Digital Marketing Dictionary

What is Dark Social?

When we talk about dark social, we refer to those visits to our website from external sources that are not easily identifiable, but that you can use when establishing your marketing strategy.

No matter how obscure and negative its name may seem, it is something you see every day in your web statistics: visits from unknown sources.In Google Analytics they are shown as part of the direct traffic to your website.

Let’s take an example: Monday 7 am, you’re reading our blog and you remember that newsletter that you sent out with errors. You decide to share it and your instinct tells you to copy the URL of the article and pass it on to your partner. Well, with this simple action, you contribute to the Dark Social.

Traffic from forums, instant messaging, emails and other private media are considered Dark social and are a very important part of the traffic to your website that you should not overlook, since they are recommendations from you to you, that is, your link has been shared to a third person interested in your content.

Where does this “dark” traffic come from?

  • Links shared by email: Many people have restricted access to social networks during their working day and email has become a tool for communicating with their colleagues or bosses. Any visitor coming to your website from a link shared by email will go directly to Dark Social.
  • Links shared via instant messaging: WhatsApp has become the most important communication tool, and through it all kinds of content is shared, including links to articles on your website, and this visit will also end up in Dark Social.
  • Links shared from native applications: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn… are the most used social networks and they also generate and share content, the visits generated from these networks are not easily identifiable and fall into the Dark Social networks.
  • Direct traffic: The term Dark Social is often confused with direct traffic. Direct traffic, are all those visits coming from regular users who use bookmarks or search for the URL directly. These visits are commonly confused with visits from Dark Social.
  • Secure browsing users: if the user switches from HTTP to HTTPs the origin of the visit cannot be identified.

5 reasons why you should not ignore the Dark Social

  1. Dark Social has a great impact on your web traffic, in fact, a recent study published on RadiumOne points out that 50% of the visits to websites come from some of the sources mentioned in the previous point. For example, this study mentions that in the United States, 50% of visits to websites come from Facebook.
  2. It is closely related to mobile traffic: in recent years the use of Smartphone and social networks has skyrocketed exponentially as the Dark Social on your website… Doesn’t that have something to do with it? According to a Hootsuite study in 2014, 53% of traffic was through mobile devices and since 2016 this figure exceeds 60%
  3. It helps you segment: A study published in RadiumOne, states that 46% of people over 55 years old use Dark Social methods to share information, in younger profiles between 16 and 34 years old this percentage drops below 20%. Therefore, you can know if you are reaching segments that do not usually use social networks.
  4. It’s very important for your marketing: these visits are nothing more than direct recommendations to your content, i. e. word of mouth 3.0. Are you going to continue to overlook it?
  5. In some industries it is the main source of traffic, such as finance, travel and the food industry, where at least 70% of sharing comes from dark social.

Fight the dark side

  • Make it easy for your audience: If you detect that a large part of your traffic is dark traffic, put buttons on your articles to share them through the main social networks, as you can see in our blog:
  • Create segments in Google Analytics: Consult with an expert to help you create segments within this dark traffic to segment your audience.
  • Shorten your URLs: To your users, tools like can help you shorten your links and make them easier to share. You’ll be able to see the statistics on these links in real time and you’ll be able to better track them.
  • Specific tools that can help you: ShareThis helps you to know the interaction of users with your links.

You have already seen that there are many and diverse sources of Dark Social and why you should pay so much attention to it; word of mouth also has its place in the world of marketing and there is no better advertising than that of recommendation. And you… What are you going to do to fight Dark Social?