Dark Social: Why Is It Important?

In today’s consumer-led market, people aren’t just sharing links to articles, videos and images on their social platform feeds. Now they’re engaging socially using other, less monitored channels, which include:

  • Messaging apps: Platforms such as WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger
  • Email: To protect the privacy of users, referrers aren’t shared
  • Native mobile apps: the likes of dedicated Facebook and Instagram developments
  • Secure browsing: If you click from HTTPS to HTTP, the referrer won’t be passed on


With dark social reported to be responsible for 84% of outbound sharing it’s not an area to ignore in 2018. Driven by mobile and messaging, it is gaining serious momentum – and understanding it is crucial. If social traffic is only tracked with regular web analytics, a business may dramatically underreport the value that social media adds to your brand or business.

A report from RadiumOne shows that 46% of consumers aged 55 and older share via dark social only, compared to those aged 16 to 34, where only 19% do so.

Dark social offers a world of opportunity for brands and businesses and in 2018, investing time and money into this broad range of channels will not only help you reach a host of niche demographics but expand your reach significantly.

Why is Dark Social Important to Small Businesses?


Dark Social accounts for a large amount of internet traffic and interaction yet many companies have no clear way to track it.  Some examples are when people forward emails to colleagues or copy and paste links to send to one another via text, Facebook Messenger or any other messaging platform. Tracking can be limited if there is a clickthrough on a link someone is checking out on a moble social media app. These shares are not tracked since they are not a link from one site to another and when someone arrives at the site from one of these platforms they do not have a ‘referrer’. This means when they arrive at the site, Google Analytics, or whatever analytics software you use, won’t know where they came from. This means they appear as ‘Direct’ in your Google analytics and this can be a significant proportion, typically more than 10% of visits.

How to measure your Dark Social via Google analytics

This method of estimating dark social is only an estimate, but it is a great way to simply get a handle on what percentage of your ‘direct’ traffic is actually coming from people who have had the URL shared with them via a friend rather than typing it in direct.

Go to your behaviour tab on your Google analytics, go to site content and select all pages. Create a segment so you are only looking at direct traffic and apply it. Then open up the advanced filter and set up a series of dimensions that exclude pages that contain very short subfolders (that’s the part of the URL after the domain, e.g. /blog).


With these pages excluded, what we left for the URL structure on our site is pages with long sub-folders that people are highly unlikely to type out when entering your site (there are cooler, but much less straightforward ways to assess this through regular expressions, by the way). The total number of page views from these pages gives you and indication of the traffic you are getting from ‘dark social’. I should put out that of course sometimes people will be going to long URLs direct, especially when they are saved in their browser, so this method only gives an approximation of your dark social traffic than an actual concrete amount. You could refine this by excluding repeat visits via these URLs.

There are other ways to set up your Google Analytics to measure dark social, all have their upsides and downsides. This method detailed here is a little simplistic and can take a little while to set up, but we’ve used it to given an indication of how to account for the sinister sounding traffic driver.