Digital Deception: Do Your Viewers Have a Heartbeat?

One of the promises of the mature Web is the ability to track, to generate data about how many views and visitors come to a site and who they are. But with the availability of that data comes a vulnerability. An opportunity to produce that data the easy way, not by building sites that attract more and more visitors but by buying and faking your way to impressive data that has nothing to do with human beings actually viewing content online.

Incapsula was quoted by the BBC in December as finding that bots account for 61% of Web traffic. The Interactive Advertising Bureau says 36% of all Web traffic is now non-human. And according to Solve Media 61% of Web traffic in the 4th quarter of 2013 was “suspicious” as well as 25% of mobile activity.

For some, generating more traffic may be an ego boost, a way to justify your job or an attempt to improve a site or a blog’s Alexa rating or page rank (although fake traffic could potentially have the opposite effect). But for others there is big money involved. Dr. Paul Barford, a computer science professor at the University of Wisconsin, estimates that $180 million is lost annually by advertisers who buy fraudulent traffic.

Who benefits from this? The publisher or Web site operator who can charge higher rates based upon what appears to be the ability to deliver more traffic. An unnamed publisher who admitted to buying traffic told Jack Marshall of Digiday  “If you’re buying visits for less than a penny, there’s no way you don’t understand what’s going on.”

The other beneficiary is the automated ad server networks. Since a large percentage of online advertising is bought in this manner, the buyer often has very little information about the exact spots where his or her ad will appear. It could show up on a completely phony site that is viewed by bots only and thus be completely worthless, albeit statistically impressive. Dylan Love of Business Insider  characterized this as “’robots are buying ads generated by other ‘robots’ visiting sites.”

One completely fraudulent approach to this is to do just that, create phony sites that have ads only. The fraudsters will then build networks of bots by essentially hijacking computers. They use malware that is delivered to computers so they can control the computer and direct it to hit these sites. Cautious advertisers will seek to counteract this by requiring more sophisticated measures of the effectiveness of their ads, such as click throughs to video. But the most sophisticated of the purveyors of fake traffic have built bots that mimic the online behavior of humans, like watching videos and adding items to shopping carts.

It isn’t hard to find someone willing to set you up with some site traffic. etraffic247.com offers rates ranging from $9.95 for 25,000 visitors to $69.95 for a million visitors.

Hitleap, based in Hong Kong, offers that “You can choose to use a custom URL as the referring Website. This way you can make it look like the traffic is coming from google.com for example.” At 1 Million Clicks  you are assured that their Web Traffic Simulator software can simulate traffic on a Web page. The traffic counters (for example Google Analytics) are tricked into believe (sic) that the visits are real since the Web page is loaded in a real browser…” A site aptly named Fake Hits promises it can send thousands of unique IP fake visitors to your web site for just $19.95. I found another site with step-by-step instructions for producing fake You Tube views. Apparently they offer this advice for free as a public service.

Not all bot traffic represents a fraud. Lots of it is generated by search engines indexing content, by measurement companies tracking performance of content or by various types of monitoring companies identifying where content is published or where a company, organization or person in mentioned.

But like their crasser counterparts, these viewers have no heartbeat. They generate numbers that are basically deceiving because that have nothing to do with human beings who might have visited your site or read your content.

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21 Responses to Digital Deception: Do Your Viewers Have a Heartbeat?

  1. Tim says:

    It makes it all seem like a big racket and to what point. What good is a million hits if none of them can read. I would like to think the ultimate point of writing a blog is so that it is read by real people. I am so naive at times! Thanks for the heads up.

    Like

  2. jacquiegum says:

    This is so sad to me….social media gurus abound yet you can buy likes, twitter followers, and now traffic to your site. UGH! What are doing???? Wouldn’t think these bright minds could turn their attention to real problems that need innovators? Or are people that desperate that fake followers and deceptive website traffic is appealing.

    Like

  3. Donna Janke says:

    It’s sad the numbers matter so much they overshadow real interaction. And it’s creating a lot of noise.

    Like

  4. Donna Janke says:

    It’s sad numbers matter more than real interaction. It creates a lot of noise.

    Like

  5. Am sick and tired of all the frauds going on online when it comes to traffic, But above all I believe it’s lamentable that people pay for this kind of services. They know perfectly well that they are trying to con the system.

    For once Google’s constant algorithm changes comes in handy. People who try to fake their online performance frequently find their page rank going down or even disappering.

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  6. Arleen says:

    After spending $145,000.00 a year to an SEO company. I learned alot about deception.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I find this all very disconcerting. I work very hard to do the right thing. To know that others can buy their way to attract business under false pretenses seems very wrong to me.

    Like

  8. maxwell ivey says:

    Hi Ken; this makes me wonder about something. I have my site hosted with host gator. their stats system separates traffic into actual traffic and traffic from bots. How accurate do you think this is? Lasst month my site had over 100,000 page views and is on pace for somewhere around that this month. Yet, I still have not managed to secure any advertising. I don’t know if this is because of the narrow niche I am in the amusement industry. but now I’m wondering if it could have something to do with bogus traffic making potential ad buyers skeptical of my numbers because all traffic numbers are skeptical. love this thought provoking post, max

    Like

  9. Hi Ken,
    I think your post says a lot for organic traffic from viewers with a heartbeat. Otherwise, what’s the chance that you can have a meaningful discussion? Zip. Zero. Zilch. Buying Twitter followers violates Twitter’s policy anyway.

    Kind Regards,
    Bill

    Like

  10. It’s such a strange world we are living in…everything has become so wrapped up in social media, how many followers, readers, likes we all have. It is really disheartening to hear that you can buy traffic to your site…I had no idea (although now that I’ve read this, it really is no surprise!).
    Michele

    Like

  11. Mina Joshi says:

    I get so many emails from companies offering to help with more traffic to my blog. Thankfully I don’t make money from my blog so just delete such emails. Perhaps I should forward them your post!!

    Like

  12. TheRecipeHunter says:

    I had no idea you could buy site traffic…fortunately for me and my recipe-focused blog, I would much prefer my traffic to have heartbeats. I’d rather have ten or twenty real human visitors to my site than thousands of bots.

    Like

  13. Duke Stewart says:

    I really don’t get the point of buying traffic. Won’t it all just fall in your face in the end anyway? I mean, why bother? Very sad that companies/people resort to this.

    Like

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