Buying Blog Traffic is NOT Okay!

(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.

BUYING BLOG TRAFFIC IS NOT OKAY | WWW.AKADESIGN.CA

Blogging

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.

Ethics

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.

Odd Happenings

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.

Say what?

Warning Signs

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.

Makes sense.

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.

Let’s keep our blogging businesses ethical and transparent!


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Comments

  1. says

    Amen. Why can’t everyone just show brands what our real reach is? Pretending to be something you are not hurts everyone. If you can’t stand on your own two feet, find another profession you are good at.

  2. says

    You know I have seen this on Twitter and when you see the followers they have no similar interest and you can tell they are fake. I have been blogging for five years and have watched my slow growth with pride… every hundred new followers is a victory. Facebook has been my main success, and gardening is a glitch area. But I have never bought a list, not will I. Good for you for taking a stand. I agree, we stick together. Come over to my site when you can…. http://www.creativecountrymom.com xxx…Brooke

  3. says

    I’ve read before about people buying twitter and facebook followers. There was one blogger who even had a “giveaway” where the “prize” was 5000 Twitter followers! I was like, “who would want that??”. But there are bloggers out there who would purposely inflate their numbers for sponsorships or ad prices I guess.

    Frankly, I love the engagement of blogging. I wouldnt want all my traffic to be a bot because I would have no pride in that!

    • says

      I don’t get it either, Casey. Buying traffic or likes or whatever is just not what the heart of blogging – even blogging as a business – is all about.

    • says

      I’ve also seen people possibly buying Instagram followers as well. I can only assume that when one person goes from 250 followers to 2500 in 2 days that something is not right….

      Ahhh well it’s how the game goes correct.

      Shannon I have to be honest I had to read this post 2 times to even understand how this all works.

      Danica

  4. says

    I’ve personally dealt with this for a few clients in the past.

    The issue is that’s not the only thing that can skew your numbers.

    About two weeks ago I had a client go through 14TB of data in a couple of days. This turned out to be a Chinese bot network hitting their site for massive amounts of traffic which did nothing for the client aside from spam their site with useless views.

    Not too sure why these bot networks exist, however they are a giant nuisance. Mosts hosts block these networks but the problem with China is they have billions of IP addresses in their country and distinguishing which is fake and which is real is a total nightmare.

    Fortunately hosts also TALK to one another and we have massive databases of these spam bots.

    But yes buying traffic is lame. I have a small personal blog and I get a ton of emails from random strangers asking me to post their links in my content. Super Skeezy!

    • says

      Oh those emails asking for links happens all the time. They want to up their SEO value. When you’re a newbie blogger it’s tempting to take the money and be happy someone is noticing your site. Three of years ago I had a well-known blogger recommend I do sidebar text links to construction companies and organization companies, etc. I did a couple. The topics were loosely related and it was easy money, but I hated it and totally regretted it because it just made my site look cheap.

      I think sometimes the fact that we all talk to each other just isn’t considered and companies think they can shame us into thinking everyone does it! I’m thrilled to hear this ad network wasn’t right!

  5. says

    Thank you so much for sharing this experience Shannon and not just talking the talk but also walking the walk. This is so valuable for everyone in the blogging world. When I see bloggers (who are not celebrities) with huge followings on the different forms of SM I now wonder if these were paid for and exactly how much of it is authentic engagement. It reminds me of the desperate child that nobody likes who brings candy to school to pass out to ‘friends’ at recess time so they have someone to play with. I also learned a long time ago to never start comparing because you never know what is really going on behind the scenes and what you are basing your comparisons on are the optics… not the reality. This is clearly becoming evident with some of the blogs out there. Thank you again!

  6. says

    I have heard about people buying Twitter and Facebook followers before but just heard about this issue today on Facebook. I will never do that. At the end of the day I prefer to have lower numbers then join a group of bloggers that have very high ‘fake’ numbers. It’s not worth it in my opinion. I work very hard at blogging and could not ‘cheat’ the system.

    • says

      I’m honestly hoping that bloggers aren’t doing it. That would make me very sad. The only proof I have is of this one network. I truly hope it isn’t normal for others!

  7. says

    Thanks for sharing this. It has happened to me. When searching google I found that my blog was taken and someone is getting a cutback from anyone that downloads it. I have tried writing them but it bounces right back to me. I’m not a big site but I love sharing what I make and how to. I watermark everything but that doesn’t seem to matter. They take it anyway. So frustrating.

  8. Shelly Wutke says

    I’ve been working on my blog for over 2 years and have seen my traffic drop when Google updates or what have you, but I’d never do this. Sharing this on Twitter! Thanks!

  9. says

    I’ve been blogging for five years and not once did I or would I ever think of purchasing numbers for any of my social media networks or blog. My fans/readers are organic and I hate when a brand only looks at numbers when hiring for ops because half the numbers they are looking for are most likely paid which makes the honest blogger who has the quality content and honesty, look bad. It puts the hard workers at the bottom of the barrel.

  10. says

    Hi Shannon,
    I’m still rather new at blogging and didn’t realize stuff like this went on. I’m so glad that you’re there with your knowledge and sound advise….Thank’s so much….Will definitely share…..Regards, Judy

  11. says

    Preach! My blog views are all over the shop from something like this! I can’t tell any more how many visitors I ACTUALLY get! Buying blog traffic is like paying someone to be your friend.. Ridiculous!

  12. says

    I heard about this yesterday and I too, became sick to my stomach. That a company would do this to bloggers without warning is beyond me. At least let people decide whether they want to come to the “dark side” with you or not!?



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