Detecting Fake Traffic by Fake Marketers

Beware of Scammers on Fiverr

Ever tempted to buy a gig on Fiverr to send some traffic to your site or landing page? Just remember, if it’s “too good to be true” - it probably is.

I was curious. I knew it would be fake traffic, but so many said it was a sound way of getting mentions on social media and driving traffic to your site. These were independent sources writing on reputable marketing sites too, so why would they recommend it? Simple: they were fooled. So I wanted to prove it.

How can you expect anyone to send thousands of visitors your way for just $5? That takes a pretty good amount of work. It’s just not worth it for $5.

I think Fiverr could curate a bit better. Maybe they don’t need to prevent people from selling (even the outrageous claims), but they certainly shouldn’t feature scammers…But they do.

The bigger the better and that’s basically what drives Fiverr. What insane thing can you get for just $5? In my experience, when it comes to the marketing gigs, the site doesn’t offer any real buyer benefit.

The Gig

Good reviews I first need to tell you what an amazing deal I found on Fiverr! For just $5, I was going to get 5,000 visitors (or more) to my site! All from mentions on Facebook and Twitter.

The seller took my message and posted it with my URL. He shortened my URL with Google so that he could provide proof via the analytics Google provides.

He had been favorited a lot and had hundreds of good reviews with a great star rating. There were active orders in his queue…Surely, this is a reputable seller right?

He would post to Twitter and Facebook as many times as it took to get 5k visitors to my site with 80%+ of them being from the United States. He continues to assure me I’m in good hands; “…please don’t fall into the potentially fatal traps by comparing my services with other sellers…”

There were more promises in the gig; “21M fans to your business” being among the more vague ones. Followed by “May get up to 30 Facebook Likes for a fan page.” Really? Out of 21 million people!?!? That’s a conversion rate of - oh, I don’t know, my calculator just blew up trying to do that math.

Anyway, my helmet is on, here we go! Make it rain!

The Results

A day or two in and I have thousands of visitors! They were indeed from all over the country and even some from around the world. My Google Analytics is telling me these are all new sessions and, along with the geo-location metrics, I’m satisfied. This appears legit! It really worked.

Or did it? This is where most people would stop, but I noticed a few things that were off.

Shortened URL stats

The Confusion Sets In…

Pearl Jam references in this section aside, here’s what happened down the hall:

I was duped! No, not really, I knew this was going to happen. The problem is, how do you prove the traffic is fake? This is a confusing matter for many site owners and even seasoned marketers.

At first glance everything checks out and if you are interested in saving face (be it for yourself, your job, or investors) you tend to want to stop digging.

Or, maybe you do dig because someone is asking why there’s been no conversions on your site for all this traffic.

So let’s dig deeper, shall we?

I searched for the URL and message shared on Twitter and found nothing. I believe he faked the screenshot and knew that people wouldn’t bother to check or that he could easily claim the message went to groups of people privately.

As per Fiverr’s terms he also couldn’t share his social media accounts with me. Yup, by design, Fiverr helps scammers hide.

If you bought this gig, you’d also likely realize that you have an average of 0-2 seconds spent on page and basically a 99-100% bounce rate.

Of course I did this experiment on a new site I’m playing around with (www.ProductPony.com) which gets very little traffic so it was more apparent. I also assumed from the beginning that I’d see a high bounce rate because my site is targeted toward a niche audience and is new – but not that high.

For most sites, this may not skew the averages enough to send up any red flags. In fact, I bet this is what sellers count on.

Clarity & The Proof

It was clear that the proof would not come from trying to find out more about the seller or his work. He’s protected by the people who make money of him.

Did you know Google Analytics has data on the “service provider” of visitors? Being even more geeky with terminology, this is basically an ASN lookup. This tells you which ISP (or company with a registered block of IPs) a visitor is coming from.

In fact, this is exactly how you would tell if someone from a corporate office is visiting your site because they all lease IP addresses whereas a small business or home would be using one IP address (or maybe a few) leased through an ISP like Comcast or AT&T.

How can you use service provider info to detect bot traffic? It’s pretty simple. You’ll see a bunch of traffic from hosting providers instead of ISPs or corporate offices. Entries like “amazon technologies inc” or “google inc.” or especially “ovh.” This means servers and not people.

Shortened URL stats

What is this OVH? It turns out that it’s a web hosting company and when you run a Google Search for it you’ll also stumble upon their IPAlias service. If a service name like that just didn’t just give it away, let me explain: With IPAlias, one can assign multiple IP addresses to a single ethernet adapter/server.

This means one server can look like many to the outside world.

Google Analytics sees each IP address and counts it as a unique visitor even though it’s coming from the same server. Since IP addreses can be mapped to geographic locations, it’s quite easy to simulate different locations for Google Analytics by choosing different IPs. With a very important caveat.

IP addresses get re-assigned from time to time. This means an address used in the US may become used in completely different country later on.

The sellers on Fiverr know this. So you’ll see in the gig description often times a little margin of error. The gig may say, “All traffic from the US” but then later say some small percentage from other places. Or they’ll say +/- from some location. Or maybe they want to be a little more clever in their deception and show that not all things in life are perfect.

Anyway, now knowing this it’s pretty easy to spot using Google Analytics. Scam busted.

Twist!

I had enough data for my research before the gig ended. I sent the seller a message saying that he could turn off the bot traffic now. They responded of course in denial.

I replied saying all was ok, it was research…But here’s why I believe it to be bot traffic (above reasons).

Surprisingly, the seller said he didn’t want to argue and just refunded me $5. Of course I didn’t get the 50 cent Fiverr fee back (but also did not pay another when ordering the next gig). They take no hit for scammers, so scammers actually help them profit. They even feature them.

So I bought another gig!

In case you needed any more proof, the funny thing about him refunding me is that there now is no new traffic. Full and immediate stop. It didn’t even taper off.

So Who’s Next?

I decided to dig a little deeper into the gigs. Afterall, it’s not fair to try one gig and condemn an entire service. I want to be thorough but, then again, I only have so many $5 bills.

I started watching videos and got to hear from the sellers first hand and I had a tough choice to make. The personalities that I had to choose from, and these are actually all real Fiverr video personalities, were:

  • mail order bride complete with tiara
  • old British guy
  • missing tooth hillbilly
  • young punk-rock/emo girl

…But perhaps the strangest and best Fiverr video I’ve ever seen was for this guy doing SEO (not what I was looking for here) was this SEO dude with fairy lady video.

He has a lady with wings float in from the side of the screen. I think it might just be the next internet meme. I don’t want his gig, but I will gladly pay him $5 to make me one of those videos! I’m serious, I’ll do it.

Anyway, I decided to go with one who was going to get me 1,000 visitors per day with low bounce rate.

In fact, if I rated the service 5 stars, I’d get another 10% bonus traffic. Seriously? That’s allowed by Fiverr?

The low bounce rate was what caught my attention. Either the headless browser bots would need to spend more time on my site and follow random links to go deeper…Or it was just an empty promise like so many others. Either way, we’re going to find out!

I’ll post another article soon, but for now I’d personally recommend staying away from Fiverr for your marketing and advertising needs. If you aren’t already.

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