Some people will tell you that buying traffic is perfectly safe, even when you’re using AdWords. Some people will tell you that they personally have been banned for buying traffic. Some people have never tried it, but are afraid of suffering the consequences if they are caught buying traffic and Google decides to block their accounts.
Where is the truth? Where is the line drawn? Can you buy traffic, or does Google block anyone they catch doing so?
Word From Google, Direct
Google doesn’t care if you buy traffic. It’s perfectly safe, with one caveat; it must be good, legitimate, real traffic. As they say, specifically, that as long as your traffic is legitimate, they don’t care where it came from. The problem comes when you’re buying fake traffic, traffic that does nothing but boost your views and earn you the pennies in commissions you get from the exposure.
Google provides a traffic provider checklist, which you can use to determine whether the traffic you’re buying is valuable or fake. I’ll paraphrase it here.
What you need to know: where the traffic is coming from and what kind of traffic it is. In general, if your traffic is coming from ads, it’s more likely to be okay. If you’re contracting someone through a notorious $5 price point web marketplace, they’re probably not sending you targeted, legitimate traffic.
- Where are your ads being displayed? Make sure you recognize the locations. If the source of your traffic is a site that looks like spam or a site that has been removed from Google’s index, avoid buying that traffic.
- If the provider of the traffic is not going to tell you where your traffic is coming from, avoid that provider. This typically happens when the traffic is coming from a direct link from a bot, and not from a URL referral.
- Ask to see your ad live and in real time. If the provider cannot or will not show you, revoke your contract. The traffic is coming from a spam site or a bot.
- How much does the traffic cost you? If the cost is significantly cheaper than, say, running a comparable Facebook ad, you need to wonder how the provider is able to provide the traffic so cheaply. It’s a warning sign of illegitimate traffic if the provider is able to charge an incredibly low fee but is unable to explain why.
- Ask the provider who else purchases traffic from them. If they are unable or unwilling to share even a partial client list, take it as a sign to get out. You don’t want your business to be associated with a group that refuses to share any public information.
- If the provider shares a client list and you recognize notable scams, thin affiliate sites or spam sites, leave. You don’t want to be associated with those sites, and the traffic they refer is probably poor in quality.
Remember; any good source of traffic is going to be traceable and it’s going to be subject to analytics. By using Google Analytics, you can see where your traffic is coming from. By implementing steps to block unwanted bot traffic, you’ll be able to minimize a lot of the traffic issues that form grounds for AdWords removal.
When you’re tracking the traffic you purchase, be aware of referral URLs. You don’t want to find spam sites in that list. You should also be aware of the frequency of the traffic. If it comes in large bursts all at once, it might not be legitimate traffic. Real users tend to spread out their browsing throughout the day, with peaks and dips. All-or-nothing bursts of traffic are a sign of bots being turned on and off.
Dealing With Bad Traffic
So what do you do if you’re running AdWords and you discover that the traffic you paid for is not legitimate? The last thing you need is to find out too late, only to find yourself removed from AdWords.
The first thing you will want to do is deactivate the traffic source. If, for example, you’re running an ad through a link exchange, pull that ad. If you can’t disable the ad, try to change the landing page to a page that doesn’t exist, or that doesn’t have AdWords activated. If you can’t do that, remove AdWords from the page being targeted.
The second thing you will want to do is report the activity to Google. You can use the Invalid Clicks Contact Form to report click fraud. Note that this works whether or not you bought the traffic! Sometimes, competitors will deliberately attempt to spam your AdWords-enabled site with fraudulent traffic in order to get you removed from the program.
Be aware that using the form to report to Google does not absolve you of responsibility. If the traffic continues and you do nothing to stop it from reaching AdWords, Google may still remove you from the program. It’s best not to outright admit you bought traffic to try to get more money out of AdWords; Google doesn’t like people who game the system, even if they try to come clean.
Unfortunately, you may have to operate without AdWords for a time, until the traffic you – or a competitor – purchased has expired. When that happens, or when you have blocked the traffic, you will be free to reinstall AdWords on your site.
Why Does Google Hate False Traffic?
When a robot visits your site and clicks an ad, what does that hurt? It seems like an easy problem to solve; you report it, Google takes the pennies back, and Google refunds whatever advertiser paid for the traffic in the first place.
The problem is, such a reversed transaction is detrimental to the system as a whole. For one thing, Google loses trust in you. You have shown yourself to be unable to police your traffic, to control where your traffic is coming from.
At a step higher, advertisers lose trust in Google. Google has a huge reputation to maintain. If they begin to refer bad traffic – traffic that the advertiser has no ability to capitalize on – they decide Google is not a valid source of advertising. They take their money elsewhere, to a competitor of Google. Thus Google loses a sale.
When this happens too frequently, the entire system can collapse. No one trusts the network, or no one but low quality spammers will use it. This hurts everyone involved. You’ll find it harder to make money, because the advertisers pay less. The advertisers pay less because the network is unable to charge more, because the quality of their traffic is bad. The advertisers can’t make money as easily, so they’re less willing to pay. All in all, it’s a deeply negative cycle that’s hard to break away from, unless you’ve established rules early on and enforce them the way Google does.
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