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By Brendan Almack on 3 Mar 2016

If getting an accurate picture of where your website’s traffic is coming from is important to you, then understanding dark traffic is a must. Here, Brendan explains what dark traffic is, how to identify it in Google Analytics and how to address it so that your various channels such as Social for example, are getting the credit they deserve. Also, make sure to check out our handy tool and instructions at the bottom of the page that will allow you to quantify just how much dark traffic your site is getting.


Hi, everyone. I'm Brendan and today I'm going to talk very briefly to you about something called dark traffic.

What Is Dark Traffic?

Dark traffic is effectively traffic that Google Analytics either can't attribute or incorrectly attributes. It comes in many different shapes and forms. For example it might be dark search.

Dark Search

So, dark search activities might be in-App searches, image searches, or carrying out secure searches. These kind of search activities don't share information with Google Analytics. So Google Analytics doesn't actually know how to attribute it.

Dark Social

Even more prevalent is the whole world of dark social. This can be some Facebook traffic, WhatsApp traffic, Snapchat, any kind of instant messenger traffic. Again, these kind of activities don't share information with Google Analytics. So, what does Google Analytics do when it doesn't know how to attribute traffic? It lumps it all in here and calls it direct traffic and this is why we get suspicious when we see things like this. In this particular website, we can see that just over 40% of the website traffic is coming from direct traffic sources. Let's just remind ourselves what direct traffic is meant to be. Direct traffic is meant to be somebody who has bookmarked your website and then clicking the bookmark, come to your website. Or else it's somebody who's typed your URL directly into their browser. Let's explore this and jump into this direct traffic. When we jump into this direct traffic you can see that only 60% of it or just over 60% of it is landing on the homepage. So, it's highly unlikely that 40% of this traffic is coming from people who've bookmarked pages beyond the homepage or typed in URLs that are longer than the homepage. So, 40% of this direct traffic is potentially dark traffic.

Why Understanding Dark Traffic Is Important

What do you do about this dark traffic phenomenon or why is it important? The reason it's important is if you don't know about dark traffic, you could be overvaluing the importance of your direct traffic channel and undervaluing the importance of some of the great search or social activities that you are engaging in.

How to Shed Light on Dark Traffic

So what can you do? The first thing to do is to be aware of it and know that it exists. Secondly, tag absolutely everything you can. If you're running email campaigns, display campaigns or any kind of social activity, use UTM tracking codes for tracking so you can see it in Google Analytics. Thirdly, inspect your direct traffic. Jump into your direct traffic and see how far it's going into your website. If it's going beyond your homepage, the chances are that it's dark traffic. Lastly, we have a handy tool. You can find it on our blog. You can upload it to your Analytics profile and it will quantify exactly how much dark traffic you're getting. That's a really brief overview of dark traffic.

Learn More

Marshall Simmonds gave a really interesting presentation at MozCon last year. Check it out if you want some more detailed information on the scary world of dark traffic.

Measure Your Dark Traffic With Our Google Analytics Channel Grouping

Step 1: Import custom channel grouping


Step 2: Change homepage URL in the 'Dark Traffic' and 'Direct' definitions



Step 3. Choose that grouping as a primary dimension

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