If you’ve ever had a website you’ve no doubt seen people buying & selling traffic – or even done it yourself. There’s an entire LinkedIn group dedicated to it. (I am a member but admittedly haven’t used it for a long time). For years there was an entire market for cheap, sub-penny traffic / clicks via XML feeds and pop-unders. In recent days though these sources have come under intense scrutiny due to the fact that they are on the whole – fraudulent.
The fact is that traffic is money online. If you are a publisher who commands a large amount of traffic you should be making a decent amount of money from it, and rightfully so. Internet traffic is the modern equivalent of TV viewers or radio listeners. Advertisers will pay a premium for it and it’s what makes the world of “free content” go round.
With anything that has a profit motive, there is an incentive to cheat. If the goal is to make huge sums of money and you can do it easily through a loophole… why not? This mentality and the incentivization of traffic created a cottage industry for fraud that has thrived for several years. Myself and a lot of my colleagues in the online industry helped to perpetuate it, advertising agencies helped, even the brands spending the budgets – whether knowingly or unknowingly – helped to perpetuate it… but “it’s over Johnny,” and world of digital advertising will be a better place for it.
That’s not to say we see a day where fraudulent traffic will ever be completely eliminated. As long as there is profit attached to traffic there will be people cheating it. As for it being a cottage industry though, those days are over. We put together a video overview of how the world of “online advertising arbitrage” works. This video essentially explains why and how fake traffic is perpetuated.
The acquistion of Spider.io by Google, Gov’t raids of huge botnets like “Zeus” and pieces by Bloomberg Business and The Wall Street Journal seem to signal the end of the road for wholesale fraud. Along with technology, people’s willingness to look at the numbers has also helped. In a world where hundreds of websites were claiming to “have audience upwards of 100 million uniques per month” The actual real world web numbers don’t add up. As of 2014 there were approx 280 million internet users in the United States and about 3 Billion Worldwide – that would mean only 30 websites could legitimately say they had “100 million uniques per month”. So a large percentage of the hundreds of websites claiming to have 100 million uniques per month were either fudging their numbers, or buying A LOT of fraudulent traffic.