April 15, 2016
Search Engine Optimization is a few years old as an industry, and some of the rules are pretty much set in stone. Black hat tactics such as keyword stuffing is bad, and organic link building is good.
Webmasters have done a good job of classifying their work into two distinct categories that help people determine the bad SEO people from the good. But, the real world is never as cut and dry and even SEO has its own blurred lines.
Fifty Shades of SEO
Gray hat tactics are a nebulous area within the industry that includes methods and strategies that don’t exactly fit into the black and white labels.
Gray hats aren’t exactly a new thing, but it doesn’t get much attention from most experts.
This is partly because it’s a notoriously confusing topic, and partly because there are very few examples of strategies that don’t fall directly into the first two categories.
In fact, the closest thing that can be called a gray hat tactic is buying website traffic, but only because many people adamantly disagree on where it should be. There are several important voices in the industry that put it under the black hat immediately, because they see it as a shortcut that undermines the entire process of organic SEO.
On the other hand, there are some that aren’t as quick to label it as black, as it doesn’t cause a search penalty, or harm the website outright.
Basically, buying traffic isn’t an inherently evil strategy, but it leaves a bad taste in the mouths of people who believe in organic search. The question that site owners are now left wondering is should they even consider purchasing attention for their domain?
The answer is: it depends. Like almost everything else in SEO, this is a question of trust. This is because when you do decide to give your site a quick boost through this strategy, you can either get good or bad traffic. The biggest question mark in the whole affair is whether you trust that your source will give you good traffic for your hard-earned cash.
In order to help you identify which sites are a safer bet in getting attention that will actually help, you’ll need to know the difference between good and bad traffic.
Visiting Sites is a Job in Some Countries
First of all, bad traffic doesn’t harm the site in any way; it’s more of a scam that inflates a site’s views without offering any actual benefit (unless you have AdSense, which we’ll discuss below). Site owners are essentially paying for a high view count and nothing else. Parties that sell bad traffic often use bots, or hire people from third world countries and China to visit a client site several times a day.
This is a rip, because while the site does get plenty of hits, it is void of any of the benefits that organic searches provide. For example, an actual user will explore the other pages of a website, click on links, read the calls to action, and may even convert into an actual customer. Robots and third parties won’t even bother reading the name of the site, and will only stay long enough to avoid getting tagged as a bounce.
The Golden Traffic Ticket
Good traffic, on the other hand, does offer an equivalent of what you pay for. These views act almost exactly like how an organic user would, including all the stuff that robots won’t do. They’ll read through your site’s content, explore the inner pages, and even be interested in buying your products and services. In fact, the only real difference between them and organic visits is that you paid them to be there.
The closest analogy that would make sense of this is an ad campaign; you pay for an ad that gets a prominent position somewhere, and it directs interested people towards the site. The only difference is that the traffic seller uses networks and sites that aren’t necessarily available through normal PPC ad avenues. Think of it as the backstage pass of traffic.
Are You Safe From Google?
There are of course concerns regarding purchasing traffic that stem from possible repercussions from Google. Fortunately, there is one undeniable fact that will help calm any fears about possible penalties from the search giant – they don’t care. View count isn’t part of their ranking algorithm to be specific. A site can get the equivalent of the total human population in visits every day and it wouldn’t make a difference.
Even if Google did care about page views, and whether they came organically or not, they would have to invest a considerable amount of resources and manpower to determine natural and bought traffic. Google would need to identify traffic selling sites, find a legal loophole to access their client list, and then cross reference every visit those clients got to weed out the bought users. It’s way too much work for something that they could easily not pay attention to.
The only time the search engine will step in and bring down a penalty is when the bought traffic somehow had bad or unnatural links. This is something Google does care about, and wouldn’t cost much to keep a close eye on.
The company has repeatedly stated that its goal is to provide the best experience for users, and isn’t an engine for businesses. Google won’t hesitate to remove an online business from their index if they were doing something the company didn’t like, which brings us to the AdSense point from earlier.
If you’re using AdSense or a similar affiliate to monetize our site, be sure to read the terms and conditions. Many of them, AdSense in particular, specify that you can’t inflate your traffic or risk losing your affiliate status. If you depend on affiliates on the monetization of your site, you need to pay double attention to whether a provider can guarantee AdSense safe traffic.
People within the industry will always have different feelings in regards to buying traffic and there may never be a definite place for it in either the white or black circles. But, it’s here now, and the decision lies with site owners on whether it’s something that should be left alone, or a strategy worth pursuing for the development of their site.