Dark traffic refers to visits to a site that do not contain source information, and therefore are recorded as Direct traffic in site analytics platforms such as Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics.
Direct traffic is called dark traffic unofficially by many digital marketers because they find the term direct traffic to be misleading.
In theory, direct traffic is when a visitor types or pastes in the URL directly into the browser or clicks a bookmark. In actuality, direct traffic is anything that an analytics provider cannot determine the source of.
This may include traffic from any of the following:
- Messaging apps
- Social media
- Mobile apps
- PDF links
This is not a conclusive list, as even organic search can sometimes be attributed to direct at times. Because direct traffic is essentially "catch-all" categorization, some refer to it as dark traffic to call attention to the fact that the source is in fact unknown.