Shining The Light - Measuring Your Dark Social

Measuring Your Dark Social

In our previous post we explored the nature of the phenomenon commonly referred to as “dark social”, defined by Techopedia as, “…the social sharing of content that occurs outside of what can be measured by web analytics programs…” Since this creates a big problem for social media marketing teams, many people have put their minds to measuring the previously immeasurable. Here are a few of your best options for getting a handle on this difficult category…

Maximize your use of Google analytics

Over the years, Google analytics has been much maligned for its use of the general category “direct traffic” to describe everything from a user directly typing in a URL to a share from Facebook’s mobile app. However, there are ways to filter for specific criteria that allow you a much better view of your traffic patterns. offers a fantastic tutorial on how to use Google analytics “advanced segment” feature to slice and dice your direct traffic and dig out the elements of dark social that have meaning to your organization. This technique remains one of the most sophisticated and advanced solutions for analyzing your dark social traffic.

Advanced segment tracking is even more effective if you add tracking codes to each page, a simple step that gives you better insight when the page is shared via mobile apps and does no damage to your SEO.

Install many, many share buttons

Another effective and elegantly simple solution is to make sure that every page on your site or blog has appropriate share buttons attached. Some research shows that share buttons are increasingly effective, but keeping up with the ever-expanding pallet of channels can be daunting.

Disable copy & paste, but at your own risk

Years ago, when marketing users first became aware of dark social, one solution that was often suggested was blocking the reader’s ability to share using copy and paste. On the face of it, this sounds great. People will be forced to use the share buttons mentioned above and the dark social problem will be solved, right? However, forcing people to use the proverbial proper channels creates the risk of people not sharing at all. This is no small thing in a world where dark social sharing can run as high as 70%. Needless to say, blocking the cut & paste feature is rarely used today.

Stay tuned for useful plugins and commercial analytics plans

While there are some interesting conversations happening in the commercial analytics world, they mostly remain conversations. I’ll quote Jack Simpson’s conclusion to his February 2016 article The Rise of Dark Social, “…let’s be honest, nobody really knows what the hell to do about it.” While this remains the case, there are a lot of marketing dollars at stake and hopefully some great plug-and-play options are just around the corner. For now, the good news is that most of us can make some great progress with the tools already at hand. Smart attention to the details of your direct traffic bucket and some well placed buttons and tags can shine a lot of light on your organization’s dark social situation.