What Is Dark Social?

What is Dark Social? The Internet is all around us and has become a big part of our everyday life. Today we have become more and more dependent on technology and that we spend too much time on our computers as well as constantly browsing the web for different reasons.

The Internet is an unlimited source of information and we use it for means of entertainment, work, connecting and many others. But what is Internet if not a big web connecting different places that hold pieces of information. As in life, if you want to go to a certain place you have to know its exact address or to make sure you first search for it so you can find it, well that’s pretty much how the internet traffic works.

If you have your own website, blog or you simply wanted to check on the traffic reports of a certain page using any web analytic tool you might have noticed that a really big part of the traffic is actually labeled as “direct”. Does this mean that a big part of the people who visited your website typed the URL manually? No, just a large part of this “direct” traffic is dark social. This is a term created by Alexis Madrigal and introduced to the public in 2012 in one of his articles for the Atlantic http://theatln.tc/2c5c5iJ. In it, Madrigal talks about the current state of web traffic analytics and questions its effectiveness as it doesn’t seem to account the importance of link sharing via instant messaging.

Dark social describes any web traffic with unknown source. If people had used different social media tools to share the link or they simply googled it to find it, on the end of the URL you will find an attached tag leading to the source of its referral. By using this tag, web traffic analytic tools are able to decide if the traffic comes from search, social media sharing or else. So basically, if someone shared something on Twitter and you click on it, the URL will contain a tag that refers to it.
Dark social doesn’t have such tags and so it doesn’t provide any information about the source of information which visitor used to get to this specific web page. This occurs when the link of a web page has been copied by a person and sent via instant messaging to another. Let’s say you find a really interesting article, you copy the link and send it in through some personal chat to your friend. When your friend opens the link it has no trace of how he found about it. If the owner of the page runs web traffic analysis, the tool he is using won’t be able to find its source and will mark it as “direct” traffic.

Although there is still not a guaranteed way to measure the exact amount of traffic coming from the dark social, you can safely assume that almost all the traffic labeled as “direct” is coming from it. So even by using the same tools you will have a general idea of what percent of the traffic is coming from direct messaging between people. Even though it has no source, dark social is really important. If you have high amounts of “direct” traffic it’s a good indicator, this means that many people found the content on your web page interesting and are willing to share it with other specific people they think they would be interested to read it too. To get best of it, you can always use tools that shorten the URL, which will give you the opportunity to customize your link and give it a proper description. If you know of any great tools used to capture dark social traffic please let us know in the comments below.

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