(NOTE: This post has been updated and edited for clarity.)
I really went back and forth about writing this blog post. I’m still feeling ill about the whole thing. Especially because since sharing this I’ve been personally threatened with legal action and accused of saying things I have not.
I don’t think there’s anything to feel good about in a situation like this.
In blogging, there are a lot of things that you don’t know when you first start out. You look at successful bloggers and think “wow, I’d love be them”.
But it’s a lot of hard work. Sites crash, plugins hog all your server memory and some months the costs surpass the income. It takes long hours and (at first at least) not much pay. Business takes awhile to grow. Every entrepreneur knows this.
Then you find out all these things you had no idea about.
Some see ethics as a grey area.
Things that should probably be minded, but not always.
Not when it’s inconvenient or there’s just something too good to be passed up even though it’s questionable.
To me, that’s just wrong. Businesses – and people in general – could stand to be a whole lot more ethical.
During the third week in July I noticed something really odd happening in AKA Design’s Google Analytics.
Strange referral links started popping up – with really high bounce rates. Like 99-100%! (A bounce rate like that means that the site is getting a visit but the person/bot is leaving right away without even scanning the page.)
I kept an eye on it for a couple of days, thinking some scraper sites had stolen a post or two or something equally un-fun.
Then I thought I’d visit those sites to see what was happening.
That’s when it got weird.
When I copied and pasted the links into a new web browser tab, it started to load one page, and then bounced to another page. Odd. So I did it with another link and the same thing happened. Then I went back and redid the first link, thinking my browser was being weird – and it went to an entirely different page.
I was puzzled.
My work was nowhere to be found on these sites. So…not scraper sites.
Hmm. What was going on?
Then I remembered an ad network I work with.
I had been contemplating giving my notice to leave for lack of campaigns in my niche, difficult to decipher income tracking and just generally feeling off about them (my blog, my feelings). But they had wooed me into a special program they were starting July 1st and I thought I’d give them one last shot.
The idea was that they’d feature a couple posts of mine on their site per week, which would in turn drive traffic to my site.
I used to write for other blogs to do the same thing.
Yet I was a little hesitant. Something felt weird.
I totally thought it was because they would be posting my existing posts on their site after I’d already posted them to AKA Design, creating duplicate web content.
But that’s pretty much what syndication is, right?
Turns out I should have listened to my gut.
Behind the Curtain
In light of the weird links in my analytics I thought I’d ask this network about it.
I asked and didn’t get an answer.
I asked again. Vacation response.
So yesterday I rewrote my email to every contact I had for the company.
Here’s the response I got:
We are purchasing (through a third party) the traffic for your site…
As I mentioned to another [blogger]…
Bought traffic is nothing new in the publishing community – top publishers do this all the time. The purpose of the … program was to (Step 1) buy traffic for our selected sites in order to get them a better ranking on tools like Comscore and get them on a the radar with brands and media agencies… So this enables us to showcase you as a top Canadian blogger and validate it on comscore. It is NOT for the purpose of driving quality and engagement to your sites…”
What? Buying pageviews to get a better ranking?
Am I really THAT Naive? Thank God, no.
Here’s the great thing about the blogging community. Man, I love this part.
You see WE TALK TO EACH OTHER.
We talk to each other to share advice and support and just thoughts on blogging and business in general. We do this in closed Facebook groups so that the discussions are not public for everyone to see. Therefore keeping thoughts, emotions and opinions to only those involved in the discussions and NOT the public at large!
We like each other. We are friends.
I asked around. I asked A LOT of other bloggers in my niche in private (closed or secret) Facebook groups if they’d noticed anything off with their stats and what they thought of buying pageviews.
They were shocked!
The overwhelming consensus? It’s not okay.
I wrote a very honest email to this network giving my notice. I told them to remove me from this “program”, take my posts off their site and that I was done. Contract over (after the 90 days required notice).
A Word to The Wise
If on the off chance someone reading this has been buying pageviews – I don’t care how big your blog is or how much of a hotshot you are, STOP.
It’s NOT okay to be inflating your numbers.
It’s going to make a bad name for all of us if we don’t stand up and say no. If we want to work with brands we need to be above reproach and transparent with our numbers.
To Be Clear
I’m purposely not naming names and I purposely only participated in conversations in private groups. Those in the program may know which network I’m talking about. A lot of you will have no idea. And that’s okay. While the childish part of me would love to out the company, that’s not my purpose in this. I just want others to be aware that all of us should watch our traffic sources and should listen to our guts and do our research. (Any comments on this post naming names will be deleted.)
The actual percentage of my referral links that were spammy is extremely small. I happen to keep a close eye on my numbers and I was specifically looking for the ad network’s referrals because of posting on their site which is the only reason I caught this. I also had some major down time this month with my previous web host. My numbers are legit and I intend to keep it that way. If you’re working with anyone that promises pageviews, check your stats. It’s apparently up to us publishers to examine these relationships (scroll way down the last paragraph at this link).
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Please don’t shun bloggers over this. The bloggers I spoke to had no idea this was happening. And it wasn’t happening to everyone who was with this network. Just a select few.