‘Don’t buy it’: there’s no such thing as easy traffic

Publishers taking knee-jerk action following Facebook’s news feed changes could be shooting themselves in the foot

Unless you’ve been dwelling at the bottom of the digital sea for the past week, you’ll have noticed the tide is turning against publishers as Facebook threatens to shipwreck them on the jagged rocks of algorithmic change.

Here at Content Desk we have done our best to quell the wave of melodrama surrounding the subject. Indeed, this Zuckerbergian grandstanding might not be the overhaul Facebook’s ruling committee would have you believe. But still the debate rages.

Fears that organic traffic will nosedive following the changes mean businesses are developing contingency plans.

One idea gaining traction is buying traffic to plug the potential shortfall.

Commentators believe publishers may gravitate towards this tactic as a quick fix for their organic traffic woes – but have they considered the dangers?

Traffic jam

Buying traffic to compensate for sudden dips can seem tempting. But, as regular readers of Content Desk will know, the online world is an unscrupulous one.

While anti-fraud initiatives are gaining traction in previous problem sectors such as advertising, purchasing page views is an altogether shadier proposition.

Dubious traffic sellers could have a field day as a result of news feed changes, even though their industry is a known hotbed of fraud.

A recent BuzzFeed investigation revealed just how widespread this fraud is. Ostensibly squeaky-clean publishers have unknowingly fallen into the traffic trap via insidious third parties. Much of this traffic appears unsuspicious at first, causing outrage once the truth is exposed. Consider, then, how much brand damage buying traffic on the cheap could do.

Whether on ads or content, videos or text, to buy traffic is to dice with digital disaster.

With ad fraud costing publishers billions, hiring hits for your webpage, knowingly or unknowingly, only contributes to the climate of deception so dominant in the world of online publishing.

The green light for action?

Content Desk’s pleas for calm aside, marketers are understandably nervous about the potential implications of a change to news feeds. For publishers seeking a workaround to traffic shortfalls, what’s the best solution?

Facebook itself has been typically insensitive to publisher anxieties. Its own suggestion is to utilise an existing remedy, the ‘see first’ feature available in news feed settings, so that fans of a businesses’ content can ensure it is prioritised.

This convoluted double opt-in method would spare marketers the worst effects of news feed change, but it’s hard to see the little-known tool bringing publishers the salvation they are looking for.

Pursuing Facebook users in groups where they spend the most time may be another option. Content in groups will not be punished by Facebook’s new algorithm, and advertisers are touting them as the most cost-efficient way to reach relevant audiences via the website.

For B2B marketers, the available options to solve traffic shortfalls aren’t all that appealing. The viability of groups is uncertain on Facebook, given that users tend to join them for personal rather than business content. ‘See first’ is just impractical. Two things should, however, be clear.

First, it’s probably worth ruling out bought traffic. If you’re sure you can gloss over any unexpected consequences and clients are demanding page views then it could be worth looking into. But at the same time the risk of fraud, even from ostensibly legitimate sources, is high.

More pertinently, vanity metrics such as page views leave a lot to be desired. Having a social media strategy is made out to be utterly essential in the world of marketing, but engaging consumers where they spend most time and honing specific channels for highly tailored audiences is far wiser from a B2B perspective.

The overriding message then: there’s no such thing as easy traffic, so don’t risk a car crash.

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