Identifying Dark Traffic in Google Analytics

Google Analytics is an amazing, accessible tool for business owners to generate insights based on real user data and use this information to improve their SEO strategies. This can go a long way towards increasing your page views and conversion rates, helping your company grow. To get the most out of Google Analytics, it’s critical to have accurate information. Unfortunately, there is one potential challenge you might encounter that could impact the integrity of your data.

One of the most important pieces of information Google Analytics can help you evaluate is site traffic, or more specifically, where that traffic comes from. However, sometimes this is tracked incorrectly and misreported within Google Analytics. Such instances are referred to as “dark traffic.” If the error isn’t identified, it could have significant repercussions later on.

What Is Dark Traffic And Why Is It So Harmful?

This term refers to any site traffic that has been miscategorized by Google Analytics as Direct Traffic, so it may be useful to begin with an explanation of what that means. Direct Traffic encompasses instances when people are accessing your website directly instead of utilizing links or search results. This basically means either entering the URL to pull up the site or using Bookmarks. 

Generally speaking, this should only account for a modest portion of your site visits, given that few people are likely to have memorized or saved your domain. This is especially true when examining pages far deeper in your website than your homepage, such as specific articles or blog posts. In practice, this number often appears to be much higher than any other sources. The reason? Not everything labeled as Direct Traffic by Google Analytics actually belongs in that category.

As it turns out, when Google Analytics is unable to determine the source of the traffic, it automatically categorizes it as Direct, even though that’s not necessarily the case. Hence the term dark traffic. This is a problem because it prevents you from learning the true source of those views and developing a plan to apply that information in a useful way.

How Does Dark Traffic Happen?

There are a few instances more likely to be incorrectly classified as dark traffic. Links accessed via desktop or mobile apps often don’t include the necessary referral information that tells Google Analytics where the user came from. These include common desktop apps like Outlook or Discord, as well as social media apps and instant messaging on your mobile device. Secure sites are also difficult for Google Analytics to recognize. These are pages that include “https” at the beginning of the URL.

What Can You Do About It?

The first thing you can do to help minimize the amount of dark traffic present is to ensure your own links are not a part of the problem. There are tools available that allow you to add some additional text, referred to as UTM codes, to your links, which feeds the necessary information to Google Analytics. Google even provides users with a URL builder to help with the process.

Another thing you can do is estimate how much dark traffic you’re receiving by separating out your reports into different categories. For example, your homepage is much more likely to be receiving real direct traffic than, say, a more obscure page you can only access after following a series of links. Separating out the data for these two areas of your site will give you a much clearer picture of your traffic situation.

Once you’re able to track the amount of dark traffic you’re receiving, you can check for patterns. If you experience a sudden increase in dark traffic after the launch of a social media campaign, you’ll have a pretty good idea of where those views are coming from.

Creating custom reports and navigating the intricacies of Google Analytics can be tricky. At Vizion Interactive, our team has years of experience developing SEO strategies and helping our clients make the most of their data. For a free quote, contact us via our website or start by giving us a call at (888) 484-9466.