Sudden Increase In Traffic? It Might Be Dark Social.
- Logic dictates that a clickthrough from social media should be recorded as referral traffic, but that’s not always the case.
- Dark social is the term used for traffic that comes to your site from social sources but is not actually reported as referral traffic.
- Knowing about dark social can help you and your businesses make more informed decisions about online marketing strategies.
- Looking purely at referral traffic to measure how successful social shares are, will have you missing the bigger picture.
Since Alexis Madrigal’s article in The Atlantic, dark social has been on the lips of many an online marketer and SEO practitioner. As a business however, you may not have been introduced to the term.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t affecting your traffic, and therefore your data. Having an understanding of where all of your traffic may be coming from can be a valuable tool across the business board.
What exactly is dark social?
When a person types your URL directly into the address bar it shows up in analytics as direct traffic. If somebody clicks a link from another website that takes a user to your website, this is recorded as referral traffic. Logic dictates that a clickthrough from social media should thus be recorded as referral traffic and allow you to see the source of this traffic.
But that’s not always the case.
Dark social is the term used for traffic that comes to your site from social sources (i.e. via a kind of referral) but is not actually reported as referral traffic. Dark social is almost always reported as direct traffic.
This misrepresentation of data has become more frequent as mobile internet access has risen.
There are several main sources of dark social traffic:
- Instant messengers (such as Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger)
- Native apps (e.g Facebook or Twitter)
Why is it showing up as direct traffic?
These sources of referral traffic are collected as direct traffic because they are being opened separately from the platform the link is on.
In practice this means that even though Facebook Chat is on Facebook, it is a private platform. By clicking a link in messenger one is then taken to a new window in the browser. This registers on tracking platforms like Google Analytics as a direct visit. Because both open in a news browser and navigate directly to the site, there is nothing to distinguish organic from referral traffic of this kind.
For example, if you click a link on Twitter (when you are in the app – not your browser) it will open the linked page in your browser. Because you are exiting the app (and entering the browser) the traffic is once again seen as direct.
Why should your business care?
Traffic to your site can tell you a great deal about your marketing. Whether it is SEO and content marketing, social media marketing or print marketing, the various forms of traffic coming to your site help you analyse how successful those marketing efforts have been.
Usually an influx in direct traffic would signal that your branded marketing efforts (whether online of offline) are yielding results. However, if content is regularly and proactively being shared through platforms that generate dark social traffic then some of that direct traffic may be due to effective social marketing – even though the traffic may not reflect it.
Whilst there is not much you can do to determine exactly what portion of your direct traffic is potentially dark social traffic, simply knowing about the dark social “problem” can help you and your businesses make more informed decisions about your online marketing strategies and their effectiveness.
If you are creating quality content (as part of an SEO campaign or just to improve the visibility of your brand) and you are sharing that content via social platforms, looking purely at referral traffic to measure how successful those shares are, will have you missing the bigger picture.