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What is Dark Social?

Dark social is social sharing on social platforms that cannot be tracked or being picked up by web analytics. Dark social traffic comes from private social channels like messaging apps like WhatsApp and Signal, email, text messages/SMS and messenger applications.

Not being able to track the origin of these messages via analytic tools will make it difficult for you to gauge your traffic analytics on your website. In this way, you will not be able to tell the origin compared to when a website visitor visits your site from social platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

By sharing links through private messaging apps like WhatsApp, the links shared lack referral tags, making the analytics display as ‘direct’ traffic when the recipient visits the site. Direct traffic is when someone willingly types a URL and doesn’t click on a shared link to get to the site. In this sense, dark social poses a problem since it causes your analytics to appear inaccurate.

How Do You Track Dark Social?

Dark social traffic cannot be fully traced and you cannot accurately identify from your analytics report that there is a dark social traffic. Still, it can be managed to a certain extent. Let’s take a look at how you can attempt to manage and track dark social:

Through Google Analytics

That’s really the only way. Try using Google Analytics to get a deeper understanding of the amount of dark social traffic that you are getting on your site. Clicking or tapping on a link that has been shared to you through WhatsApp, email, or any other social media platform displays on Google analytics the same way it would have when you typed the URL into the address.

To track this, you must first create a segment in GA that includes traffic only, excluding any pages that one is most likely to be bookmarked or typed which includes your homepage and other similar pages. This is done by going to Audience > Overview on your Google Analytics website and clicking on the Add Segment option. A list of segment options will be displayed. Select Direct Traffic deselecting any other segment option. Click on Apply.

You can also go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages which will give you a list of all your web pages previously accesses through direct traffic. You can select which pages you would like to block traffic to since it’s unexpected that someone might type directly, but a user can directly return to the page such as through their search history.

By clicking on the Advanced link to create a new filter, the first filter automatically defaults to include a page, and in the dropdown list displayed, you will have to change Include to Exclude. Select Page as the dimension and type in the directory of your simpler web pages such as homepage. Add as many pages as you’d like.

Outside of Google Analytics there are other methods which are cumbersome: adding sharing buttons and tracking codes where the share buttons for various platforms makes it easier for people to share your content. You can also add a tracking code to the link and keep track of the traffic.

Knowing how dark social works will greatly help you know how to handle it which goes a long way in tracking your website’s analytics and understand your traffic.


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