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Shining a Light on Dark Social for Law Firms

It's no secret that online marketing is a moving target. The internet, and especially search engines & social media, are constantly evolving. It's our job to keep up with these changes.


At the moment, internet marketers the world over are talking about "dark social". We're going to take a look at what that means, how we can measure its value, and how law firms can turn this new internet buzzword into paying customers.

What is Dark Social?

It's the social interactions between individuals that are invisible to our wonderful analytics tools, but direct oh-so-powerful traffic to your website.

Let's break this down a bit more. We can track the traffic that comes onto law firm client websites that we manage using a variety of tools and measurements. Where clients have call tracking implemented, we can track this right to the point of sale.

When you click on a link to one of our sites on Twitter, for example, that 'click' sends a bit of code to the website you've clicked that lets them know that you came from Twitter. We use this data to inform our marketing strategies – where to invest and where to improve.

When we look at our analytics, we always see a certain amount of traffic from unknown sources or "direct referral". This means someone has followed a link that's not tracked, or typed the URL directly into their browser.

Links we can't track include traffic from secure sites such as in-browser emails (eg. Gmail), or external programs such as email, text messages, instant messaging and some apps. WhatsApp in particular is used by 34% of mobile internet users in the UK, with around 36 billion messages received in a typical day in January 2014. 

This traffic is referred to as Dark Social – dark in the sense that it's not tracked, and social because it's often shared between individuals via email or private messaging.

Measuring the Success of Dark Social

client a dark social referrals

As mentioned, we check out where traffic comes from in order to optimise those sources. What Dark Social highlights is that it pays to think outside the box as well. Dark Social is incredibly valuable traffic, but without solid data, it's easy to overlook. We had a look into it, and the results are promising. Using the above criteria -- direct referrals to pages other than the homepage -- 65% of all social referrals appear to be dark referrals. 

But why is it important? Think about how you interact with others online. Social media streams are full to the brim with links – funny videos, thought-provoking articles and recommendations. It's unreasonable to expect everyone who views a link to click on it. Even for those who do click, only a small percentage of clicks will result in action such as an enquiry, purchase, sign-up or share. 

But what about links that are sent to you directly? When links are shared with a contact via email or messaging, they come with a recommendation, either explicit or implicit, that this is going to be of interest to the recipient. Maybe someone sends a news article to a friend that relates to an earlier discussion. Or maybe, someone has had a great experience with a service provider (such as a lawyer) and wants to recommend that service to a friend.

For Client A, around 5% of website visits result in enquiries, while 10% of visitors from dark social make an enquiry. That's double the rate of conversion, and that's reflective of most of our clients. Whatever the context, the personal referral effect means that recipients of these messages are more likely to click the link and, once on your site, are more likely to take action.

The Benefits of Dark Social for Law Firms

Our focus is always on making your website generate business for you. While lots of traffic is great – a busy site is likely to perform better in search – we want to generate valuable traffic and thus more enquiries. To use sales-speak, when someone is on your website because a friend sent them a link directly, that's a "warm lead". They already have a certain amount of trust and interest in your brand. That is difficult to replicate in traditional advertising. Dark Social is the Word-of-Mouth of the internet.

Dark social can be problematic in a marketing strategy, though. Without stats to back it up, it can seem risky to invest too much time and resource. There is, though, a certain amount that can be inferred from those mysterious unknown and direct traffic sources.

Even if we can't track the traffic source, we can see what page each user entered the site on. It's easy enough to remember the URL for a home-page – for instance, www.moorelegaltechnology.co.uk. But a page like www.moorelegaltechnology.co.uk/social-media-for-lawyers.html would be more difficult; it's therefore unlikely that the person who entered the site via that page just typed the URL in. We can assume that that visitor has clicked on a link that's untracked, and that this visitor has likely come from dark social. But this information is only useful if we take it, and use it to better inform our marketing efforts.

You need to get people sharing your content with their friends directly. While you can send mail-outs to get your links into people's inboxes, it's those trustworthy recommendations that provide the real value in dark social.

Great Legal Content Drives Dark Social

If you want people to share your website with their friends, there has to be something there worth sharing. Informative, interesting and useful content is going to be the best way to tap into dark social traffic. Not only that, but it has to be set out in a way that appeals to the user. Written content must be top quality; video content must be interesting; and infographics must be understandable.

We provide our law firm clients with a strategic content marketing service, including landing pages, blogs, videos and more. With our extensive experience in the legal sector, we know how to create content that works for you. We can also work with you to turn your legal expertise into the kinds of articles that people will be emailing to their friends. Taking inspiration from common questions from clients, explaining your service offerings in layman's terms, or providing case studies to illustrate your great work are all excellent places to start.

User-friendly content is also loved by search engines. While we can apply our SEO expertise to any website, what the end user appreciates is quality content and useful information. It's by pleasing the end user that law firms can take advantage of dark social.

In this digital age, we are all consuming online content constantly. Instead of newspapers on the train, people read from their smartphones. More and more, people are getting involved in multi-screen entertainment – watching TV while browsing the internet on the laptop, and maybe even having a chat via messaging on their phone. When your potential clients need legal services, they will inevitably ask for a recommendation or look on the internet – check out our ZMOT blog for more information. 

Get ahead by making sure your website is worthy of those dark social shares!

Online Marketing for Law Firms

If you want to find out more about dark social and how we can help you get the most from your online presence, contact us today.

Photo credit: Flickr

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