do you have a dark search problem

Do You Have a Dark Search Problem?

This cold open was originally featured in the February 10, 2021 newsletter found here:

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.


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