Shedding some light on Dark Social

Ever since computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1990, there have been individuals around the world who always wanted a little… more from the platform. I’m sure many have heard of the Dark Web, but for those who haven’t, it’s essentially where a private computer network can communicate and conduct business anonymously without exposing identifying information, such as a user’s location. 

Truthfully, there are more myths around what’s on the Dark Web than its actual contents, but when we first heard the term ‘Dark Social’, we were a little more intrigued. Was it going to be some kind of special handshake clan that boosts their members algorithms? Not quite. 

Dark social channels are the channels invisible for analytics programs. Incredibly, more than 80 percent of sharing from marketing websites happens through dark social channels. Take a look at the diagram below to get a better understanding of what we mean.

Online content can be shared in two ways: a reader can either use a share button provided or copy and paste a link to the content onto their social media platform. If somebody clicks a link to your site from an open social platform such as Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, your analytics platform should be able to tell you exactly where that referral came from.

But the other way is where users copy and paste the link, then send it via messaging platforms such as iMessage or WhatsApp. Millions of people do this every day, sending lots of traffic to publishers. But links shared in this way lack referral tags, so when the recipient clicks on it their visit will show up as ‘direct’ traffic. Businesses are left in the dark not knowing where their traffic is coming from – hence ‘Dark Social’.

Finding your dark social

When you first start using a traffic tracking tool (such as Google Analytics), you might be thrown off by a large amount of direct traffic coming to your website. This is likely to be due to the sheer amount of traffic that’s coming from dark social. 

If you head over to Google Analytics, and spend some time checking through your links and find direct traffic, it’s fair to say that any long links were very unlikely to have been typed in manually.

Whilst there is a wealth of content around dark social, much of it doesn’t actually explain what marketeers can do to have a better understanding of where the traffic is coming from. Digital marketing agency Montfort shared a very detailed article that gives what we feel is the best explanation of this tricky topic:

“An easy way to start measuring Dark Social traffic is to use URL shorteners, such as, to track outbound links. Shorter links also save your readers some characters if they want to post your content on social networks where space is limited, like Twitter. “All is not lost for your analytics, as most platforms (Google Analytics, Adobe Omniture, Chartbeat) have a section in their reports called “direct,” which counts all those apps that users use to click on links “direct to a site”, including Facebook, Reddit, Gmail, and Instant Messaging apps. “Twitter, on the other hand, has a special “” URL shortener, which means Twitter referrals are always easily trackable. In the Twitter Analytics dashboard, there is a handy “Link Click” report that shows how many times links were clicked in your tweets.”




Elliot NewtonShedding some light on Dark Social