the problem? There are several tools available online that can track the source of dark social traffic and aid in analysing an issue you may have.

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