4 Main Takeaways from Popular Articles About Dark Social
Dark social still remains a mystery to many entrepreneurs and marketers. In my blog 4 Surprising Facts About the Dark Social, I already discussed this topic to inform those entrepreneurs and marketers. I do not think dark social is something we should fear. I would rather embrace it as it includes so many of my (and your) visits and shares. Still, I understand people want to know more about how to track and control it, simply because we can learn and grow from it.
For this blog, I have read some popular and recent articles about dark social. I noticed four things that keep coming back in every article, so these must be the four main takeaways every entrepreneur and marketer should know.
The following articles have helped me write this blog:
- Brad Smith’s The Definitive Guide to Tracking Dark Social
- Patrick Liddy’s Dark Social: Why 80% of Your Social Results are Missing (and How to Find Them)
- Alexis C. Madrigal’s Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong
- Sydney Parker’s Why Your Business Can’t Ignore Dark Social
Where does dark social come from?
Before we dive into this subject, it is good to clarify what it is and where the term comes from. Exactly five years ago, Madrigal first described it:
“One dirty secret of web analytics is that the information we get is limited. If you want to see how someone came to your site, it is usually pretty easy. When someone follows a link from Facebook to [your website], a little piece of metadata hitches a ride that tells your servers that this person is coming from Facebook.com. You can then aggregate those numbers and learn from it.
There are circumstances, however, when there is no referrer data. People show up at your doorstep and you have no idea how that person got there. The main situations in which this happens are email programs, instant messages, some mobile applications, and whenever someone is moving from a secure site to a non-secure site.
This means that this vast trove of social traffic is essentially invisible to most analytics programs. I call it DARK SOCIAL. It shows up variously in programs as “direct” or “typed/bookmarked” traffic. That is not actually what is happening a lot of the time. Most of the time, someone Gchatted someone a link, or it came in on a big email distribution list, or your dad sent it to you.”
1. Dark social accounts for most of the sharing
When Madrigal first found out about dark social, he saw this:
Dark social is happening all over the world, all the time, and it is growing. According to Radiumone, dark social shares as a percentage of on-site shares jumped from 69% to 84% globally from 2014-2016. Facebook only accounts for 9% of the shares and all the other social media sites combined for 7%. That means dark social is not going anywhere!
2. You can avoid dark social by placing share buttons in your content
As Liddy says, you probably do have the most recognizable players covered, with share buttons ready to roll for Facebook, Twitter, G+, LinkedIn, and email. This is important but, as demonstrated, your audience is sharing via many other channels and mediums. That means you have to make it even easier to share across all of these channels.
Getting set up with a more comprehensive set of share buttons is key. Making your content easy to share will encourage your audience to share it across these now trackable channels. As you can see below, my blog posts have a sidebar with sharing buttons, including those for WhatsApp and email. If a reader clicks on the last +, he or she will find many other options as well.
I agree with what Brad Smith says: the point here is to control what you can control. You want people to use your social sharing buttons because you can tag your social sharing buttons. And if you can tag them, you can track the activity that spawns from them.
3. You can still track dark social somewhat
You can still track your dark social in Google Analytics somewhat. Smith urges you to segment your Direct traffic to see where the dark social is hiding in plain sight. He explains this step by step with pictures, but this is how you do it in short: Go to the Overview tab of Audience and add a segment. Choose direct traffic only, which will apply the “Direct Traffic” segmentation to all of the stats you view until you remove it. In other words, you will only see metrics that fall under direct traffic.
And since Google Analytics counts all dark social media traffic as direct traffic, you are moving in the right direction but you need to narrow that traffic number down further to find your suspects. That means you have to go to Site content under Behavior. Select ‘All pages’ and ‘Advanced,’ and exclude pages with easy slugs that readers can remember (and thus type). What you will see is only the data for a series of hard-to-remember URLs. This segment of traffic is probably the majority of your dark social media traffic.
If this sounds too hard for you, there is another solution. Most articles suggest you use sharing apps to track and control dark social, such as Po.st, ShareThis, GetSocial.io or AddThis. Those could help too!
Parker also suggests shortening URLs so you can use them for outbound links in your content and get a deeper analysis of the engagement rates.
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4. You can learn from dark social
Just as you analyze your social channels, you can analyze this traffic. What are the links being shared the most through dark social? Does that line up with what you or your influencers have been promoting? You can then tailor parts of your strategy to optimize your paid and organic strategy. So, if you are already analyzing your social referral information, evaluating dark social should not be a much of a leap.
Here are a few ways that this data can help you market your business successfully:
- Stay aware of trending topics
- Evaluate where to invest your marketing budget
- Maintain top-quality content
Convert dark social traffic into sales
So, dark social is leading traffic to your website. You may not know where it is coming from, but you do know what your visitors do on your website. If they are not converting enough, my blog How to Convert Way More Traffic into Sales Without Spending Extra Money may help you transform those visitors into paying customers.
If you need your conversion and content efforts in more than one language, we should talk. I am a translator, so I can help you. Thanks for reading my blog and please do not forget to share it!