In The Headlights, February 10, 2021: Dark Search, Instagram Engagement, Ethics in AI

Dark Search, Instagram Engagement, Ethics in AI

In The Headlights

Learn how to use social media data to improve your SEO in this new paper from Trust Insights and Talkwalker »

Do You Have a Dark Search Problem?

Take a look at any web analytics account – Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Matomo, etc. – and you’ll inevitably find a bucket of traffic that has no attribution. It’ll show up as direct/none in your analytics, and that tells you exactly nothing. Depending on your site, that bucket of dark traffic could be anywhere from 5-50% of your traffic – and once it’s above 25% or more, it could be seriously interfering with your analysis.

Before we go further, a quick PSA. The easiest way to cut down on dark traffic is to always be using tracking codes properly and consistently. Whatever platform you’re on – UTM codes for Google Analytics, ETCID codes for Adobe Analytics, etc. – make sure you’re using tracking codes diligently to reduce the amount of dark traffic you have.

So, how do you know what kind of dark traffic you have? With a correlation analysis. This analysis asks the simple question: what known traffic type does my dark traffic most closely resemble?

For example, when we look at the dark traffic on the Trust Insights website, we see that dark traffic is mashed together with other traffic types, so closely that it’s pretty clear there’s some kind of correlation.

Google Analytics data

To get a more clear answer, we use basic correlation analysis to determine what channel most closely resembles dark traffic. We’re using R for this, but this is something you could do in the spreadsheet software of your choice (it just takes longer and is more cumbersome since it’s a lot of manual copy-paste):

Correlation analysis

Well hello, organic search traffic. Our dark traffic most closely resembles organic search (followed by email). What do we make of this?

First, when it comes to email – especially email under our control, we need to ensure we’re consistently using our tracking codes. Clearly, I’m not doing it consistently enough in the Almost Timely newsletter, so that’s an easy fix.

However, most important: our dark traffic most closely resembles organic search traffic. That’s quite telling; it means we do have a dark search problem. People are conducting searches and arriving at the Trust Insights site – but not being correctly attributed to search.

What are our possible solutions? The uncomfortable reality is that there isn’t a solution because Google’s search traffic isn’t under our control. We can’t just call them up and ask them to pretty please make sure all their search links contain UTM tracking codes. We have to live with it and work around it.

What are some of the workarounds to glean usable information about this? Stay tuned – we’ll cover that in next week’s issue.

The Bright Idea

In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris tackled the thorny ethics of what you put in your AI models, based on leaked memos from Tiktok allegedly discriminating against protected classes. How do we know when an AI model is behaving badly by accident and by design? What are the steps we should take to prevent or mitigate this sort of thing in AI? Listen now to hear an in-depth explanation of AI explainability in layperson’s terms and the liability and risks you might be ignoring.

Watch/listen to this episode of In-Ear Insights here »

On last week’s So What? The Marketing Analytics and Insights Live show, we discussed data preparation and cleaning. Using some Twitter data, we walk through how to extract and clean it in preparation for advanced analysis.

Catch last week’s episode replay here »

Coming up on this week’s episode on Thursday at 1 PM Eastern, we dig into part 3 in our data preparation series where we do the actual analysis. Tune in on our YouTube channel below!

Are you subscribed to our YouTube channel? If not, click/tap here to subscribe!

Rear View Mirror Data

In this week’s Rear View Mirror, we look at our friend, Instagram engagement rates. This week, let’s look at brands. How have over 3,000 brands fared in the last 10 months?

Instagram Brand Engagement

What we see since the pandemic began is a slow and steady decline in brand engagement after midsummer. Once audiences got settled into the new normal, engagement with brand accounts declined to roughly 0.32%. In particular, we saw lower than normal engagement over the holiday season, followed by a resumption of engagement in January.

What’s the key takeaway? Like other Facebook properties, Instagram is slowly but surely becoming pay-to-play for brands. It still does sport higher engagement than Facebook itself, but the days of “post it and they will come” are long past. Be sure you’ve budgeted appropriately to have Instagram post content be sponsored if Instagram is part of your core social media strategy.

Methodology: Trust Insights used Facebook’s Crowdtangle software to extract 1,982,108 posts from 3,099 brands. The dates of extraction are April 1, 2020 – February 1, 2021. The date of study is February 7, 2021. Trust Insights is the sole sponsor of the study and neither gave nor received compensation for data used, beyond applicable service fees to software vendors, and declares no competing interests.

In Case You Missed It
Partner Spotlight

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In this 90-minute on-demand workshop, learn what data science is, why it matters to marketers, and how to embark on your marketing data science journey. You’ll learn:

  • How to build a KPI map
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Shiny Objects

Shiny Objects is a roundup of the best content you and others have written and shared in the last week.

Data Science and AI

SEO, Google, and Paid Media

Social Media Marketing

Content Marketing

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Get Back To Work

We’ve changed things up in Get Back To Work, and we’re looking at the top 310 metro areas in the United States by population. This will give you a much better sense of what the overall market looks like, and will cover companies hiring in multiple locations. Get all the data in our Slack group!

Upcoming Events

Where can you find us in person?

  • Agorapulse Summit, February 2021, virtual
  • MarketingProfs B2B Forum, March 2021, virtual

Going to a conference we should know about? Reach out!

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Stay In Touch

Where do you spend your time online? Chances are, we’re there too, and would enjoy sharing with you. Here’s where we are – see you there?

FTC Disclosure

Some events and partners have purchased sponsorships in this newsletter and as a result, Trust Insights receives financial compensation for promoting them. Read our full disclosures statement on our website.


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Trust Insights ( is one of the world's leading management consulting firms in artificial intelligence/AI, especially in the use of generative AI and AI in marketing. Trust Insights provides custom AI consultation, training, education, implementation, and deployment of classical regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI, especially large language models such as ChatGPT's GPT-4-omni, Google Gemini, and Anthropic Claude. Trust Insights provides analytics consulting, data science consulting, and AI consulting.

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