Dark Social – the name always reminds me of the Dark Crystal.
If you’re not as familiar with the term as you are with the movie, “Dark Social” is important because it is probably throwing off your idea of your brand strength metric.
In most analytics tracking tools, like Google Analytics, “Direct” visitors are also grouped together with “undefined” visitors. “Direct” visitors actually type your url into their web browser; “Undefined”/none visitors are the ones that come to your site from some other source that the analytics program can’t identify.
There are many reasons for “Undefined” – these links could be shared in emails, through chat windows, through social media messages etc. This basically includes all inbound traffic that didn’t come from public referring websites or public social media posts. This traffic is also referred to in internet marketing as “Dark Social”.
To find the dark social in Google Analytics, navigate to “Acquisition” > “All Traffic”. Click on “Direct/(none)” and select Secondary Dimension: Landing Page from the dropdown. Now for some “Advanced” tab search magic – exclude Landing Page Containing Regex for the main pages on your site. Basically, the main pages would refer to any urls people would type into the browser. If you don’t know regex, that’s another post. But here is a link to a really great regex generator tool tool – the “Regexinator” – from Lunametrics that can help you now.
The landing page links that should be left after the filter should probably be really long. This is the mystical dark social.
Where did these people come from? Who are they? What do they want (to buy) from you? There’s no real way to know – you can only guess.
To minimize the dark traffic in the future, improve or check the Campaign Tracking on your email links, or add tracking to links that are posted on private sites and social accounts. If you work at a business with multiple customer contact points, make sure to talk to the sales guys about campaign tracking and train them on it. It’s important to be able to properly attribute any online transactions to the channel they came from – you can even track down to the exact email that was sent.
If you go back in to Google Analytics and reverse the filter, you should be looking at your actual Direct traffic – this is a closer representation of your brand strength. The percentage of your traffic that should be coming from Direct, Search, Email, Referral or Social varies greatly by industry. For oil and gas, it should be about 30% for Direct.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, try this implementation for Dark Social by Lunametrics.
For more info about Dark Social, check out this link on Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong.