Direct Traffic: How to Track Dark Social and Reveal Invisible Visitors

Discover how to track dark social and shine a light on all the additional traffic being sent to your website by your social media activities!

How often do you share a link via a mobile phone app? Chances are that when you do, you're contributing to dark social.

You work hard to increase traffic and generate leads. But when you can't see where all those people are coming from, your job becomes that much harder. It's difficult to know where to concentrate your efforts, never mind determining which sources are generating your most valuable traffic and leads.

Dark social doesn't get the air time it deserves, yet it could be holding you back from understanding how your marketing is working. In this article, learn all about it — and how to measure it.

Learn how to align your marketing strategy with you buyers and start improving  ROI by downloading our ebook.

What is dark social?

In essence, dark social is shared content that cannot be measured exactly by analytics platforms.

In the world of marketing, web analytics tools usually record this type of link sharing as ‘direct traffic’, when it is in fact referred from a mobile social channel. And therein lies the problem.

You're still seeing the traffic, right? You can prove people are visiting your site or reading your articles. Great!

No. Not great. Bad marketer.

Dark social compromises your ability to conduct meaningful performance analysis. It forces you to make generalisations and act upon imperfect data. Given that social media sharing plays a vital role in inbound marketing, this isn't good.

How can you know which media channels to focus on if you don't know which ones are performing the best?

how to measure dark social

What causes dark social?

There are several reasons why dark social occurs, one being that mobile chat apps often don’t apply tracking codes to links such as the link shown below.

This URL lets web analytics programs know where the traffic has come from via a UTM parameter, in other words a referral source. When a link is shared with no referral source, analytics software assumes it was entered directly, and is therefore direct traffic.

Aside from mobile chat apps, there are various other ways in which a link can be passed without a referral tag. Sometimes this is because of security — many email platforms, for example, don't provide referral tags. Likewise, when browsing using HTTPS, clicking through to a HTTP site will not pass a referral.

So what can you do to shine a light on problem? Discover how to track dark social and better generate leads that close.

You might also be interested in: How to Attract New Customers on Social Media.

How to make a tracked link

There are lots of tools out there that can help you to keep track of your traffic. Most of them take the form of a link shortener such as or HubSpot's Tracking URL Builder.

These simple solutions transform a normal link into a shortened 'tracked' link that can be analysed wherever it's shared, as it already includes data that the analytics software of your choice can recognise as a specific source. This allows you to carefully track your traffic by creating specific links for different sources that all link to the same page.

Related read: 8 Effective Ways to Repurpose Content for LinkedIn.

Let's run through an example using the HubSpot Tracking URL builder tool

If you haven't seen this before, it can be found on the left hand side of 'Sources', accessed via 'Reports' in your HubSpot portal navigation.

Here is an example of the interface that allows you to create a tracking URL:

How to Track Dark Social

The URL clicked on a mobile device would only tell me that I have received one click of direct traffic.

However, using the HubSpot Link Builder tool I can create two different links, both directed to the same page — one for Twitter and one for LinkedIn. (Twitter) (LinkedIn)

Now, even if a share is made on mobile, I will know exactly where the traffic came from as the platform can recognise the unique URL.

This method of link sharing is very robust and even allows for greater analysis using HubSpot's campaign tools. For example, you can group links together to monitor trends within your campaigns.

Discover the secret to successful social media optimisation.

How to track dark social in three steps:

1. Go through your email templates and check that you have used links that you can track properly
2. Add UTM parameters to your social sharing buttons such as the link shown above
3. Use tracked links for anything that is likely to be shared around. You could even create new links for each employee to see who is getting the most traffic from their sharing

Tracking dark social and gaining visibility over your traffic sources is much simpler than it sounds once you get your head around this process. The right social media software will go a long way towards helping, too. If you happen to use HubSpot Marketing Hub for your social activity, check out out post on five quick wins when social media scheduling with HubSpot.

There are easy ways around the problems it creates, and once you've put these in place and are measuring your traffic properly, you'll have access to important data you can use to increase your ability to generate leads that close and calculate ROMI for your business.

End your struggle for ROI from your sales and marketing by downloading our free ebook and learning how to generate leads that actually close.

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