Dark Traffic

Dark traffic is also often referred to as dark social (i.e. "secret social network"). This involves website visits that cannot be traced, and thus cannot be analyzed.

General information

Measuring and analyzing visits to your website is important for both search engine optimization and for having reliable data for your own evaluations. It’s easy to understand and to measure if a user comes to a page via a search engine or a social network such as Facebook. However, the situation is different if the visit takes place via an email or a messenger such as WhatsApp. These sources cannot always be completely identified, which makes evaluation difficult. This problem only became known in 2012, when Alexis C. Madrigal proved in the magazine "The Atlantic" that numerous visits to websites are ocur via e-mails or messengers. This contradicted the previously assumed assumption that the majority of visitors would find websites via search engines or social networks.

Approaches to problem solving

The share of traffic via Dark Traffic was estimated at 70% in October 2016, a trend that has probably at least continued since then. For marketers, this is a challenge, as it is difficult to obtain meaningful data on the origin of shares. Contrary to the assumption that most sharing comes via Facebook and other social networks, many users prefer to send URLs via email or messenger, so these are simply copied and pasted into a private message.

The solution now lies in share buttons that work via messengers. In this way, the URLs are no longer copied, but shared as before. Buzzfeed, for example, has used this method to get more shares via WhatsApp than Twitter. Although this does not provide information about the exact source of the shared content, both the source and the dissemination of the content can be better analysed and controlled. This does not completely solve the problem resulting from dark traffic, but it can be limited to certain areas.

Long URLs as a sign of dark traffic

Tracking Dark Traffic completely is currently not possible. However, there are ways to make possible assumptions or statements about dark traffic, for example with Google Analytics (GA). GA classifies so-called "Direct Traffic" as such, which takes place via direct input into the search field. For example, if you enter "ryte.com" manually in the browser's input field, this process is classified as direct traffic. However, GA cannot distinguish here whether the entry was made via a keyboard or via an e-mail, or by clicking on a link via Messenger. It is helpful to look at the length of the URL. If it has a particularly large number of characters, the probability that it was entered manually is very low, so it can be assumed that it is dark traffic. If you then create a segment at GA that only records direct traffic, it is easier to recognize the type and in particular the length of the URLs which are probably dark traffic.

Dark traffic will continue to increase

Apart from the fact that URLs forwarded via e-mail do not provide any data, there are other reasons why Dark Traffic will continue to spread:

  • Messaging is still on the rise and user numbers are increasing significantly, so this trend will almost certainly continue to develop.
  • Smaller search engines like Duck Duck Go play only a minor role compared to Google & Co., but must be considered as part of the production of dark traffic, since they do not send any data of their visitors.
  • Big search engines like Google or Yahoo Search have started to make accesses anonymous, and the HTTPS standard is now mostly used.

Users themselves also contribute a great deal to the increase in dark traffic. Over time, they have developed a sense of what happens to their data. This is why many users use all the options available to them to avoid leaving digital fingerprints on the Internet. For marketers and publishers this means having to manage with less and less information, which makes it increasingly difficult to find out what users like or dislike. The problem also affects providers who advertise because they want to know as much as possible about their target group. Dark traffic also disrupts the flow of information.

Importance for online marketing

Dark traffic is of great significance for online marketing because it complicates the analysis of site visitors, and means that limited information is available. It is therefore recommended to use all tools to limit the grey area resulting from dark traffic. Dark traffic cannot be completely controlled, but at least partial information can be developed with a clever strategy which can be helpful for the orientation of marketing.