How to Tell If a Website Is Buying Traffic or Not

Updated by
James Parsons
on Nov 12th, 2022
Written by
Posted in How-to

Much of the information about web marketing online is geared towards a few types of people and businesses. You have your business owners looking to expand their physical business into a web business. You have your entrepreneurs looking to monetize blogs they’re building from scratch. You have your bloggers looking to build businesses based on content. You have affiliate marketers looking for niches to expand into, preferably with minimal competition.

What’s often forgotten in the shuffle is the concept of buying existing websites. Too often, people forget that it’s entirely possible to tempt a webmaster with money and buy their site instead of creating your own from scratch. This gets around a lot of the problems that come with beginning web administration, including the initial investment of building a website and growing it from nothing to the first few thousand users.

Sites like Flippa have established themselves as marketplaces for buying and selling websites, with an auction model. They sell fully established websites, sites that have just started up, and even domain names with no sites attached. Heck, they’ve even branched out into apps.

One thing you’ll notice if you browse Flippa and sites like it is the importance of traffic. A site with established traffic numbers will sell for a significantly larger amount of money than a site with little or no traffic at all. Therefore, it seems as though to make a profit from Flippa, you need to have a lot of traffic.

Traffic Control

There are a few problems with this approach. For one thing, the traffic numbers listed on a Flippa auction are just numbers added by the seller. You have no way of knowing without extra investigation whether those numbers are legitimate, made up or anywhere in the ballpark of real.

There are also a lot of additional factors that influence the quality of that traffic. A site with 100,000 hits per day might be worthless compared to a site with 10,000 hits a month, if the latter has better traffic.

  • If the traffic isn’t stable over the long term, the numbers aren’t necessarily worth anything. It might be seasonal inflation, like an Easter-themed site this time of year, or it might be temporary inflation meant to make the site look more attractive.
  • All the traffic in the world isn’t useful if it can’t be monetized. The traffic needs to be the sort of traffic that would buy a product if offered, click an ad if exposed, or convert in some other tangible way.
  • Bounce rate is also important. If all of the traffic of a site is bouncing away within five seconds, it shows either an issue with the site or an issue with the traffic.
  • The geographic source of the traffic. If you’re a brand in Europe and most of the traffic comes from Mexico, is it beneficial to you? What about if the traffic is coming from India?
  • The cost of that traffic. Some sites might have massive traffic numbers to display, with legitimate indicators, but investigation shows the owner is spending hundreds per day on Facebook and Google ads in order to inflate those numbers before selling. How much will it drop when those ads are removed?

Buying a site with fake traffic is buying a rude awakening. Thoughts of potential immediate profit are dashed. Instead, you’re left with a crumbling site you spend a potentially huge amount of money on, while you struggle to build legitimate traffic and maybe even recover from a Google penalty.

Identifying Fake Traffic

The absolute easiest way to spot a site trying to fake their traffic numbers is by viewing their Google Analytics data. If you’re contemplating buying a site, you should ask the owner for read only access to their analytics.

If the owner refuses, you might want to consider it a warning sign. Sometimes legitimate site owners are just wary of buyers who aren’t really buyers. Sometimes they’re trying to hide something. Likewise, if the owner sends you screenshots rather than granting you access to live data, be wary. Screenshots can be easily doctored.

If they let you in, they either have nothing to hide or trust that you don’t know what to look for. Here’s what to look for:

  • An abnormally high bounce rate. This can indicate problems with the site, or problems with the traffic. If the site seems fine, the traffic may be fake.
  • A low ratio of pages per session. If users are only visiting one or two pages per session, they aren’t sticking around to convert. One common technique used by fake traffic providers is to program their bots to visit more than one page, but this ratio will give them away.
  • Short session durations. If a user leaves in under 30 seconds, they found nothing of note on the site. If most users are leaving in sort amounts of time, is the traffic even real?
  • Drastic, sudden increases in traffic, particularly a short time before the site was listed for sale. This can indicate purchased traffic meant to make the site look more attractive.

On the other hand, if there are varied and lengthy sessions, higher numbers of pages per session, lower bounce rates and slow, gradual growth, the site is much more likely to be legitimate. It’s not unheard of for a site to have explosively rapid growth, but a site coincidentally experiencing that growth right before going on sale is a little sketchy.

So what do you do if you encounter a site for sale that has significant amounts of fake traffic coming in? Well, for one thing, don’t buy it. Unless you have very reliable schemes to make money from such a site when the traffic disappears, it won’t be a worthwhile purchase. If you’re determined to buy after all, make a low counter-offer.

While you’re at it, report the site to whatever auction or marketplace you’re using. They should have fraud protection rules in place, and will help protect you and the rest of the potential buyers from making a costly mistake.

Written by James Parsons

James Parsons

James is a content marketing and SEO professional who enjoys the challenge of driving sales through blogging while creating awesome and useful content.

Join the Discussion

  1. Hayate Kiyosaki


    Thank you for your post, James, it is very informative and useful

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