In the age of data, it is crucial to know where your traffic is coming from and although your analytics tool could be telling you that a large portion of your traffic is credited as direct traffic, it could be wrong, which is where Dark Social comes into play.

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Chances are you have sent a message like this either through text message, Facebook messenger, Snapchat, or WhatsApp… 

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Or maybe you need your friend’s opinion…

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WHAT IS DARK SOCIAL?

When people are directed to websites through non-public channels like chat services, emails and text messages, the data that tracks the source is gone, otherwise known as “Dark Traffic.” According to Simply Measured, the definition of Dark Social is traffic that originated from the share of a URL but is tracked as direct traffic in analytics tools.

Times have changed in the world of internet usage and there are now many ways to get to a website. It used to be that people would find their way to a specific site by typing in the website’s URL, searching for the website or by simply using a link. However, with the insane amount of social sites and the change in how people are using them, navigating to a website isn’t so traditional.

To put in some real world perspective on how often Dark Social is happening, I’ll use myself as an example. I am a 21-year-old in college and currently I have a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and if I am being totally honest, I am using those apps quite frequently throughout my day. I think that Facebook and Instagram especially have made it extremely easy to share content with your friends, for example the other day I was scrolling through my Instagram and there was an ad for a pair of sunglasses. Immediately after seeing the sunglass ad I found the link to the page they were on and shared it with my friend via Instagram message. After my friend clicked that link in the message, her traffic source became “direct.” Like me, you may be interacting with Dark Social daily and not even be realizing it.

I first want to make sure I’m not sending the message that these leads to the websites are unqualified. The change in the way people share nowadays have driven more traffic to websites, the problem is lies when the analysts tries to track the data and essentially prove it’s worth. It’d be easy (but incorrect) for analysts to assume that all direct traffic was attributed to these shares happening between two people, direct traffic is truly direct only when a person goes to the URL by typing it into the address bar.

The value in knowing the exact sources of your traffic is huge for many reasons. First is that Dark Social is e v e r y w h e r e, with so many people constantly on their mobile devices, it makes sharing links through various apps easier than ever. Dark Social is also a great marketing opportunity because it gives you an insider’s view of consumer’s true interests, this is a way for your company to target them more directly.  RadiumOne conducted researched that showed 46% of consumers 55 and older only share via dark social, where as 19% of consumers ages 16-34 do so, by knowing this you can see that Dark Social reaches unique demographics.  Now that you know what Dark Social is and why it’s so important, here are some ways that marketers can bring it out of the dark.

HOW CAN YOU TRACK DARK SOCIAL?

  1. UTM PARAMATERS & TRACKABLE URLS

UTM parameters/Codes may be a foreign subject to you, essentially UTM parameters are a different type of URL parameter. Now you may be wondering what a URL parameter is, right? A  URL parameter is a short code that can be added to a URL. The only difference between a URL parameter and a UTM parameter is that URL parameters can be used to modify the content on a website whereas a UTM parameter are used for the sole purpose of tracking. Five different UTM parameters exist: campaign source, campaign name, campaign content, campaign medium and campaign term. By adding UTM parameters to your social links, it helps you prove the value of your social media efforts and demonstrates the impact it is having on your company.

Here is an example of a URL that contains UTM parameters:

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  1. CUSTOM SEGMENTS

One way marketers can identify Dark Social is by creating custom segments in Google Analytics. This method only provides an estimate, but it does give them an idea on the people who visited a URL by a shared link vs traffic who types in the URL directly.

How to create a custom segment in Google Analytics: 
1. Create a custom segment to view direct traffic only. Select Apply.

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2. Then, to view a list that shows your top visited pages via direct traffic go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages

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3. Next, open an advanced filter and set up a series of dimensions that do not include pages that have short subfolder names. (The part of the URL after the domain)

  • By applying these advanced filters, it excludes the URL’s that are extremely long, which consumers are unlikely to type out.

 

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  1. URL SHORTENERS

Another way to identify these Dark Social occurrences is to use URL shorteners to track outbound links, an example of a URL shortener is Bit.ly. Twitter uses a special “t.co” shortener that which makes Twitter referrals easily trackable.  This method is a way to save some of your analytics, unlike most platforms like Google Analytics, Adobe Omniture and Chartbeat just have a “direct” section in their reports.

  1. SHARING WIDGETS

Sharing widgets are a way for analysts to measure content interaction across it’s websites and social media platforms. These widgets make sharing easy for the visitors of your website. Instead of having your widgets located at the bottom of the article, place them strategically near the top.

  1. Dark Social Tools

There are now many tools on the market that allow analysts to track dark social and its outcomes.

  1. Po.st – A product of RadiumOne that allows users to post content and provides revenue opportunities for publishers and unique dark social tools.
  2. ShareThis – This tool can be customized measure copy and shares of your website’s URL and it also allows people to share any piece of content on the internet through email, direct messaging or text message.
  3. Get Social.io – This is a social media app store which provides you with a specific code that you paste into the HTML <head> section of your website. You then download the Address Bar Tracking app and you’re ready to start tracking dark social.

Hopefully this article will help bring your company’s Dark Social traffic into the light. As a Digital Marketing Agency, we are here to help with all your digital questions and needs. If you want to learn more about Dark Social and how you can combat it, contact us today.

 

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