Blog Insight

What Albus Dumbledore Can Teach You about SEO

“Dark times lie ahead of us, and there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”(1)

Professor Albus Dumbledore spoke these words as a caution to Hogwarts students (#spoileralert) after the death of Cedric Diggory at the end of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, but he could have also been speaking to an audience of bad marketers. I say bad marketers because it’s 2017, and we should know that taking the easy way out, like buying clicks, links, or followers, isn’t the right thing to do.

Buying clicks, links, or followers online is the practice of buying fraudulent activity to boost your web traffic and social media numbers. And it’s a really bad idea.

Why You Shouldn’t Take the Easy Way Out

1. You will hurt your SEO efforts.

The quantity (and quality!) of links to a website is one of the ranking signals for search engines, so it’s understandable that people might think that buying links might boost their site’s visibility. But it doesn’t work like that. Way back in 2012, Google designed an amendment to its website ranking algorithm to penalize links from sites it determined to be “spammy.” As of September 2016, this change is included in real-time searches each time a person looks up something on Google.(2) So what happens if you buy links and Google catches you? You risk your website becoming blacklisted, which is industry speak for no more Google for you. If this happens, you can request that Google disavow(3) your spammy backlinks, which it may or may not do, at its own discretion. This has potentially disastrous consequences for your search engine optimization (SEO) strategy because if Google won’t recognize your site, it becomes incredibly hard for your audience to find you.

2. You will throw off your engagement metrics.

If you buy clicks, you’re not buying human traffic—you’re buying bot traffic. One of the ways spammers can scale their click-selling operations and charge competitive prices is by using programs designed to mimic user behavior online, called bots.(4) When a bot is instructed to visit a website several times without actually visiting it, it is called a ghost referral. What does this look like?

The graphic above shows an example of spammy website traffic and how to identify it. Other than the obvious clues from the names, sessions and new users grow while engagement metrics show that these “users” are not interacting with the website. Look at the top row of the table above. How can 41 users visit the website while the average session duration is zero seconds? When you see this coupled with a 100 percent bounce rate, it’s clear that those are not legitimate visitors to the website. When a portion of your traffic isn’t human, it throws off your engagement metrics, making it hard to see how real users engage with your website and which content is most popular.

And if you can’t trust your engagement or traffic metrics, then:

3. You won’t be able to make data-informed decisions to grow your brand.

The biggest downside of buying clicks, followers, and links is that it will create misleading data that not only won’t grow sales, but could also actively hurt your efforts. If leadership executives at your company see website traffic growing, they may advise following the same strategy moving forward. But if that traffic comes from bots and ghost referrers with no intention of buying your product, then sales won’t grow. At the end of the day, you want qualified inbound website traffic from real people, since purchased clicks from bots will do nothing for your bottom line.

So instead of buying links, clicks, or followers, focus on generating quality content to engage your audience organically. Write well-written blog posts that your audience will want to read. Create interesting infographics and post them on social media. Find out where your brand is mentioned online to see if there are opportunities to build links organically. A social listening program offered here at The Garrigan Lyman Group (GLG) is one way to start learning more about your audience members and their interests.

Also, consider paid advertising. From our experience managing paid media campaigns at GLG, we know that paid search, banner ads, retargeting, and paid social campaigns drive leads and sales. At GLG, we can help you to build campaigns that demonstrate the value that users can get from your company, reaching them at the very moment they need to find you.

Especially as we reach the end of the first half of the year and the end of some fiscal years, it can be tempting to show your leadership team that interest in your brand grew based on traffic to your website. But if that traffic came from fake and fraudulent tactics, it will obscure the real performance of the site and potentially, and incorrectly, validate a continuation of those “bad” tactics.

In the end, you don’t have to be a wizard to know that sometimes the things that are easy are not always the right things to use to grow your brand.

 

1. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Scholastic Press, 2000).
2. Barry Schwartz, “Google Updates Penguin, Says It Now Runs in Real Time within the Core Search Algorithm,” Search Engine Land website, September 23, 2016, http://searchengineland.com/google-updates-penguin-says-now-real-time-part-core-algorithm-259302.
3. “Disavow Backlinks,” Google Search Console Help, https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/2648487?hl=en.
4. “Buying Traffic – Bulk Clicks,” Opentracker Analytics website, article updated April 15, 2013, http://www.opentracker.net/article/buying-traffic-bulk-clicks.