When it comes to buying web traffic, there’s a lot of debate. Some people claim it’s perfectly ethical, safe, and in fact virtually essential to running a good website. Others claim it’s unethical and that you should earn your traffic organically. Naturally, the people in the second camp tend to have mid-range sites, while the people who buy traffic either have great sites or terrible sites. It’s an interesting dichotomy.
The title of this post indicates that I’ll be talking about third party traffic buying, but first I have to define what isn’t third party purchasing. Consider the scenario; you have your site and you have a site running ads, like Facebook or Google. First party traffic would be using Facebook PPC to send traffic to your site. With Google, you can both buy traffic and run ads that pay you when they’re clicked. You effectively spend money to have Google send people to your site, and then do your best to shuttle them back along Google ad links so that Google gives you money.
Of course, given the costs involved, it will pretty much always cost more to bring those people in than it will pay you to send them back out. If it was easy to make a profit just by running Google ads and buying Google PPC, everyone would do it.
By contrast, buying traffic from a third party adds another entity to the mix. You have your site, and you have for example Google, running ads on your site through AdWords. You want to get traffic, but you know that buying traffic from Google PPC is going to be too expensive to make a profit from your ads.
This is where you turn to a third party traffic source. These networks essentially act just like Google or Facebook PPC, but they come from a different selection of websites and a different selection of users. They tend to be cheaper than the big names, but they also often have less quality control. It’s a risk you have to take, and it means you should look into the reputation of any network you contract to buy traffic.
The biggest problem with PPC, ranging from Google and Facebook all the way down to Joe on Fiverr is the quality. Even Google has issues with quality; any site can set up ads through Google, even if the traffic they refer is highly disinterested.
At the absolute lowest end, you have traffic created by bots. It’s not much different from sitting at your computer and hitting F5 over and over to refresh the page. It might earn you a few cents from pay-per-view ads, but ads that require clicks do nothing. Worse, those viewers won’t buy anything, ever. The only difference between robotic views and a DDoS attack is volume.
At a higher tier, you have disinterested users from outside your demographic. For example, if you’re advertising clothing for teenage girls, you don’t want your visitors to be primarily middle aged men, do you? Or, worse, if you’re advertising something you only sell in Ohio, you don’t want your visitors coming from Brazil.
The highest tier of traffic, and what Google and Facebook try to focus on, are interested real users. Real people will read content and click ads, and they may even become real customers.
So what about ethics? As it turns out, there’s nothing illegal or unethical about buying traffic in general; it’s just a matter of where the traffic comes from and what you’re using it for.
You can buy traffic just to increase the number of visitors on your site. There’s nothing precisely wrong about this, but it doesn’t do you much good if you’re buying low quality traffic. If you’re buying high quality traffic, those viewers can turn into customers, and it’s a perfectly legitimate means of increasing business. Of course, it’s a little unethical if you’re using those traffic statistics to inflate the value of your site before you sell it, particularly if you don’t disclose that you’re buying traffic.
If you’re buying traffic with the goal of making money, the ethics again vary depending on how you’re going about it. Consider these scenarios:
In the first scenario, what you’re doing isn’t very ethical. You’re just trying to scam the ad network out of as much money as you can before they detect your fake traffic and ban you.
In the second scenario, it depends on the source of the traffic. If you’re buying clickfarm traffic from Bangladesh or somewhere equally valueless to most advertisers, what you’re doing is unethical and scammy. On the other hand, if you’re trying to send legitimate referral traffic to your advertisers, that’s perfectly fine. Everyone expects a few bad hits to come through, it’s a fact of life you can’t control. It’s only when they’re the predominant visitors that things get hairy.
For the third scenario, you can’t be unethical. Buying bad traffic won’t get you any conversions, it will just waste your money. You need to buy good traffic, and good traffic necessarily comes from ethical sources.
The only other way to buy traffic in an unethical way is to buy it from a provider that gets it through scummy redirects or other negative sources. You don’t want your users associating you with hacked websites, do you?
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