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Buying Website Traffic: What You Can Learn From Demand Media Studios

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Filed Under Marketing & Advertising

Buying website traffic is considered a necessary evil these days. Most SEO experts tell their clients to simply optimize their websites and use offsite SEO to help improve their search engine rank. Some companies have created an entire business around finding what people want, and then trying to get content based on those wants to rank in the search engines. The traffic flow is huge (or at least it used to be) for these kinds of sites which are affectionately dubbed "content farms."

Enter Demand Media. Demand Media is a company that writes and distributes content based on search queries it digs up using an in-house algorithm it developed just for this purpose. At one point, the company hired a slew of writers to work on a contract basis. Some of these people were actual writers, while many of them were wannabes.

Demand Studios paid contractors based on expertise, and even divided people according to specialties. While this isn't a problem in and of itself, it did become a problem when Demand started hiring more wannabes than actual professionals.

You see, when companies choose the short-cut road to riches, it never works out quite like it's supposed to.

The Problem

Demand Studios wasn't buying traffic to its website. Instead, it was getting site traffic by cleverly gaming Google's algorithm. Sure, Richard Rosenblatt (the co-founder and CEO of Demand Media) always claimed that he was giving Google what it wanted. He'll probably say that until the day the company is run into the ground and buried.

What Demand Media did was try to figure out long-tailed keywords that had very low competition. If Demand Media could rank for those long-tailed keywords, then they could monetize that content using Google Adsense.

That's a really cool business model. Especially if you're offering people useful content, and helping site visitors in some way. That's where the monkey wrench comes into play. You see, if you have lawyers writing legal articles, you're fine. If you have financial advisers writing finance articles, you're fine.

But Demand Media employed a lot of "Joe Shmoes" to write about really complex topics. They also employed wannabe writers to write about really mundane or idiotic topics like:

“How to Excite Him with Erotica”
“18 & Older Strip Clubs in Las Vegas”
“How to Hide an Erection”
“How to Indulge a Foot Fetish
“How to Be an Escort in Second Life”

There may be someone legitimately searching for this kind of stuff, but it seems like eHow just isn't the proper venue.

Then there are titles like "How To Tie Shoes" and "How to Pass Gas Quietly" seem a little, well, stupid. Someone actually got paid to write those. To be fair, Demand Media didn't pay a lot for this type of general eHow writing - a mere $15 for a 450 to 500 word article.

When you're hiring people to write about really stupid topics, like passing gas, you're probably only hurting yourself as a company. However, Demand Media also hired non-experts to publish legal, medical, and financial articles. Many of these articles contained inaccurate, incomplete, or outright misleading or incorrect information. When a company does that, it potentially hurts its site visitors. Not good. Some of the articles with inaccurate information have since been removed, but it's hard to tell whether all of it is gone.

The Solution

Google provided a solution to the problem of content farms like Demand Media: Panda. Panda pretty much took care of "thin" content, content farms, and sites that Google thought were of low quality. However, in the first round of adjustments made by Google, Demand Media was unaffected. Many in the blogosphere were stunned.

Then, back in April of 2011, Hitwise reported that Demand Media sites suffered a 40 percent loss in Google traffic. That surely would have affected the company's ability to generate income. Nope. Demand Media insisted that it was doing just fine.

This was despite the fact that Demand Media's Answerbag.com suffered an 80 percent decline, it's darling health website Livestrong.com suffered a 57 percent decline, and it's flagship site eHow.com suffered a 29 percent decline.

Rosenblatt can't lie anymore. Demand Media was forced to post a $6.4 million dollar loss in Q4 for 2011. Panda finally caught up with the company. In the end, hiring cheap writers doesn't pay off. Demand basically paid many of its contractors $15 per article to destroy the company.

A Simple Lesson For Your Company

Don't follow Demand Media's model of catering to search engines, and don't pay a pittance for any content creators you hire. It's pretty clear that trying to game the search engines with stupid and thin content is a recipe for losing money. If you publish inaccurate information on your website, someone might sue you eventually. That's just the world we live in today.

Google does have a set of "best practices" that it follows and a "terms of service" that it expects webmasters to follow. You don't have to comply with them but you shouldn't be surprised when they smack your website over the head for violating them.

Sites like Demand Media rely entirely on organic search results. Because Google doesn't like spam, and thin content, it places Demand in a tough spot. On the one hand, the company's primary source of revenue is supposed to be Google Adsense. On the other, that model is proving to be unsustainable.

When you create and develop your business online, make sure you're providing real content to users. Don't hire writers "on the cheap" thinking that you'll somehow save money and end up rolling in dough. You won't. You have a very clear example right in front of you of a company that tried to do just that. It doesn't work.

Also, when you put all of your eggs in the Google basket, you're just asking for trouble. Demand's model forces it to rely on organic traffic. If you have adopted the same strategy, what will happen when Google updates its algorithm? Even if you do use "whitehat" methods, there's nothing preventing Google from shifting your rankings around. Maybe one of your competitors is now more relevant than you are.

The only real solution is to control the environment you operate in. That means buy website traffic as opposed to relying solely on organic placement.

Benefits of Buying Website Traffic

When you buy website traffic, you have much more control over how many visitors make it to your site. You can also track your conversions a bit better since you know how much you spent on the advertising and where you spent it. With organic SEO, you know how much the total bill is but (most of the time) you can't be sure of what's working and what isn't.

Caveat Emptor

Buying traffic isn't always a straightforward process. There are a lot of things that can go wrong. For one, you have to have a good advertisement. Since you aren't passively waiting for people to search for your keyword and randomly waiting for them to click on your website link, you have to be a bit more engaging. You have to understand good advertising principles (think David Ogilvy), and you have to understand how to apply those principles to the web.

Some online companies that sell traffic are consummate ripoff artists. They sell fake traffic (known as "bot traffic") that won't help you out at all. Make sure you grill your ad company before making any sort of commitment to buy. Even a good method for generating traffic (i.e. buying traffic) could become a huge waste of money if you're doing business with the wrong company.



About the author
David Lewis
David Lewis
David C. Lewis, RFC is the owner of Twin Tier Financial. He writes extensively about personal and business finance, purpose and goal-setting, and both online and offline business marketing. Touch base with David by visiting twintierfinancial.com - Read more stories from .
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