On a site like this one, one of the first questions a savvy webmaster should ask is how the service you might buy affects your ranking. Buying traffic is one of those gray-hat techniques that isn’t particularly black hat, but isn’t necessarily white hat either. Will it hurt you in the long run, or even in the short term?
A Short Answer
In a word; no. Buying traffic will not earn you a search penalty or harm your search ranking in any way.
This is, of course, a disingenuous statement. Purchasing traffic is a multifaceted experience, and there are a few ways along the path that can earn you some form of penalty or hurt you in some way.
Essentially, when you’re buying traffic, you’re getting either good traffic or bad traffic. Good traffic emulates organic traffic and can benefit your site by increasing your exposure and buying your products. Bad traffic does nothing but inflate your hit counter without bringing you any actual benefit. Additionally, bad traffic can come from sources that hurt you.
Obviously, when you’re buying traffic, you want to buy good traffic. Unfortunately, the world of traffic buying is a minefield littered with low-cost scams and black hat techniques.
Characteristics of Bad Traffic
Bad traffic, as mentioned, doesn’t help you because all it does is inflate your view count. Sure, you can say “look, I have 10,000 hits per month from unique IPs!” The thing is, none of those unique hits are doing anything for you. No part of SEO actually measures your traffic, for benefit or detriment. This is because it’s so easy to inflate artificially; see how that works?
Essentially, bad traffic comes from robots or from people in third world countries hired to visit your site several times per day. You receive hits from unique IP addresses, but you don’t get the benefits you get from real people. Organic users will click your links and explore your site; robots will not. Organic users have the chance to read your calls to action and may convert; third world traffic sellers don’t.
There’s one way that bad traffic can actually hurt your site; links. If you’re buying bad traffic, there’s the chance that the seller funnels traffic to your site through a network of low-quality blogs that Google flags as negative. If this is the case, you would experience an influx of bad backlinks, which Google will see and flag as spam. This earns you a Penguin penalty and can take a long time to fix.
Thankfully, generally this is not the case. Most traffic sellers have side businesses selling links, and don’t mix the two unless you pay for both.
Buying Good Traffic
By contrast, purchasing good traffic is possible, though it is generally more expensive. Good traffic does everything it can to mimic organic traffic. These users are located in the same country you’re in. They’re potentially interested in buying your product. They’ll explore your site and read your calls to action. They are, in every sense, organic users with the one exception; you bought their presence.
If this sounds familiar, it is; buying traffic this way is essentially running an ad campaign. After all, what is a PPC campaign but spending money for traffic? The similarities are striking. You invest money in traffic. Traffic comes in and explores your site, and may convert. When you stop paying, the traffic drops off.
Legitimate traffic sellers essentially run ad campaigns for you, using their own tried and tested methods and networks. They don’t hook you up with robots or send spam links your way. Rather, they just take the work of split-testing ads out of your hands. Sure, you pay more than you would for running the ad campaign yourself, but you don’t have to spend the time creating ad copy or digging into analytics.
The benefit of buying traffic legitimately is that it comes from existing, quality sites in your own niche, but not sites you already can run your ad campaigns on. You’re not just paying for someone to run your Facebook ads for you; you’re paying for access to a unique network of sites that aren’t used for advertising in any other way.
Google and Traffic Buying
If you’re worried about Google seeing your traffic, identifying it as unnatural and demoting your site because of it, don’t be. As mentioned above, bad traffic generally has no impact on search one way or another. Google doesn’t care how many views you get monthly, so they don’t care if you’re wasting money buying bad traffic. They only care if you’re buying bad links, which are a legitimate SEO factor.
You can also look at it this way; how can Google tell the difference between purchased traffic and organic traffic? Obviously, it’s easy to see the telltale signs of a robot refreshing a page, but again, they don’t care about that. Paying for good traffic is better, and it mimics organic traffic, so it’s harder to detect. To detect it, Google would have to identify a site selling traffic, identify the sites that are buying traffic, and cross-reference the users visiting each site; no easy task for no benefit to their algorithm.
A Note About Alexa
Buying traffic is often used to inflate Alexa ranks – or try to – but it’s not always a good idea. For one thing, Alexa is hardly useful for many purposes. Sure, some advertisers like to see a high Alexa rank, but you can monetize just as easily through other advertisers.
The reason buying traffic to inflate Alexa statistics is due to how Alexa records traffic. Essentially, the only traffic that counts is traffic from users who have the Alexa toolbar installed. This number is only a small percentage of Internet users. If you’re buying organic traffic, you may get a boost; if you’re buying bad traffic, you almost certainly won’t. The exception is if you’re buying traffic specifically for Alexa boosts, in which case the seller probably forces their robots to use the toolbar.
The other problem is that Alexa isn’t an instant rank change. You would have to buy traffic consistently for months or years to see any long-term benefit in your Alexa rank. This can quickly outweigh any benefit you get from having that higher rank.
Ways Paid Traffic Can Hurt
There are two ways paying for traffic, even organic good traffic, can hurt your site. The first is if, along with the traffic, come unnatural links. Bad links can hurt your search ranking, as mentioned above.
The second way is if you’re using Google AdSense or another affiliate for monetizing your blog. Many of these affiliates specify that you can’t artificially inflate your traffic, lest you lose your affiliate status. If Google catches you inflating your traffic, particularly with bad traffic, you are liable to lose your AdSense account.
Other than those two reasons, buying traffic is generally safe and, if you use a good traffic seller, beneficial to your site.