A large part of your web traffic basically is unaccounted for which can make it difficult to track your marketing strategies. This will potentially lead you down the wrong brand marketing path for your strategic decisions on how your site might or might not be performing.

Learning how to correctly track your site will bring clear vision to your marketing choices.

What is “Dark Traffic”?

Analytic tools commonly separate your total site traffic into search, direct and other sites depending on where each came from. Dark Traffic are visitors to your website that are not tracked.

Most sites have anywhere from 10-20% of their visitors from directly typing the URL, if this number is lower than normal for you, you may need to take a look at your “brand awareness”. If the number is too high you are straying into the realm of “Dark Traffic”.

If a URL is difficult to track then it gets recorded as “direct traffic” in your analytics. This happens because it is devoid of a proper refer string that will pinpoint the source.

Overall, direct traffic can be confused because it really is only supposed to consist of people typing your URL directly in and analytics confuse it when they arrive from other sources.

Is Dark Traffic That Big of a Deal?

Yes, because it artificially inflates your direct numbers and it understates your organic search, email and social media numbers, that is the “Dark Traffic” at work.

When the discrepancy is as high as 60%, according to a recent Groupon experiment, that is big deal.

So, why is This Dark Traffic Important?

When your analytics are overstating direct numbers it is also understating the impact your site is actually having. Dark Traffic can be picked up through emails, social desktop, web applications, traffic from secure to insecure sites, non-web based files, documents, PDFs, presentations and people who have used image search.

Poor strategic marketing decisions can be made if you are misinterpreting your direct traffic. All your recent work might not be getting the credit you fully deserve and these numbers are being consistently underreported.

The great news is this, you can take control back!

How to Identify Dark Traffic

    1. Use Google UTM parameters when you can.

    2. Create a direct traffic segment report in your Google analytics.

    3. Look for “dark social” connections with your existing campaigns.


While you will never be able to completely identify all “dark traffic” on your site, you can weed out a significant amount in your analytics by following these 3 steps. Understanding where your traffic is coming from will help you to better market yourself and make better decisions.