Why Porn and PPV Matter When Evaluating Websites for Sale

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We’ve recently been in contact with a number of website buyers on Flippa who have voiced concerns at the number of brand new, start-up sites on Flippa with seemingly robust traffic performance.

One such buyer known on Flippa as CallMeFlipper suggests that while it is technically possible for start-up sites to get good traffic in a short period of time, some dishonest sellers may be resorting to PPV traffic to artificially inflate their traffic performance.

So What Is PPV?

Pay Per View (PPV) traffic is when the site owner pays for additional traffic to their site, most frequently via adult content sites, to boost their page views.

The Wall Street Journal ran a story on this a few weeks ago in the context of how this is used to exaggerate traffic claims to advertisers (non-WSJ subscribers can access the non-paywalled version at ITWorld.com).

In a nutshell, a web user (or in that case “adult content consumer”) goes to a website which automatically opens a stack of other windows for sites whose owners are paying for additional page impressions. The following image from the WSJ outlines this in more detail.

ppv - sleight of ads.jpg

In the context of buying websites, PPV traffic can be used to artificially inflate a website’s audience. A less scrupulous seller may even preserve the PPV traffic for long enough to avoid subsequent charge-backs. At best, the new owner is left with a website that has no traffic. At worst, their AdSense account may become banned as ad networks such as Google are cracking down on PPV traffic sites.

How do we know this? Back in 2008, CallMeFlipper trialed PPV on one of his sites as a marketing tool. He was very surprised to see $100 in AdSense revenue hit his account within 24 hours. Surprise and delight turned shortly afterwards to shock when Google terminated his AdSense account. Wiser for the experience, he hopes that Flippa buyers and sellers can learn from his mistakes.

So How Do I Avoid Considering Websites That Are Using PPV?

 

While verified Google Analytics remains the only way to be truly confident about a website’s traffic claims, website buyers will need to look deeper to check for telltale signs that the traffic has been purchased.

As such, you should be concerned when stats report display any of the following:

  • The biggest traffic source is “Direct”. This is exceptionally difficult to achieve for a new site and could suggest that it is as a result of the aforementioned pop-up page load
  • The bulk of visits are by new visitors—how is a new site getting so many new visitors, and why aren’t they coming back? This is especially concerning when the site also relies on direct traffic—how does a new user know to come to the site directly if they’ve never been there before?
  • Low pages per visit and average time on site—if you were surfing the web and a bunch of sites popped up against your wishes, you’d typically shut them down in an instant. This is typical of PPV which results in only one page being viewed and time on site being measured in seconds

While different sites behave differently across these metrics, extremes such as those outlined above should raise alarm bells. For the sake of benchmarking, Flippa has nearly 10 pages viewed per visitor, a bounce rate of 30%, average time on site of over 10 minutes with one third of our users being new visits.

 

What if the website auction you’re looking at doesn’t provide verified Google Analytics, or the verified stats don’t include the metrics outlined above? In this case, it’s much more difficult to assess the legitimacy of the stats and you should only proceed if you are comfortable with the resulting risk.

Why Doesn’t Flippa Automatically Block These Listings?

 

There is unfortunately no technical replacement for due diligence. Flippa cannot simply block start-up sites listing on the basis that they have incredible traffic as they may be clean as a whistle. There are furthermore no APIs for us to access Google Analytics to automatically flag websites with metrics such as high bounce rates from direct traffic.

(OK, there is actually an API, but it provides no information about which site the measurements are for, so we’d be giving you false comfort in the case where multiple sites use the same Analytics code to bump up their results.)

Regardless, we hope posts like this go a long way in assisting website buyers in making informed decisions.

Oh, and before anyone asks: no, we are not planning on changing our no-adult-content website policy!

Used PPV for your website? Bought a website you suspect used PPV? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below….

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Comments

  • Naveen Gandru

    very informative, thank you soo much .. this gonna help me so much while I buy the website…

  • Itu Molotsi

    I am very excited that you guys are tackling these issues. I myslef sell a few starter sites here and there but I am upset because there are guys like that who ruin it for people like me who build ethical start up sites.

    I think that Flippa should develop a team that focuses on detecting these types of sites and sellers. Not only will it be good for buyers and sellers, but it will not damage the reputation of Flippa as well.

    The websites that I build are focused on targeting niches that are easy to rank for in the search engines, and should get the value that they deserve.

    It amazes me how many new buyers spend money on sites that are doomed to fail from the get go. and I believe they need to get there monies worth.

    I thank you guys for bringing this up.

    • Ando

      Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’ve been buying sites for awhile and with time and experience I’m able to pick good ones now. The burden is on the buyer to do all their research before buying a site. Flippa provides many tools but its your responsibility as a buyer to be able to understand what information that these tools provide. Yes there is a learning curve to this business and articles like this are great to teach you. Flippa does an amazing job at auctioning sites.

  • Mark

    New buyers also should keep in mind that screenshots of PayPal transactions, screenshots of website traffic statistics, and other screenshots with numbers, do not prove anything. Anyone with an image editor can make fake screenshots with any numbers they want.

  • http://webdirectoryforsale.com mudassar

    Flippa blog Rocks.. :)

  • https://flippa.com/131449-HUGE-User-Submitted-PR4-Viral-Music-Website--Home-of-1-Remix-Chart-on-Internet Rob Scott

    I’ve seen some sites that made big numbers claims that are getting 50% or more traffic from traffic networks on Flippa who don’t even hide it – you want to make sure you can tell where the traffic is coming in from in the Google Analytics during the due diligence phase!

    Also, keyword performance on Google is something you can check and verify – you should always ask for a lsit of the 10 top performing keywords from the past year, then go and Google them TODAY and see if the site is still achieving what it was in the past.

  • Brian

    I’ve been trolling Flippa for about a month. I’m a professional web developer, but have little background on running the business of a website. I got to say, I do enjoy your blogs for the very simple reason of being informative.

  • Yvon

    This is really good information that your making available. Hardly anybody knows what things like direct traffic means in Google Analytics. This due diligence and knowledge of how people artificially inflate their performance is great information to let newbies know what to look for.

  • http://bow.to Math

    stick with start up sites that get at least 50% of its traffic from search engine like google. For instance, http://www.freeyoutubetomp3converter.org is a start up site with over 3000k visits per day but 80% of traffic is from google. Easy solution.

    • http://www.qirina.com/ headhopper

      Oh sure, brilliant, for 80% traffic depend on a capricious search engine that may drop you from the serps at any time. What happens when the rankings are reordered? You’re left with an identical to having been scammed = nothing. New sites don’t do well in Google anyway. It takes months if not years of work to get traffic from Googsie.

      Hot startups don’t get their traffic from search engines, they get their traffic by WORD OF MOUTH. That’s Facebook and Twitter and yes direct traffic (email).

      • http://www.flippasecret.com Afif

        Direct traffic is from email? I thought that was referred traffic and that direct traffic is when you type in directly the site’s url.
        Also actually new sites are much easier to rank high immediately but the problem would be maintaining the rank.
        Constant and careful backlink building will be required to maintain that position, too much you will just end up in the sandbox. That is why old sites with established ranking is much preferred compared to new sites regardless of the traffic.
        You just never know when it will suddenly die out.

      • buzzie_13

        Domain age has nothing to do with ranking. Your domain can be 15 years old and have no ranking. I have a buddy who owns look.com since the beginning of domains and his ranking is horable. Google also states age has no effect. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1_1NQWQJ2Q

      • http://www.causeofhairloss.org Mat

        There are many companies out there which rely on the traffic from Google, it does amaze me though that company valuations essential rely on a steady traffic from Google as if at no point in the future will this fluctuate. Some companies have even gone so far as to try and sue Google when their ranking changes dramatically.

  • kamalds

    These sites are the main reason why quality sites are ignored or get sold at cheap prices. Many sellers get massive direct traffic, make tones of money for 2 days and then list it on flippa. These guys are able to make over $2000! (some go even more than that!)

  • http://bow.to Math

    @kamalds,

    Is that the seller’s or the buyers fault? isn’t it the buyers responsibility to research before buying?

  • http://www.VitalyMakarkin.com Vitaly Makarkin

    I have to have experience of using PPV traffic, it was LeadImpact and MediaTraffic networks. Actually I made some revenue, but not profit. One point I need to testing more, but I hope I got the point to make this things profitable.

    In my opinion, if somebody sell site with PPV traffic, it’ll be better sell profitable campaigns as well. So not just a empty site with a LPs.

    Just mine 2 cents,

    Best Regards,
    Vitaly Makarkin

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  • brian20

    I have to say that this is very informative. I actually just had this arguement with a flippa member who claimed unrealistic traffic.

    One other thing other than PPV that is decieving is Social Traffic bunkers that are created by Facebook and Twitter accounts that drive direct traffic quickly to any site. The only way this would be good is if you the new owner retain those FB and Twitter accounts to continue the traffic. It seems now there are some people with large (i mean large) follower profiles that can dump large traffic quickly and claim “Easy” money adsense making $1200 in just first month with 40,000 hits….. Buyer beware… once they take their FB and Twitter accounts after the sale and traffic dives off… you have 0 ad clicks and paid a large learning lesson. More of these traffic dump sites are popping up left and right… REQUEST Verified Google Analytics. Any site with almost no search engine keywords, links and is claiming large traffic is simply traffic dumping off FB or twitter and inflating site until sale. Great blog info here

  • Logan

    Basic Stuff. All you really did with this article is give the bad guys some more ideas on how to rip people off.

    • http://flippa.com/ Andrew Knibbe

      Not sure I can agree with you here Logan. The bad guys would be learning this from any number of forums that discuss this scam. New buyers may not be so lucky. Regardless, these same bad guys are now in a much worse position as more educated buyers start demanding verified analytics and begin asking the tough questions …

      • http://www.cdphonehome.com Carlos Gutierrez

        Logan, this reminds me of the story when the US Mint started showing off all the new features of the new $100 Bills. The US Mint showed all the features to PREVENT innocent people from getting ripped off! Even though it gave thieves details of the Bill it also prevented many innocent people from getting ripped off. Thank you Flippa for this article.

  • http://starblogger.net Daniel @ Life Blogging

    In short, take your wallet carefully! I think, Flippa should require the seller a verified Google Analytic as a must-have metric to value a website.

    • Dave Slutzkin

      Daniel,

      Not all websites use Google Analytics, though.

    • Mike

      Have to agree with Dave here, not all sites use Analytics. I use Piwik as I don’t want Google to have all that information about all of my sites. Also I prefer to host things my self rather than rely on some one else.

      Cheers, Mike…

  • http://www.whatismywebsite.com Simon Web

    I love the fact that you have the policy “no-adult-content”. this saves us buyers sifting through all the annoying rubbish sites that turn your stomach. Stick to your guns Flippa :)

  • http://www.vegasiphonerepair.com James Nguyen

    Reading this post reminds of one of the first time I purchased a website 6 years ago. I paid $600 for the site which claimed to have a lot of traffic. I even saw the stats but somehow all the traffic disappeared after the site was transferred to me. It left a sour taste in my mouth for a while. Now I check almost everything out before buying a site. This post gave some good tips to follow.

  • http://bestoptionstrategy.com option trading

    Can you block listing that show Awstats? I think that stat is misleading. At least put some info there about Awstats and how it record traffic.

  • http://www.cdphonehome.com Carlos Gutierrez

    I have been burned here on Flippa for a a website worth over 6k (his first price was over 8k. Because I did not do my due diligence correctly. He was not using PPV but he was using some cheap PPC similar to PPV traffic which was all junk traffic. Also the seller used his entire paypal account for proof not just sales from the actual website. Do your homework before purchasing! Once you find a good seller, ask if they have more inventory for sale.

  • Larry

    Thanks for the informative post and continually striving to make Flippa as transparent for both buyers and sellers alike. As in kind of business negotiation, online or offline, you must do your due diligence prior to a decision of purchase. There are a multiple tools, both onsite at Flippa and from other websites, that you can avail to further use for your due diligence research. There are a number of ways that sellers can use to inflate both traffic counts and earnings figures, so just be “diligent” as a buyer. As the old phrase goes…”caveat emptor” !

  • http://www.usedtextbookprices.com Tim

    Maybe you guys should only accept websites that use Google Analytics. It seems most legit companies/websites do and the sketchy ones “never installed it.”

    I’ve looked at websites on here and on eBay and the people with fishy traffic never seem to have Google Analytics, even though its FREE and has amazing demographic details.

    That’s always a red flag for me :)

  • http://printablecouponscafe.com/ Jeremy from Printable coupons

    This is why I always want to see google analytics traffic. If there is a lot of direct traffic, or traffic from china and india I don’t even bother. The best sites get natural traffic.

  • Neelsdl

    I disagree with this subject. I write applications on Smart Phones and 98% of my website traffic is direct traffic from those Smart Phones.

    When a site is “Young”, with these applications driving traffic, the Google Analytics profile looks a lot like the scenario described above.

    I am NOT doing anything illegal and the traffic is REAL traffic. Depending on the amount of applications I am running for the site, we are talking about 350 to 500 Unique Visitors/day/site.

    As the application matures, the returning traffic increases. I have found that a lot of people download these applications, thinking that it is a game ( Although it is CLEARLY STATED that it is not ! ) and that is why you get a High bounce rate in the beginning.

    When the application matures, you look at a 25 to 40% retention rate of active installed applications versus downloaded apps.

    I have to admit that not all the applications is a hit. Some start slow and keep growing. Some get killed by unfair reviews. Mostly reviews left by people thinking its a game and get upset when its not.

    I plan to sell one of these packages within the next couple of months and I think it will be VERY UNFAIR if my sites are judged on these principals.

    Just my 2 cents worth.

    • http://flippa.com/ Andrew Knibbe

      Fair point Neelsdl – I can imagine scenarios where spiked in traffic out of the gate are legitimate. The one you have here is obviously one of those and one that is easily explained to potential buyers. If you flag it in your listing and provide verified analytics to show that most traffic is coming from mobile devices, then I cannot see you having any problems with your listing. Hope that helps.

  • http://www.clickwinks.com online advertising

    They are to many instances of getting lost in flippa with in new start-up sites i would say better stay away from it and try to buy the best and old sites which will have more secure than the new build up sites.

    Just my view not intended to hurt any one here.

  • prince

    i know about a friend in Dallas who us ppv to lunch his dating site campaign at first time, today the traffic and profit still increase even when he no longer us that any more. so what can one say about this?

    • http://flippa.com/ Andrew Knibbe

      Possibly suggests that people on porn sites are more prone to register for dating sites ;-)

  • Luckily Scammed

    IMPORTANT: Ive been scammed on my first website buy, here on flippa, one month ago.

    But all the fake traffic was not coming from direct, instead, 97% was “search engine” traffic.

    And from China mostly..

    Can somebody explain this procedure, how did the scammer do?

    The keywords where top 2 word keywords that this site could never have ranked for not in years. Still “people”" was reaching the site through those kw…

    Enlighten me please!!
    L.S.

    • http://flippa.com/ Andrew Knibbe

      Sorry to hear it LS.
      Was it from Google verified statistics? Would you be willing to provide a listing ID so we can look into it further?

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  • http://cpvden.com bigdude

    You don’t need porn sites to get the “PPV” traffic. You can buy it from Leadimpact, Adonetwork, DirectCPV, Traffic Vance, Media Traffic and a couple other networks.

    Also the correct term is CPV not PPV in the industry. PPV was a term invented by a guy who wanted the traffic source name to match one of the products he was selling.

    When buying CPV traffic, you can bid on either keywords or urls and you pay per impression, (hence the cost per view title). These impressions can cost as low as $0.005, (yes that’s half a penny). It is a way for people to artificially inflate traffic stats and I’m sure it’s been used for years.

    One way to check for CPV traffic is look at the referring sites in the logs. If it’s all coming from the same domain, you know somebody was buying CPV traffic.

  • Alex Minasian

    I really feel Flippa should ban the use of paypal screenshots, Paypal screenshots can be easily faked. I can cleary see one member who is using PPV to boost up his traffic and using fake screenshots where he sells his sites for over $800. It’s really sickening and members are falling for it!

  • http://www.braandpantiesmatch.org/ Dan

    Due diligence is hard really hard. But to me it is this simple

    forget all the stats and charts and screenshots. I need good strong keywords that I can google myself to see search results that match the adwords keyword tool with traffic anything that is not close on that chart I do not buy or mess with at all. 99.99 percent of traffic getting sites have some good search engine traffic. Alex and semrush and all those things are at best a guesstimate. Ask the old question why are people visiting this site and you will be fine

  • http://thehomebizgurus.com Sircurtis1

    As I have stated to many of my clients. There are ways to get real targeted organic traffic directly to a new website. It has taken me 6 years to learn many methods and have passed on this info to all my clients. I have recently sold a website to a flippa member and he has about the same years invested. He makes around $6,000 a month from one website which is made up from ads, etc. to get his traffic. He recently went to $15,000 a month by using my organic methods.

    The amount of information that I gave this man shocked and amazed him because I followed it up with real examples of how to do this.

    “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer” that is my motto. So who would my enemy be?

    GOOGLE is Enemy #1 I battle with Google on a daily basis.

    So know your enemy and all will follow!

    All in all I say that no one can hide from the facts of organic traffic. So when you buy a website look at this traffic to make an educated decision. Look at the keywords and where the website places. If this does not match you can just about bet that there is something wrong with the amount of traffic that is specified by the seller.

    Hope this helps:)

  • http://www.lyonssolutions.co.uk Tanvir

    “New Sites don’t do well in Google anyway” – This comment is incorrect. I have websites that we manage ourselves and are doing very well. In fact it depends on the design of the site.

    One of our sites (3 month old) is in page 1 for number of keywords only because the site has search engine friendly relevant content.

    The sites that don’t do well are those that rely solely on Backlinks.

  • http://www.pixloo.com Virtual Tour

    I freaking hate porn site scammers. Nothing worse in this world. Go ruin the place for someone else.

  • http://ww.affordtextbooks.com Nicole

    Google Analytics is a great tool, also with alexa ranking is important I believe.