Dark Social - Understanding Invisible Social Sharing

One of the biggest benefits of web analytics is the ability to attribute revenue and goals to a source. 

With social media usage exploding, how do we measure the impact it has on our websites? Well, just go to Google Analytics, check out the referrals, then measure behaviour and conversions. Simple, right? Actually, its not that easy. You may look at your referral traffic and notice a lot of traffic from Facebook and Twitter, but this just a small percentage of the true number of social referrals.

Google Analytics is restricted in how much information it can extract - often in referrals from emails, IM clients, some mobile apps and when coming from a secure site to a non-secure site.

There is a lot of social sharing that occurs online. If a person clicks through from the Twitter iPhone app, an email, or through Facebook chat then the source will be set as direct. This isn’t helpful because we cannot attribute the correct value to each of these social channels. We call this lost social traffic ‘dark social’.

What is dark social?

Dark social is the huge number of invisible referrals that websites receive without knowing. Dark social appears in analytics as direct traffic. 

Is dark social good or bad?

Dark social in terms of deep sharing is fantastic, you want to increase this level of sharing as it is more likely to be personal. The problem is that because dark social is valuable, you need to be able to measure it. Unfortunately, it is immeasurable. 

Because of Google Analytics’ issue of attribution, we cannot determine the exact value of all referral channels. 

The problems it causes

Marketers understand the value of social media but it can be hard to persuade SMTs who are not convinced. It can be hard enough getting investment to begin with and dark social doesn’t help. 50% of your online conversions could be from social sharing but your analytics package may only show this as 20%. This will obviously lower your bargaining power when requesting higher budgets or more investment. Its unfortunate because around 30% of website traffic can usually be attributed to dark social. 

Is there anything we can do?

Yes, you can gain a reasonable understanding of how much traffic can be attributed to dark social. To do this, you will need to create new 'Advanced Segment’ in your Google Analytics account called 'Dark Social’. This new segment will show all people that have been referred to your website via dark social. 

To create the dark social filter: 

  1. Jump onto your Google Analytics account and click onto 'Advanced Segment’.
  2. Create a 'New Custom Segment’ and call this 'Dark Social Traffic’. 
  3. Follow the screenshot below to create the filter:


Want to discuss dark social further, or just want to learn more about it? Tweet us at @intSchools or just drop us an email. Our social team will be more than happy to talk!