The answer is without a doubt yes. It’s estimated that 70% of social shares are via a dark social method*.
Dark social is inbound traffic to your website that get’s categorised as ‘direct’. In particular, it's the social activity that drives traffic to your website but is invisible in your web statistics, going into a big bucket called 'direct'.
The types of traffic/activity that are categorised as dark social are:
Chat or messaging apps. For example services like WhatsApp, Google Hangouts or Facebook Messenger or similar.
Social apps like the Facebook app or Instagram app because they don’t send information to identify themselves so record as a 'direct' visitor in your web statistics.
Any links sent to you by a friend in an email won’t be recorded as ‘email’ but ‘direct’.
It’s mostly the one-to-one sharing that drives dark social. For example a wife sends a message to her husband with a link to her desired birthday gift or something hilarious that you want to share with your bestie but it’s so politically incorrect there’s no way you’re putting that on Facebook where everyone can see, so you email the link instead.
There’s another reason for traffic to be categorised anonymously as ‘Direct’. If you’re browsing on a site using HTTPS and then link across to your website which is HTTP, there will be no referral included for this either. This will become increasingly common as more and more sites move their entire site (even public) to a SSL certificate due to the Google search algorithm penalising sites that are not run under an SSL certificate.
What’s this mean for your business?
In the past 'direct' traffic was a visitor typing the address directly into the browser URL eg. www.theage.com. Keep this in mind.
Now try this. Open your Google Analytics account and browse to Acquisition > All traffic > Channels. You will see as a line item ‘Direct’.
What's the number for your 'Direct' traffic. Now ask yourself this question. Do you think that number of ‘Direct’ visitors type directly into their browser the exact URL eg. http://www.theonlinefix.com/the-fix/2015/9/9/tool-review-website-builder-squarespace
That means that the rest of that number is a mystery. You can see what pages they landed on, but you don’t know where the traffic came from. You don’t know what activity you have done that drove that traffic to your website.
It could be the great work you're doing on social channels, or it could someone finding you on search and then copying and pasting the URL directly into an email to share with someone. You can’t know.
So what to do about shining a light on this ‘dark’ activity?
Using special tracking codes like UTM will help identify a lot of the traffic in this category, particularly where your efforts with social media and any traffic from posts. But unfortunately there will be other dark social sharing of that you will never be able to track such as the person that copies your URL from their browser and pastes it directly in an email.
Check back next week and I’ll provide details on how to set up your UTM codes for Google Analytics.