Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

The Mystery of Dark Social: Dark Social Accounts for about One-Quarter of All Referrals to Our Sites

Magazine article Folio: the Magazine for Magazine Management

The Mystery of Dark Social: Dark Social Accounts for about One-Quarter of All Referrals to Our Sites

Article excerpt

That rainbow of lines you get from your analytics team in those monthly reports aims to give you a quick snapshot of the different sources of traffic to your websites.

Below is what that graph looked like for TheAtlantic. com in a recent month. At Atlantic sites, the blue line tracks users who type in our Web address or bookmark our site directly; the purple line follows those who arrived via search; the red line reports links from other sites; the green line monitors referrals from social media.

BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE.

That seems clear enough. But it turns out we (and probably you) are only getting part of the picture. What's missing in this data--or, to be more accurate, what's captured in this data but not broken out in any useful way--is traffic that comes from sharing but is not generated by the familiar pillars of the so-called sharing economy.

The stories that fall between the cracks are those that are passed around in casual ways, outside the social media super-structure, millions of times a day.

Alexis Madrigal, who is the tech editor at TheAtlantic.com, gave a name to this black hole of traffic: dark social. These sorts of referrals are not broken out in the chart below. But they represent a large part of the audiences we all receive. At The Atlantic, our director of analytics, Adam Felder, estimates that dark social accounts for about one-quarter of all referrals to our sites.

SO WHERE IS IT COMING FROM?

Since those four lines in the graph add up to all of our traffic, readers arriving under cover of dark social are stealing market share from one of the other categories. …

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