Sharing on the web takes many different forms — and age predicts which we choose

Understanding where traffic comes from and how info is shared is important to anyone who wants to grow and track their site’s presence, but with so much sharing happening in so many different places, parsing such a huge mass of data is a tricky proposition.

Matt Buchanan of Buzzfeed — a site that is emblematic of the intensely social nature of today’s web — takes a look at the data within his own site’s network and comes to two conclusions: the data is less obfuscated than previously thought, and age is a major predictor of how people share on the web.

Sharing data by age groupA healthy proportion of traffic to websites is directly to specific pages, meaning there is little trace of where these visitors came from. This type of traffic has been recently termed “dark social.” However, Buchanan takes a closer look at the information lumped under this umbrella:

All “dark social” traffic is direct traffic, but not all direct traffic is dark social. In fact the question here is how much of direct traffic really is dark social. Direct traffic, it turns out, is a slippery category: while you might think it’s simply traffic from bookmarks and people punching out URLs manually, it’s actually any traffic to a page that doesn’t tell you where it comes from.

In further exploring where this direct traffic comes from, Buchanan explains that it is heavily predicated on age:

In other words, there’s a clear demographic shift happening in the way that people share content: Millennials and younger users are using social media like Facebook and Twitter — instead of email — to share more and more and to get news … As Millennials and younger users make up and more of the web’s users, it seems that the proportion of direct traffic that’s truly “dark social” — made up of email — will potentially drop over time, with more of what’s left of dark social made up of IM and private messages exchanged over regular social sites.

The article provides quite a bit more in-depth information on how traffic and sharing play out across demographics and devices. Check it out here.