Everything You Need to Know About Dark Social Metrics

If you use social media for your business, than you are most likely aware of all of the data that you have access to. Over time, that can equal a ton of information. Email campaigns and blog articles all come with their own analytics—who opened and read it, and who didn’t. There’s data on e-commerce shopping, website clicks, and then there’s demographics, like location, gender, and age. Not to mention software, whether they were mobile or on a desktop. You have access to tons of this information.

But there are missing pieces to the puzzle. We call this dark social media metrics. There’s nothing black hat or “bad” about dark social metrics. These pieces of information are simply unattributable to any one particular place. Someone might click on something using their iPad. Maybe they used their copy/paste function from a text. A link from an email or social media share could also fall into this category.

Understanding how you can access these analytics and make sense of them for your business is important because they can be powerful when unraveling your campaign results and strategy adjustments.

What are Dark Social Media Metrics?

Here’s what you need to know; dark social media metrics are social media traffic that is coming from an unknown source, such as the Facebook app, email links, HTTPS browsing, and URLs that are texted to someone then copied and pasted into a window on their mobile device. These sources of traffic back to your website are all very valuable, but analytics cannot attribute them to the correct places, and so the data comes back to us as “direct traffic”. And since we can’t accurately give a name to this traffic, it makes it harder for us to figure out if certain campaigns might be doing better than others on account of us not knowing exactly where all of the traffic is coming from (although there are ways to help us determine if our campaigns are doing well, with UTMs or Urchin Tracking Modules). And with around 80% of social media traffic being dark social metrics, it’s just too big to ignore.

How Can You Find Your Dark Social Media Metrics?

If you’re not already using Google Analytics, now is the time. By segmenting your website traffic, you’ll be able to understand that traffic much better and utilize the results for future campaigns or adjustments to your current ones.

In order to segment this dark social traffic out from the rest, you’ll have to setup Google Analytics to do it for you. By separating the dark traffic from your regular referral traffic, you’ll have a better idea of what is helping you and your website more, then make those important campaign decisions based on new information that you never knew you had!

To create a segment of website traffic, go to your Google Analytics dashboard and create a new segment. Click on the “+Add Segment” button, inside of your dashboard, then click “+New Segment”.

The "+Add Segment" button in Google Analytics helps us find our Dark Social Media Traffic The "New Segment" button in Google Analytics also helps us find our Dark Social Media Traffic

Now, you’ll see a screen like this. Click on “Conditions”:

Going into the conditions screen of our new segment to filter our dark social traffic

Click on the “ad content” drop down menu.

We have to choose our "landing page" to filter our dark social traffic from the rest of the traffic in Google Analytics

In the text box, type “Landing Page”, then select it from the choices shown to you. You might see more than one Landing Page option that says “Landing Page Group”, but you’ll choose “Landing Page”.

We've chosen Landing Page and now we need to be sure it "exactly matches"


Now you’ll need to click on the drop down that says “contains” and select “Exactly Matches”.

We have to choose what exactly matches our traffic to narrow down and filter out the dark social media traffic on our site.

In the text box next to that drop down, you’ll type in “/” to indicate your homepage and click it when you see it. Now you’ll need to make sure these sessions are excluded from the report. There is a drop down directly above the choice where we selected “Exactly Matches” that says “Include”. Click that drop down and select “Exclude”.

Now we're excluding website traffic to find the dark social media traffic on our website

Now click “+ Add filter” at the bottom. You’ll see the same drop downs as before.

Now we create a new filter in this segment to include website traffic in this segment

In the first drop down, type “source” and select it from your options. There is “Source / Medium” but that isn’t what we’re looking for.

By adding a source filter to our segment, we're narrowing the focus onto specific traffic.

Leave the next drop down menu at “contains”, and type “direct” into the box, then click it when you see “(direct)”.

By selecting direct traffic in this filter, we're focused on direct website traffic in our reports in GA

Give this segment a name in the box that says “Segment Name”. I used “Dark Social Traffic”. Now click “save”.

This will take you back to the report, with your newly created segment filtering the data, so you can see this new dark social traffic against your regular traffic. By creating these filters in a segment of our data, we are excluding website visitors whose landing page (the first page they “landed on”) was your homepage but including website sessions that are considered to be “direct traffic” by Google to be included in the reports.

Now you’ll be able to view the dark social traffic that is coming through to your site. At first, you may not know what to do with this data, but just know that it can help you understand how your content is being shared, so you may take that into consideration when promoting and creating new content, down the road. And by comparing this data to other campaigns, such as Adwords or email, you can make important decisions to budget accordingly, to get the biggest bank for your buck!

Looking at Conversions From Dark Social Media Traffic

So now that we have our segmented data, we should look at our conversions to see how many are coming from this dark social traffic versus our other traffic. This is how we’re going to make decisions about future campaigns.

Inside of Google Analytics, go to your Conversions report, and click on “Goals” and “Overview”.

Clicking on "Goals" and then "overview" gives us an overview report of our traffic

Now in this report, we can see what conversions came from the dark traffic and how many came from the rest of our traffic.

In my report, you’ll see below, you can see that 50% (1 conversion) came from dark social and 1 conversion came from somewhere else.

Looking at a conversion report in Google Analytics segmented to show what conversions came from dark social traffic

Of course, this is a very broad segment, because our filters were very broad. If you wanted to narrow it down some more, we could include additional filters in our segment.

Narrow Down Your Segment Even Further

For the sake of being thorough, I wanted to go ahead and include those more narrow filters I just mentioned. To narrow down your direct traffic even more, let’s remove any easily remembered and typed in URLs, for those people that have simply typed in “r3socialmedia.com/about” or “r3socialmedia.com/blog“. We’ll go through and remove the “easy” URLs. To do this, click the down arrow next to your newly created segment at the top of the page. Select “Edit”.

We need to edit our segment to add more filters and narrow down the website traffic even more

This takes you back to the original page where we originally created the segment filters. And now we’re going to add some more filters. Click “+ Add Filter”, and now change “Include” to “exclude”. And now click on our first drop down where it says “ad content”, type in and click on “Page”. (Remember, just “Page”. Nothing else.)

By adding more filters to our segment, we're narrowing the traffic on our website even further

We’ll leave the next drop down as “contains” and we’ll type in our “easy URLs”. A few of mine were my about page, my testimonials page, and my contact page. After each page is selected, be sure to click on the “AND” button in the bottom left hand corner. Be sure to also choose to “exclude” these pages.

Filtering out easy to type URLs helps narrow down on traffic that was most likely routed by dark traffic

When you’ve added your memorable and easy-to-type URLs click on “Save” at the top to save your changes and take a new look at your segment. To get a look at your segment on a report, let’s click on “Audience” and “Overview” to take a look at how our traffic compares.

Comparing Dark Traffic to Regular Traffic

Now that we've segmented some of our website traffic, we can compare traffic coming from Dark social media to the rest of our website traffic


As you can see in my report above, my dark traffic is actually acting closer to what we would like our website traffic to act than my regular traffic. You’ll see that my pages per session, session duration, and bounce rate are all lower than my all inclusive traffic. [Now, disclaimer, I know my rates are all are actually low. Once upon a time, I didn’t target the right people but I SEO’d the hell out of every article I ever wrote. Those articles bring me a TON of traffic, but unfortunately, it’s terrible traffic. I have yet to segment that traffic out.. but perhaps that’s another article. 😉]

This can help us narrow down what traffic does better for us during our campaigns. Obviously, based on this, if I were running a campaign to earn shares, I would be able to tell it’s doing me some good. The numbers aren’t awesome, so I would need to make some tweaks, but it’s good to know!

In Conclusion

So now we can see how to segment out dark social traffic which can help us narrow down what is working in our marketing and what isn’t. Google Analytics is a really powerful tool and with all of the data that our websites are gathering for us everyday, we should be at least trying to use it to make informed decisions that will help us grow our businesses!

Want me to look at your social traffic and manage your social media marketing efforts? Call me at 918-701-0227! Or you can email me. 🙂

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