What is Dark Social?
It sounds like something bad or sinister. It could be the title of a horror movie, but the reality is less threatening.
Dark social is actually a good thing. Dark social is social media-generated traffic on your website that is unable to be tracked. Dark social-generated traffic is the large number of direct visitors to a certain web page, that you have no idea where they came from.
For example, here is the specific URL for our video marketing blog of December 2016:
If there was a sudden increase in direct traffic to this specific page it would be unlikely that users were typing in the entire URL. The real cause of the spike in traffic is that people copied links using email or text message. That is dark social.
Why can’t the traffic be tracked?
Clicks on a LinkedIn update, Facebook link or Twitter post can all be tracked in Google Analytics. Google also gives you ability to see who arrives at your website through their search engine or another search engine like Bing.
Google Analytics will also tell you direct traffic. This is any visitor that directly types in your address into their web browser, pulls it from a bookmark, or gets a direct link.
Anytime a person shares your link by text message or email by copying the URL, it will show as direct traffic. And therein lies the problem with tracking this type of engagement.
Why is this a problem?
Dark social is a good problem to have. If you’re getting extra website traffic that you can’t track you know a few things:
More visitors are coming to your website
People are sharing your content
You are creating relevant content for your audience
Your audience on social media is engaged in what you are posting, but likely don’t want to “share” that content to their own friends and followers. And that is ok. Social media users view dozens if not hundreds of posts a day. Most share, or even like, a very small percentage of that content.
If they thought enough to email your link to a friend, or copy in a text message that means your content is resonating with your followers. More than half of Facebook users access the site exclusively from a mobile device. For these users the easiest way to share is by text message, directly to specific friends.
Shortened URLs have been around for years to give a cleaner, more visually appealing link when sharing content. If not tracked properly, these links could also appear as direct traffic.
Google Analytics does allow users to track their campaigns through custom URLs. After creating these custom URLs, they can be shortened and you are still able to track campaign performance.
Other URL shorteners such as bit.ly have their own analytics. When analyzing the traffic on Google Analytics, the total views could be deducted from the direct traffic to arrive at a more accurate number.
How to facilitate sharing
As mentioned above, most users don’t want to share content to all friends. While this engagement may be the goal of marketers, it is unrealistic to expect most blog articles to become viral sensations on their own.
Here's an example: Your company writes a blog titled “5 Things to Consider When Buying Homeowners Insurance”. You may get some likes and a couple shares, but it is unlikely to see this type of post go viral. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t getting value out of it. Users may be texting or emailing friends who they know are buying a house, or looking to change insurance.
For a small business, 20-30 direct shares can be much more valuable than 5-10 Facebook shares, or dozens of likes.
Facebook wants content to be shared on their site. On the Facebook mobile app, the easiest option is to share to all friends. If a user wants to text the article to a friend, the process is much more complicated. If a mobile user found your link on Facebook and wants to share with a friend they likely will go through these steps:
Click to open in mobile browser
Wait for article to load a second time
Click share button from browser
Type in contact
The goal of your business should be to facilitate that sharing. Adding an SMS link to your article for the mobile site will allow a user to share in just 3 steps:
Touch SMS Link
Type in contact
Cutting the number of steps in half will facilitate more sharing of your content by cutting down unnecessary barriers.
Dark social is direct web traffic that is most likely coming from social media. Once you are aware of the traffic source you can take steps to track it accurately. More importantly you can facilitate more of it.
Using Google’s URL Builder, you can track campaign-specific traffic, even when using a URL shortener. This step will separate some of your dark social traffic and make it easier to track campaign progress through the program.
Adding email and SMS share buttons will facilitate more sharing of your content. To ensure your sharing bar is not too busy, only put icons that will appeal to your audience. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest are the most widely used social platforms.
Remember that any sharing of your content is great for your business. If a visitor decides to share your blog article with her 500 Facebook friends that is great. But often an email to her two closest friends is just as good.
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