How to shed light on “dark social” referral traffic in Google Analytics

There’s an ominous cloud hovering over your social marketing metrics – it’s Dark Social. Traffic that masquerades as “direct” traffic, not to your homepage but to some deep site page. While not a “new” issue, estimates  peg 70% of social shares today as “dark.”

I’m Max Adagio from Castleford, Brafton’s APAC sister company- and in this Content and Coffee, I have a tip to gauge Dark Social shares for better referral traffic estimates in Google Analytics.

But before we dive in, let’s remember that “direct traffic” to deep pages could come from multiple sources:

  • The Dark social category includes links shared via native mobile social apps – like Facebook
  • Dark Social also covers URLs copied and pasted into chats or email
  • Secure browsing has nothing to do with shares, but might also appear as “direct” traffic to your site

But  with Dark Social whether it’s an Facebook share, or an IM, we’re still essentially missing a “social” action that counts as referral traffic. I recommend you create an Advanced Segment in Google Analytics to “take back” the dark visits. You’ll want to set up this segment to measure direct traffic visits that go to deep site pages.

To do this:

Build your segment in Analytics, and set the “Conditions” to EXCLUDE traffic that has the landing page equal to your homepage:

Google Analytics Segmenting Exclude

Then INCLUDE traffic which has a source equal to direct:

Google Analytics Segmenting Include

The result will not be a 100 percent look at Dark social visitors, but it will help you get a sense of where shared content could be yielding traffic you might have otherwise missed – perhaps even multiple times what your sharing widget counters suggest!

Are you worried about finding what’s actually your “most-shared” content? How are you covering dark social? Tell us in the comments, and be sure to tune in next week.

Max Adagio
Max Adagio is a content strategist at Castleford, Brafton's APAC sister company in New Zealand. Having graduated from Boston College, he promptly charted a professional course in emerging media. A dedicated fan of James Joyce, he likes to write fiction and often tries and fails to bring a literary sensibility to social media topics and practices.

Thoughts?