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Everything you need to know about hard-to-track content Dark Social

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about hard-to-track content Dark Social

Everything you need to know about hard-to-track content Dark Social

It starts when you read an interesting post on your social media account titled “How to lose weight in a week” that immediately grabs your attention and raises your hopes. And you think your girlfriend will love the article because she has been struggling to shed some extra pounds.

Then you decide to copy the link and send it to her via WhatsApp. Most of us don't check their messages on Facebook or Instagram regularly, right?

Your friend likes the post and sends it via WhatsApp to her friends at the gym. Everyone reads it, applies the tips received, and then shares it with their friends without knowing that they all did what is called “dark social” sharing or anonymous referrals.

What does Dark Social mean?

Dark Social is a term coined by the American Alexis Madragal that describes the sharing of content that cannot be tracked by web analytics tools. This is content shared via email or private messaging applications that cannot be attributed to a source known by web analytics software.

How is it?

Any visit to a website from a link shared in email, WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. is counted as a visit, but the analytics programs cannot attribute it to a specific source. Thus, these visits become invisible, instead of being seen as social media or referral traffic.

Likewise for Safe Browsing users, this traffic also falls under the Dark Social umbrella.

Where is the importance of the topic?

This topic is important because marketers cannot measure the success of their ad campaigns without knowing which channels are the best performing. The hard-to-track content distorts the numbers and ends up getting a garbled picture.

This type of traffic inflates the "Direct Traffic" metric because the actual sources cannot be tracked. So you have no idea where to get the most traffic.

The traffic that is generated from sharing hard-to-track content (Dark Social Media Sharing) is on the rise. In fact, according to a 2016 study by RadiumOne, sharing hard-to-track (Dark Social Media Sharing) content makes up over 84% of all social media post activity.

Posts generated from anonymous referrals are the biggest traffic source for most sites, but not even companies can track it. So does that break your pretty picture of the effectiveness of site analytics?

of course, yes.

So what does that mean?

Does that mean that all website analytics and metrics are useless when you can't track the biggest traffic source? Or should you give up because you can't track Dark Social Media Sharing?

Well, not quite

It is not impossible.. Of course, there are mechanisms that enable you to track anonymous referrals. Even tools are available to do this for you.

So, let's dive into it and see everything you can do to track these "unseen" posts.

4 Effective Ways to Track Hard-to-Track Content Shares (Dark Social Media Sharing)

There are many ways you can avoid this hard-to-track content or at least keep track of the traffic coming from it.

Here are some of the most effective ways to do this.

Google Analytics

Under normal settings, Google Analytics is also at risk of failing to identify and report anonymous referral traffic and may end up categorizing it as direct traffic. This does not show exactly how visitors heard about the site and arrived at it.

This referral error prevents companies from getting valuable insights into the best traffic sources. After all, they create useful and exclusive content, but this is not reflected in their metrics.

However, there is a way around this problem. If you make some adjustments in your Google Analytics settings, you will be able to get more insights about your traffic by sharing hard-to-track content (Dark Social Media Sharing)

As we discussed earlier, anonymous referral traffic is misclassified as direct traffic. So, if you can find a way to break it down or make it more visible, then you can monitor the traffic generated by this hard-to-track content.

Here's a step-by-step process for changing your Google Analytics settings to see anonymous referral traffic.

  1. Click on the “Audience” tab on the left side of the control panel, then select “Overview.”
  2. The audience overview tab will open. Click "Add Slide". “Add Segment”
  3. Select the “Direct Traffic” option and uncheck all other items in the list. Then click Apply to save the changes and apply Direct Traffic to all your metrics.
  4. Now, to go deeper and narrow down the live traffic, click on the “Behavior” tab on the left side of the dashboard.
  5. Under the “Behavior” tab, select “Site Content” and then select “All Pages”
  6. Now go to the search bar and click on the “advanced” button right next to it.
  7. You will see an “Include” button next to the Page button. Change that to "Exclude"
  8. Now you will move on to the most important part. In the search box on the left, you need to add all the page URLs that are easy to remember. These URLs are the ones that people can actually type in to get to your website. Click Apply after adding all these pages.

This will exclude all pages that people can access directly and will only leave you with pages with difficult titles. This method enables you to exclude the actual "live traffic" and leave only the traffic from anonymous referrals as people can't remember and type complex URLs. So, they must have clicked on a link to get to those pages.

In all likelihood, this remaining data is traffic generated by dark social content and does not include any direct traffic. This way, you can get actual insight into how much traffic is generated from sharing that content.

Add share buttons on social networks

Having these buttons makes it easy for people to share the content you've posted and avoids the need to copy and paste the link to share.

Content sharing activity can be tracked using these buttons, thus you will be able to attribute the traffic to the correct sources.

Just be sure to include all the popular sharing options, including sharing via WhatsApp and email. Sometimes people will copy and paste a link when there is no sharing option for the app they are using.

Also try to enlarge these buttons and place them in a place where they are easy to see.

Use the UTM code

You can add Urchin tracking module or UTM code to each internet address to better track link sharing activity. These codes help Google or any other analytics program to accurately determine the source of the content.

This method is especially useful when you want to calculate the return on investment for a particular campaign. UTM-branded links will tell your analytics software which visits are associated with the campaign.

Use Dark Social Tracking Tools

There are many additional tools that can help you track shares of Dark SocialTracking or manage your social media posts.

Here are some of these common tools you can use:


This tool enables you to track all shares of Dark Social tracking, including those shared through private messaging channels.

It provides code that you can copy and paste on your website. You can then activate it by going to the address bar tracking app. Which allows you to keep track of all your content, even the hard-to-follow content.

It also provides social sharing buttons that you can use to encourage sharing using buttons instead of copying links.

This tool also provides social sharing buttons that you can add to your website. You can then keep track of all posts using those buttons.

It also has a tool to shorten links. Not only that but also to keep track of it. You can use this feature for any page whose traffic you want to track. It also provides detailed analytics for this link and tells you the exact traffic sources and activities that led to that traffic.


This tool is similar to GetSocial in that it also provides social sharing buttons and an icon to keep track of your posts.

All you have to do is create an account and then download the code, plugin and finally the application. Then you apply the code to your website and start tracking your posts.

last but not least

Anonymous referrals (Dark Social) are your biggest traffic source and are too big to be ignored. Dark social content prevents companies from measuring the effectiveness of different traffic sources. This is because all this traffic is attributed to direct traffic. This severely alters the actual picture, as traffic is directed from sources that analytics programs cannot track.

So, you should use the methods mentioned in this article to track traffic for dark social content using Google analytics or any other tools. And of course, you can also use the social share buttons to provide your visitors with an easier way to share. These tools can help you eliminate social media sharing in a subtle way.

If you like this article and want to share it, don't forget to use the social share buttons to share it with your friends.

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