While an indispensable tool for digital marketing and SEO professionals, Google Analytics is not without its flaws. Dark traffic is not a new phenomenon within the service, but it is one that is growing every year.
So what is dark traffic? Simply put, it’s the traffic that comes to your website that Google Analytics classifies as direct traffic. This means you don’t know where this traffic came from, and it can complicate your ability to gauge the success (or lack thereof) of your marketing campaigns and strategies. It’s unlikely that all of the traffic shown under direct traffic comes from people manually entering your domain.
Dark traffic can come from many sources. If the e-mails you send do not have referral codes, then Analytics won’t know to attribute the click to one of your e-mail marketing campaigns. Secured sites running HTTPS and having valid SSL certificates from the various certificate authorities out there can remove referral data from URLs as well. Since Google has started giving priority to secured sites in their search engine results, this problem will only grow as more and more people move away from the unprotected http protocol.
The explosive growth in mobile apps and messaging services has also resulted in an increase in dark traffic. If someone shares your link in a chat or instant message, it will show up as dark traffic unless the user copies and pastes a link complete with referral information, which is highly unlikely. Mobile apps can also result in their fair share of dark traffic, as they may not consistently report where the traffic is coming from. For example, not all traffic that comes to your site via the facebook app will show up as being referred by it.
There’s not really much you can do about it though. While it’s great to have the traffic, it’s much more useful when you know where it’s coming from. That doesn’t mean that it’s completely meaningless. There are ways to glean some information and make educated guesses about where traffic is coming from. If a page is unlikely to attract visitors directly but is showing up as having direct traffic, you can assume that this is dark traffic.
In Analytics you can create a custom reports with the purpose of filtering out pages that receive direct visits like your homepage. The longer the URL of the page someone visited, the higher the probability that the direct traffic to that page is dark traffic.
You should also keep in mind any marketing or social media activities you are running that are promoting visits to specific pages. If you see a growth on a blog post that you’ve been sharing on social media recently, then you can be fairly sure the direct traffic is dark traffic and a result of that campaign.
Unfortunately you can never be sure where your dark traffic is coming from, and how much of your direct traffic is dark. But with a little investigation and common sense, you can pull some extra information out of it. Husaria Marketing has the experience and insight to help you make the most of your website data, and leverage it into actionable, data-driven intelligence.