To understand the popularity of cheap traffic, all you have to do is search for keywords like “buy cheap website traffic” and look at the results page filled with options. It shouldn’t be a surprise that small businesses buy cheap traffic, as they try to drive activity to their website on a limited budget. What may surprise you, though, is that larger publishers also buy cheap traffic.

Why do publishers buy cheap traffic? There are two primary reasons:

  • To make money. Some publishers run an arbitrage by selling display ads on a page for a price that is higher than what they pay to drive visitors to the site. The lower the price for the paid traffic, the more money they can make.
  • To boost the number of visitors. When publishers sell online advertising space, they make commitments to advertisers on the number of visitors to their site. Sometimes those numbers need a boost, and buying cheap traffic can accomplish that.

There are problems with buying cheap traffic, however:

  • It’s not always human. Much of the traffic generated by cheap traffic are bots and therefore is fake. In fact, as of early last year, about 36% of all Web traffic was considered fake. All advertisers and most publishers are not interested in fake traffic. There are, however, some publishers that are willing to use it to their advantage.
  • Cheap traffic doesn’t drive key conversions. Bots are not capable of performing calls-to-action, such as signing up for an email newsletter or buying a product. And the human portion of cheap traffic is probably not the type of visitors that will do more than just visit a page. (If they were willing to respond to calls-to-action, then they would be considered valuable by advertisers and would warrant a higher CPC. That wouldn’t be considered cheap traffic.)
  • Cheap traffic doesn’t build audiences. Many publishers are getting sophisticated about how they build their audiences. The New York Times, for example, uses the notion of a “subscription funnel,” in which they continually target readers with articles that they might be interested in, in order to get them to develop a loyalty towards the Times’ content and then ultimately subscribe. Cheap traffic visitors — bots, in particular — might visit a particular article but the chances of them returning to a site are very slim.

While there may be some value in buying cheap traffic, particularly if a publisher is running an arbitrage model, it doesn’t really help accomplish other type of business goals, such as increasing subscription revenue or selling products. For those goals, it’s worth spending more to attract the right type of visitors.