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The Dark Side of Social, by Naomi Busuttil

If you have ever noticed an influx of direct traffic to your website but can’t identify the link or search terms that encouraged it, then you have probably fallen victim to the sorcery of ‘dark social’.

This isn’t witchcraft though, it’s quite simple – it’s content shared privately either via a messaging app, text message, email, or direct message.  Every time someone copies and pastes a URL from your website and shares it away from the prying eyes of their news feeds, it generates dark traffic and will show on your analytics reports as an ‘unknown’ link source.

Spooky news for monitoring your website visitors and some of you may even believe that it’s not worth tracking these hidden shares, but it could be extremely beneficial to your content marketing strategies.  It has been reported that dark traffic is accountable for 84% of outbound sharing; that’s a huge chunk of your social reach and even though you can’t see how your content is being shared or in what context, you can see what is being shared.

If you have good content people will engage with it, which includes sharing with someone else – great news for you, your reach just grew! Dark social can also be particularly good for reaching audiences outside of social media. When a social user sends a link to your content via email or text message to a person who doesn’t have a social profile, they’re driving untargeted traffic to your site – result!

The easiest way to start tracking your dark traffic is to shorten URL’s in your social posts using sites such as Bitly (this will also make your posts look neater), which allows you to see which links are being shared, providing a fuller picture of what content is popular with your audience.  Due to privacy restrictions we can’t – and probably never will – see exactly how dark social is shared or for what purpose, but being able to see what is being shared still provides a valuable tool for businesses to utilise. Shared content is creating a response (as is the ability to like, love, wow, be sad or angry) so monitor what works for you and use this information to plan your content successfully.