Dark social is a term used to explain web traffic whose source attribution is unclear – the true origin you can’t find or don’t know. Typically this traffic shows up as “Direct” in analytics because it comes from a copy/paste URL which you do not know where the user acquired it, nor do you know what was said about the link – the visitor just appears on the site.
There are two distinct parts – the analytics direct traffic – and also the more commonly used direct messaging for social sharing. This can be tracked by brands if the messaging app is part of the social site e.g. Facebook and Facebook Messenger. The source can be tracked even if you do not know the message or its context (because it was a private message).
Sharing apps are often encouraged by site owners – this site still has a share button and I’m sure yours does too.
If your reader chooses SMS, email or WhatsApp share then you have no way of tracking it.
Frustratingly, I have also fallen foul of this – when with a prospective client, I show them a web page on my phone, hit the share button and invite them to put their own email or phone number and to send themselves. I thought I would be able to later save their phone or email to my contacts. Wrong. It’s gone.
Jay Baer checked his own site and found his B2B website got a lot of dark social shares.
We also looked at the lead figures for a recent webinar. Five percent were attributed to direct by Google Analytics, even though the sign-up page was not accessible anywhere on the website. That means it’s not possible that these people landed on the page directly, and our analysis wasn’t entirely accurate.
Improve your ability to view dark social shares
ShareThis is a much-used social sharing plugin and they have adjusted their code so that they can track dark social shares. The tool is free to install and offers all the popular sites as pre-created.
You can also create custom share buttons which can be designed into your site colourways, have unique, trackable attributes which you define. This allows a “share count” to be generated and logged for your site.
Creating your own custom short URLs (bit.ly or similar) and using UTM markers can help you to track these shares, so that your “direct” traffic is further reduced, tracked and defined.