Dark social traffic is the name given to the traffic that comes from private social channels. It’s simply the traffic that comes from:

It’s easy to tell whether a visitor came from Facebook or Twitter through an analytics platform, but how about all the other ways people share content?

For example, if you click on a link with the URL:


 you can tell that the visitor came from Twitter. This is not possible with dark social traffic, as it is only mentioned as “direct traffic” in Google Analytics.

The rise of messaging apps and the evolution of social platforms have created new sharing habits. The increased use of social platforms like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat, Snapchat and the use of secure HTTPS browsing have presented new challenges in measuring this traffic.

Why is dark social traffic important?

Major opportunity for marketers

According to a report by RadiumOne, dark social accounted for 84% of the content shared online in 2016, an increase of 15% from 2014.

This means that marketers need to be aware of changing sharing habits to offer a more relevant user experience.

For example, the use of chatbots to provide the latest news serves as a great idea of how brands can embrace the rise of messaging apps to promote their content.

Moreover, an improved understanding of dark social traffic is the only way for marketers to see a full picture of their social activities and how their content is consumed and shared.

A more powerful overview of a previously ignored dark social traffic can become a big asset for future owned, earned and paid content.

Keeping up with the latest trends

It’s important for marketers to familiarize themselves with the evolution of social platforms and how communication takes place. This way campaigns have more chances to be successful, while (Read more...) can facilitate the sharing among new platforms.

For example, sharing buttons can go beyond the standard Facebook and Twitter to include WhatsApp or Slack among their options. This way a site acknowledges how people share content across different platforms and apps, and it becomes easier to keep track of the number of shares.

As the growth of messaging apps and secure browsing is not going away, it’s crucial for marketers to look ahead and explore how they can bring their closer to a new era of messaging and social platforms.

Gaining a holistic analysis of content traffic

It’s not enough to measure your content’s success through social and referral traffic, or simply by counting the number of clicks through sharing buttons. Dark social traffic proves exactly the case that a growing number of visits is still unknown to marketers.

According to a report by GetSocial, 85% of shares take place via copying and pasting a URL. This means that only 15% of shares happen through a sharing button.

Thus, the only way for marketers to learn more about their audience is to explore all the ways they can track dark social activity.

How to track dark social traffic

What is the best way to analyse dark social traffic, and how can marketers increase the chances of understanding their most popular sources of dark social traffic?

Google Analytics

A good start is to use Google Analytics to segment the unknown traffic. As all dark social activity is marked as “direct traffic”, it’s useful to narrow down this traffic into smaller segments.

A quick way to do it is to create a new segment in Google Analytics.

  1. Click on Audiences – Overview – Add Segment
  2. Select Direct Traffic

This way you only access the traffic that is marked as “direct”.

3. Click on Behaviour – Site Content – All Pages

4. Click on Advanced at the top right

5. Choose to exclude all the pages that are easy to remember and add them in the following format:

  • /jobs
  • /blog
  • /contact
  • /about

Now the results will only display the results that users wouldn’t directly visit, which means that these are probably the links that count as dark social traffic.

Although this method does not guarantee that you can access all the visits that come from dark social, it still offers an overview of the links that have many chances to be marked as such traffic.

Along with for Google Analytics, there are many tools that can help you track your dark social activity, all of them aiming to minimize the chances of traffic being marked as “direct” without knowing where it comes from.


AddThis creates sharing buttons for your website, while it also allows you to create a copy-paste code that will track the traffic from dark social.

The sharing of content is made easier for users, as it’s also possible to incorporate sharing to more than 200 social networks. This increases the chances of knowing where the sharing comes from through the analytics dashboard, helping people spread it across all their favorite platforms.

Moreover, its customization options can ensure that the browsing experience is not interrupted, adapting it to your site’s needs.


GetSocial.io makes the tracking of dark social traffic easier, by offering a complete analysis of all kinds of shares. By installing a code to your site, you are able to track copy-paste shares, getting access to real-time data for the performance of your content.

Moreover, it offers a cross-device sharing measurement, which increases visibility over all types of shares that might take place on mobile apps, or private networks.

This can be a powerful addition to the analysis of your social and content strategy, helping you take more data-driven decisions by gaining a complete overview of sharing.


Po.st by RadiumOne makes a great addition to social sharing and link shortening with the ability to track the messages and the engagement that come through dark social.

The tool allows marketers to monitor the traffic from copy-paste URLs or direct visits that come by typing in the address bar. Moreover, its dashboard offers real-time insights, helping marketers explore their audience and the publishing opportunities.

It can also increase engagement with link back URLs that help visitors who clicked on a page through copy paste to visit it again with just one click.

This is a great way to benefit from the rise of dark social and find how the previously unknown traffic can increase content success.


Another option to use tracking links is with bit.ly. This popular tool for creating shortened links can also serve as a useful ally in analysing dark social traffic.

A good way of using bit.ly to uncover dark social traffic is to provide a shortened link to each post and encourage users to share the content through this link. This way you can monitor all traffic – and its sources – through bit.ly’s in-built analytics dashboard.

Moreover, shortened links can be used to track campaign performance by monitoring sharing and engagement. KIND, for example, used bit.ly through their Snapchat campaign to drive traffic and engagement in a way that the sharing is monitored.


The rise of mobile usage and the changing nature of social networks is a sign that marketers should be ready to embrace all the new changes to keep up with their audience.

As users tend to prefer using mobile apps, private networks, messaging services and secure connections, dark social traffic will only get bigger from now on. But this doesn’t mean that you need to give up on getting insights into your users’ behavior.

It may be challenging, but it’s not impossible to gain a holistic understanding of where the traffic comes from. Testing different tools can help you find the best fit with your wider social strategy, helping you to understand consumer behavior on dark social platforms and further prove the ROI of social engagement.

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