Dark Social

I will admit upfront that today’s screed is a little wonky.  You might want to stay with me though – you might just figure something out about your business as we go.  Ready?

The topic today is what’s been called “dark social” traffic.  No, these are not teenagers cruising Main Street late at night.  It refers to people coming to your website based on a link that’s been shared to them socially.  In other words, when I see an article I like and share it with a friend via email or messaging, most web analytic systems don’t really get how the recipient got to the website (although some are beginning to).  Since they clicked on a URL and went directly to the site (not from another website), it’s reported as direct traffic which is a big dumping bin of mostly unknown sources (even though it’s supposed to be users who came by typing the URL or via bookmark).  With me so far?

I did a little exercise on one of my client’s site traffic.  I looked at direct traffic which didn’t enter the site on the home page, an indicator to me of dark social traffic since people don’t generally type in long URL’s.  11% of their traffic was dark social.  With another client it was 34%.  I did some research and it turns out that those numbers are pretty typical – The Atlantic Monthly, which receives 5M monthly uniques, reports 60% of traffic from dark social.  Smithsonian Magazine realized it was 82% of their shares. Why is this important to you?

If you’re spending time analyzing your data to make better marketing decisions – which audiences to target through which channels, which content is socially relevant, etc – knowing what’s being shared and by whom is important.  The client I checked usually has a somewhat older skew and we use that in marketing.  The dark social traffic, however, demonstrates not only a higher rate of sharing of content among younger (18-24) people but also a higher conversion rate.  Very interesting and actionable data point.

The broader point is one you’ve heard before.  We need to spend time thinking about how our customers and potential customers come to and interact with our brand.  We need to formulate good questions and try to answer them with the data.  Data for data’s sake is useless.  Using data to drive actionable business decisions is where we are right now in marketing and business, at least where I and my clients are.  You?

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Filed under Consulting, digital media, Helpful Hints

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