If you’re a person who works on the web, which is probably why you are reading this, then you might have often wondered where most of your traffic comes from. Of course web analytic systems clearly show some social network or a user forum but truth be told, all those forces might not even make up half your traffic. That’s right, over half the web traffic comes from unknown sources and to top it off, even the web analytic systems cannot track this. So what is this called? ‘DARK SOCIAL’ says Alexis C. Madrigal, a senior writer at theatlantic.
The origins of dark social could be many, but to effectively identify and classify, it is simply the traffic that arrives from a source without a referral link. For example, if you’ve just sent an e-mail to your friend with a link to an article, it has no referral link i.e. it is not possible to identify the site from which the person has redirected. On the other hand if the same link is shared on a social site like Facebook, then it will contain a referral address stating that this part of the traffic is coming from Facebook thus being registered in the web analytic.
And e-mail is not the only medium that makes dark social thrive. Instant messaging clients, mobile applications and even a person inviting his/her friend to see the page on their screen (Yeah, if you’ve just shown your friend this article on your PC, that’s dark social) are responsible for this.
According to Madrigal’s original article, about 56% of their site’s (theatlantic.com) traffic comes from dark social. What’s more, even Facebook is said to have about 20% of its traffic from dark social, so where would that put the smaller ones?
Now that aside, another recent study from experts at chartbeat shows that about 65% of the total web traffic is dark! And they also claim that Facebook is responsible for majority of this! Wait a minute, didn’t I just say that links shared through social media do not come under dark traffic? Well that’s true, if the link is taken from the web version of Facebook. If it is from a mobile app or mobile version of the site, the user is directly taken to the site without any referral address from Facebook, thereby remaining covert.
So, would it effect you? That shouldn’t even be a question if you own a website or work for one. Of course it does, traffic is everything for a website and if this effects your traffic, it effects everything. One thing that is even more dispiriting than the existence of dark social itself is the fact that it cannot be avoided. None of us have the power to stop people from sharing stuff through emails instead of social media or letting a friend peek into their screen. No one is to blame here though, it is only human to not want everyone to know what you see or read. Sometimes you might as well send a simple link in IM rather than share it publicly.
One question that would most likely pop in your mind is, how do I avoid it? Well, there is no technical answer for this one. Your best bet would be to optimize your content so that people would be comfortable sharing it on social media. On the side note you could also try sharing other’s links socially and pray that they do the same with yours.
With all that said, I would also like to add that internet is an extremely volatile world and there is little that we can truly control. Dark social is one of those that are beyond the reach of our current methods. While we can certainly hope that there will be a way around this one day, you just have to hold it off for today.