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If your analytics tell you that your site gets a lot of direct traffic, there's a good chance it can't correctly determine where the traffic is coming from. This is especially true if they're supposedly visiting inner pages with long URLs. Do you think they're typing all that in manually to visit that page? No.
What's going on then? It's coined as Dark Social by Alexis Madrigal in an article on Atlantic.com back in 2012. And no, it has nothing to do with the scary "Dark Web."
What is Dark Social?
Dark social refers to copying/pasting and sharing links through private means, such as email, Facebook message, Skype, texts, etc. Most analytic programs can't track visits that result from these types of shares and click-throughs to your site. So instead, all this traffic gets categorized as direct traffic.
And "all this traffic" is probably more than you'd think. In 2014, Media Post said about 70% of social sharing happened on dark social. However, that number has only continued to rise. Radium One recently revealed that 84% of social sharing is now happening through private, dark social means.
Dark sharing leads the way in many different niches and categories of sites. See the infographic at the bottom of this post!
The Problem with Sharing via the Dark, Private Web
This is terrible news for marketers or business owners trying to figure out which content and advertising is effective and converting. To optimize marketing campaigns, you have to know what's working and what's not. What's driving traffic and what's converting – and what's not.
While there's no 100% foolproof way of tracking dark social, there are several tools that can help. Of course, you can set up Google Analytics to grab some of that traffic. Still, if you don't use GA or don't want to get down into the nitty-gritty of segmenting, there are other tools available.
Social IO, Po.st, and Share This all have some support for tracking dark social. If you use WordPress, it's even easier with the help of plugins.
Take Po.st, for example…
Using Radium One's Po.st for Tracking Dark Social
(Update: Radium One is now RhythmOne)
First, you would need to create an account on their site. You'll get to customize the buttons you want to use. Then either copy/paste a piece of code into your site or, as I did, install the plugin.
After it's installed, you'll need to go to your dashboard on the site to get your publisher key under Administration.
Put this key in the plugin settings.
Now if you look in your dashboard (on the site) under Social Tools, you should see that Dark social sharing is installed.
Written by Hostwinds Team / February 1, 2017