Less ominous than its name might suggest, Dark Social is the term on many a marketer?s lips as we struggle to track exactly where web traffic is coming from. It all used to be so easy. Remember the glory days when Google would considerately list all of the organic search terms people were using to hit your website? Things are way more complicated now.

Dark Social refers to any social sharing traffic that isn?t tracked by web analytics programs and includes email, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp and Snapchat to name but a few. According to marketing firm RadiumOne, in 2016, dark social shares as a percent of on-site shares jumped from 69 to 84 percent globally – a huge increase and a warning sign we can?t ignore this type of traffic.

How can we see the wood from the trees?

Funnily enough, if you delve into your Google Analytics, you won?t find ?Dark Social? under your list of referrers, but instead, this traffic becomes merged with you direct traffic stats. This can mislead many into thinking that their brand awareness has gone off the chart and that everyone is typing in their exact URLs, but in reality, it?s more likely to be attributed to those sharing in secure apps or transferring from an https URL to a http.

The control freaks amongst us (guilty as charged) will find this difficult to process, especially as currently there doesn?t seem to be an answer as to how to track these secret referrals accurately. Econsultancy recommends checking out the links accessed through direct traffic in GA and if they are longtail, it?s quite likely that they have been copied and pasted rather than typed into a search bar.

To counter the amount of URL pasting happening, some websites are focusing on ensuring their direct share links on posts e.g. via Facebook or Twitter are prominent and easy to use so they can at least see the platform being used to share their content.

The light at the end of the tunnel?

Dark Social sharing is generally a word of mouth recommendation from one trusted person to another via a private means. This type of referral is generally highly likely to convert which is a definite bonus.

With new trends inevitably?comes new technology to unpick and analyse, so we can bet our bottom dollar that soon there will be a way to work out who is sharing what, and where. But at the moment? We?ll just have to sit back and feel thankful that traffic is coming through – even if it belongs to the dark side.

Feature Image via Right Mix Marketing