Shedding Light on the World of Dark Social

Posted by: Shane Stafford in: Digital/Social -

barcelona spain - june 28 2015 - tourist taking a photo of the magic fountain with an iphone

We’ve all done it: participated in dark social. But it’s not as illicit as it sounds. Dark Social is web traffic generated from social shares that do not pass as referrals by analytic tools. These social shares are usually links copied and pasted into emails, direct messages, texts or shared via apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp. These shares are not tracked as social media referrals in Google Analytics but rather show up as direct traffic.


Dark Social is responsible for up to 60% of overall referral traffic to websites (hootsuite.com) and according to a June RadiumOne report, 82% of content shared on mobile is via dark social.

These numbers are too large for social media managers to ignore. In addition, these shares tend to have more value than a public social share as they are usually one-on-one sharing between people who know each other well, and are therefore further on the customer journey and more invested in the purchase or content.

There are a few things social media managers can do to track this valuable dark social activity:

  • Link shortening (bit.ly). URL shortened links help track clicks, but doesn’t go very deep due to the shortened URL length. However, this can be especially useful if you are not using analytics.
  • Use the Google Analytics URL builder to add parameters to all posts. The Google Analytics URL builder adds parameters to URLs you use in custom web-based or emailed campaigns. Users click a custom link and the parameters are sent to your analytics account so the URLs that are the most effective can be identified. This tool goes deeper than link shortening.
  • Create a filter for dark social traffic in Google Analytics. Use the advanced segment to track visitors who arrived at your site with a click to a deep link without visiting the home page. Or for specific posts (long links) you know someone most likely didn’t type into a browser.

Although there isn’t a way to completely track dark social traffic, using one or more of these methods will help uncloud some of your direct traffic data and shed some light on the effect of dark social on your brand.

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