Measuring Dark Social Using Google Analytics

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In social media, like the real world, there’s quite a lot of gossip going on behind your back. At least on the Internet, you can measure it.

Dubbed dark social, this “invisible” sharing brings 40% of the visitors to my blog and similar amounts of traffic to other content sites. The Atlantic Monthly, which receives 5M monthly uniques, reports 60% of traffic from dark social

Like its distant cousin dark energy, dark social is a massive and to date little understood force despite its importance. Dark social clicks originate from instant messages, emails containing links and links embedded in tweets opened in TweetDeck among other sources.

Google Analytics buckets dark social as direct navigation, incorrectly assuming these users spontaneously typed a long url from some epiphany. But as marketer Cody Boyte from Axial showed me last week, It is possible to approximate dark social traffic with Google Analytics. No Large Hadron Collider needed.

To create a filter for dark social traffic,

  1. Log into Google Analytics and click on the Advanced Segment button.
  2. Create a new segment called Dark Social that excludes the landing page that exactly matches “/” and the Source contains (direct).

Below is a screenshot of the filter. To view more help on Advanced Segments click here.

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This Advanced Segment will track all the visitors who arrived at your site with click to deep link without ever visiting the home page: Dark Social traffic.

How important is Dark Social traffic for your site? Let me know on this Branch.

Published 2013-03-18 in Content Marketing  Data Analysis 


I am partner at Redpoint. I write daily, data-driven blog posts about key questions facing startups. I co-authored the book, Winning with Data. Join more than 20,000 others receiving these blog posts by email.


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