Organic traffic can be hard to come by and difficult to predictably scale. It is no surprise then that many publishers look at buying traffic as a way to boost their numbers. Paid traffic can be risky though, particularly for websites that monetize through display ads. Buy the wrong traffic and you can find yourself in bad standing with advertisers or even permanently banned by Google and other SSPs.
Understanding what traffic is safe, which is risky and how to boost your traffic numbers safely can be tricky. This article will guide you through that process and help you avoid some of the pitfalls.
What is Paid Traffic?
The term ‘paid traffic’ refers to any website traffic generated as a result of money in exchange for advertisement. Most technology platforms now offer paid traffic services, such as Google Ads, sponsored Instagram posts and promoted Tweets. The label “paid traffic” has negative connotations in some circles, but is not necessarily bad. In fact top tier publishers will often buy additional traffic to boost impressions numbers when they have valuable campaigns running.
Paid traffic can play a part if a number of publishers strategies, some of which are more problematic than others. For example, paid campaigns that aim to introduce you content to a new audience
- Display ads, such as banners, videos and pop-ups.
- Paid search, such as pay-per-click campaigns and product listing ads.
- Social media ads, such as sponsored Instagram posts, promoted Tweets and boosted Facebook posts.
- Content recommendation ads, such as in-feed ad units and recommendation widgets.
What are the benefits of buying website traffic?
The main advantage of paid traffic is the ability to reach new, incremental users who would otherwise not know of your content. This can then result in the acquisition of a larger audience with more returning users. Paid traffic also tends to offer quicker results than long-term strategies aimed at acquiring more organic traffic, such as Search Engine Optimisation.
A word of caution about arbitrage
Buying website traffic can form part of a number of publisher strategies. Most of these are not inherently problematic, but one is associated with particular risks. Ad arbitrage is where a publisher buys a user visit with the aim of generating more revenue in that session than the cost of the click. This is most frequently done by buying cheap traffic from content recommendation networks and taking the user on a journey involving multiple page impressions that are each loaded with a large number of CPM based ads.
Whilst it might not be immediately clear why this model is frowned on by SSPs like Google, it can lead to multiple problems around user experience, ad stuffing, user deception and failing to ad value to a user experience. This rarely aligns with what advertisers see as quality inventory so can lead to publishers being removed from networks.
What are the risks of buying traffic?
The most significant risk to a publisher when buying traffic is that traffic not meeting the policy requirements of the ads they are running on their site. This can lead to deductions and, depending on how serious the issue is, account termination.
Invalid traffic is seen as one of the most serious issues in ad monetization and one of the few problems that can result in immediate, permanent termination by partners such as Google. If you are buying traffic you need to understand where that traffic comes from and be confident that it is policy safe. Amongst the most serious issues are:
- Non-human traffic – “Bots” are scripts designed to mimic the behaviour of humans browsing.
- Deceptive traffic – Real users, but arriving at the publisher website unintentionally. This can be through tactics like pop-unders
- Incentivised traffic – Real users who are deliberately visiting the publishers website, but have been incentivised to do so. Examples include “paid to surf” type programs
Few companies selling bad traffic will admit to using tactics like those above, so the responsibility is on the publishers to ensure that any traffic they buy is valid. This means knowing who you buy from, understanding where the traffic comes from and monitoring the traffic that you received.
Google in particular is exceptionally unforgiving when it comes to publishers inciting invalid traffic, whether intentional or not, and this can often result in disabled ad serving or account termination.
Can AdSense publishers use Google Ads to buy website traffic?
In short, the answer is yes. However, making a positive return on investment on traffic sent to your AdSense website from Google Ads is extremely difficult. It requires continual monitoring and improvement to ensure that AdSense is optimised for maximum revenue gains and Google Ads costs are kept to a minimum. We’d advise against doing arbitrage in this way, but buying users that you hope to engage long-term can be a useful strategy. If you’d like a more detailed answer, check out this blog post.
So, is it worth buying website traffic?
Ultimately the answer to this question depends on the quality of traffic, the cost and whether you have the resources to monitor the newly acquired traffic to ensure that it is genuine.
At OKO, we see nothing wrong with buying traffic as long as it is high quality, not incentivised and that the traffic comprises of genuine users who intended to arrive at your site and are not simply being duped into seeing hundreds of ads. We recommend going through the traffic provider checklist and taking the time to gain a thorough understanding of who will be visiting your site.
Dolly joined the OKO team in 2019 and certified to Google Certified Publishing Partner status. Dolly manages publisher communication and learning at OKO.