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Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Experiences With Traffic Exchanges

When I started blogging several months back, I did not know much about how difficult it would be to get traffic to a blog. I was naive enough to think that if I build it, they would come. Obviously, they did not, at least not initially!

I started doing some research on the issue. The main problem with new sites (such as a new blog) is the lack of public awareness of the site's existence. You need publicity. You need to drive eyeballs to your site so that people become familiar with it. Only people who have seen your site will return if they think there is going to be something interesting on it.

You can drive traffic to your site by advertising your site on big ad networks like Google, Yahoo or Bing, but that is a more risky proposition since it costs money up front and you may not get any returns for that money. Advertising does not make much sense for a non-e-commerce site that is not trying to sell anything to visitors.

Yet another way to drive traffic to your site would be to put up enough content on your site such that search engines deliver traffic to the website based on the keywords people search by. Once again, for a new site with limited content, this may not work out.

So, what are other ways to publicize the existence of your site? After doing some more research, I found out about traffic exchanges. In this post, I will talk about my personal experience with traffic exchanges. This is not a detailed review post, but if you are interested in something like that there are tons of sites out there that do precisely that. They talk about the details of prices, "surf ratios", and various other technical details if you are interested.

Some of these review sites are TrafficExchangeReview.net, traffic-exchange-reviews.com and so on. Just google for "traffic exchange reviews" and you are sure to get back a boatload of results!

In this post, I will talk about my own personal experiences with these traffic exchanges, so that you can get some non-technical, real-world data to go with the technical stuff you may get at other places.

The way traffic exchanges work, in concept, is very simple: you set up an account on the site, and register your site(s). Then you start earning "credits" by surfing to various sites that the traffic exchange shows you as part of its "rotation". These credits are then used up when your site is shown to other surfers as part of the rotation. Traffic exchanges have code in place to make sure that your site is not part of your own rotation. They also have some rules about how frequently the same site can be shown to the same surfer.

Instead of surfing for credits, most traffic exchanges also provide you the ability to simply pay for various packages of credits. These are upgraded memberships which can be monthly commitments of money in exchange for a certain number of monthly hits, or one-time payments which buy you a set of hits that will be delivered over a fixed time-frame.

If that was all there was to it, things would be quite simple. But there are complicating factors, wouldn't you know it?! The first one is the concept of a "downline". The basic idea is that traffic exchanges need lots of members for them to deliver viewers for the websites registered with them. A traffic exchange with very few members delivers fewer hits to its members, who would then give up and move on to other exchanges. Essentially, bigger is much better in the world of traffic exchanges.

To get bigger, traffic exchanges offer several sweeteners for their current members to recruit new members. Most of these sweeteners come in the form of a percentage of the surf credits earned by your recruits being credited to you. It is similar to a multi-level marking scheme where you can work hard to earn income yourself, or live off residual income generated by your recruits, and their recruits, and their recruits and so on. Some exchanges also offer monetary incentives for recruitments.

Also, there are two main types of traffic exchanges, "automatic" and "manual". In automatic exchanges, you don't have to do anything to move from one site to another during the rotation of sites when you surf. In manual exchanges, you have to do some manual work (such as pushing a button that changes position, or filling in a CAPTCHA phrase, etc.) to move from one site to the next during the rotation. The basic idea is that this enables the exchange to claim that surfers are actually looking at your site at least for some time during the rotation before they move on, as opposed to surfing on an automatic exchange where most surfers might even minimize and ignore the browser completely during the surfing.

So, let us follow the money. How do traffic exchanges make money? Essentially, it is through advertisement. First, they sell banner ads that fill the top or bottom few rows of your browser window. This area contains your surfing statistics, such as how much credits you have earned so far, etc., in addition to the banner ad. This area also contains space for whatever manual technique the exchange uses to move its rotation. The actual sites you surf as part of the rotation occupy the rest of your browser window in the form of a frame.

The second form of advertising they do has to do with "surf-ratio". Essentially, when you surf sites on a traffic exchange, you don't earn one credit for each site you surf. The surf-ratio determines how much credit you earn for each site you visit and is determined by the traffic exchange. Suppose your surf-ratio is 0.6. Then for every 10 sites you visit, your site will get shown 6 times to others. Assuming there only two members on the exchange and each surfs to earn 6 credits, that means that the registered sites were shown to the members only 12 times. What does the traffic exchange do with the remaining 8 slots (after all, the members surfed 10 sites each to earn their 6 credits each)? It sells them as advertising. Or it sells them to people who are willing to pay for credits rather than surfing for them.

In general, the surf-ratio is higher on manual traffic exchanges than on automatic exchanges because you are expected to work to earn your credits on a manual exchange. So, each site you view on a manual exchange is worth more than the same site viewed on an automatic exchange.

I registered with several traffic exchanges when I first learned about them, and have first-hand experience with many of them.

Broadly speaking, here are my impressions of traffic exchanges in general:

  • The vast majority of the websites in the rotation at traffic exchanges are for get-rich-quick MLM type schemes. In my experience about 95% of sites in the rotation have no content except trying to convince you to sign up for something as somebody's downline.
  • Several exchanges have weak rotator codes that allow sites to break out of their frames and get stuck in your browser instead of moving along in the rotation. If you encounter such a site, you have to close the browser or tab manually, then log back into the traffic exchange and restart your surfing.
  • Some sites do not break out of the frame, but contain code that stops the time counter from advancing, once again breaking the rotation and forcing you to manually restart the surfing.
  • My anti-virus has also warned me sometimes about malicious code in some sites in the rotation. This is more of a problem with automatic exchanges where the site owners know that most people will not be paying attention to their computer. So, they insert code in their website that may try to hijack your homepage or do other malicious things to your computer (even though such things are explicitly forbidden by the traffic exchanges themselves). If you don't have a good security system installed on your computer, it is better not to participate in any traffic exchanges since the quality of the sites you visit is not under your control.
  • Automatic traffic exchanges do not deliver much "quality" traffic to your site. Most visitors to your site from automatic exchange are gone when the rotator time limit expires (10 seconds or so). Very few linger on to actually pay attention to your content.
  • Manual traffic exchanges are much better in sending you traffic that may show some interest in the content of the site. Many more visitors from manual exchanges have stayed on to explore my blog than visitors from automatic exchanges. I guess another big factor in this behavior is that my content is substantially different from the constant parade of get-rich-quick MLM websites in the rotation, so many surfers take a break from this monotony by exploring a site that has real content instead of another obviously phony come-on!
  • Overall, don't expect more than about a dozen hits per day from any given traffic exchange. They have rules about how frequently your site can participate in the rotation for any given surfer (the same surfer can see your site only once very 72 minutes, or 91 minutes, or whatever). So, even if you have lots of credits, you may not get too many hits to your website because of these limitations.
  • All traffic exchanges reserve the right to send you email as part of your membership in them. Some of them actually send out very little email, others spam you with several emails a day. In most cases there is nothing you can do about it unless you cancel your membership with them.

Here is a list of traffic exchanges with which I have some experience. I have added some notes to each of them that talks about my unique experience with that exchange. My top recommendations are in bold.

Automatic exchanges

  • AutoHitSurfer: If you don't log into the site at least once every 30 days, your account will be deleted. Since they don't send out warnings, it is best to avoid this one unless you are very organized and can remember to visit them at least once every 30 days!
  • AutoSurfContests: A finicky exchange with a weak rotator. The webmaster kept complaining every few days that my site broke their frames and/or produced popups/popunders. If you are reading this you know that this is a standard blogger template hosted on google's blogger platform. There are no popups or popunders, or any special code to break out of frames, etc. Eventually, the webmaster of this exchange stopped communicating with me and I also stopped bothering. Sign up with this exchange if you want a lot of headaches!
  • AutoSurfGlobal: This is a very nice exchange with good enforcement to weed out bad sites. Because of that, surfing here is very effortless. This is one of my top recommendations.
  • Pure Auto Traffic: This is a weird one. The site was very generous with credits when they opened (it is a fairly new exchange), gifting lots of credits to surfers, but it seemed like nobody was actually surfing for credits because of this generosity. So I got practically no hits from this exchange even though I had over 75,000 credits here at one point! Rude webmaster also kept complaining that my site had popups and stopped the timer on his rotator. I have no idea how it could but I have a feeling the webmaster was punishing me for not surfing on the site (I had no reason to because I had too many credits and I was not getting any traffic from the exchange). One fine day, the webmaster deleted my account without warning and stopped responding to my emails! I guess that was his way of dealing with accounts that had too many credits!! Again, if you have lots of time on your hands, and want to spend it dealing with the headaches created by this exchange and its webmaster, feel free to sign up and enjoy!
  • Targeted Hits Pro: Easy site to surf on with good technology. Another of my top recommendations.
  • Traffic Charm: Another nice exchange, but I have much less experience with this one than I have with some others.
  • World Class Traffic: One of the few exchanges that gives you the option of either automatic or manual surfing. Somewhat weak enforcement with lots of bad sites in the automatic rotation, though. This exchange gives you 50 credits every time you log into the account, so you can load up on credits simply by logging on and off repeatedly!

Manual Exchanges

  • BlogExplosion: Outstanding exchange specifically designed for (and only for) blogs. Lots of interested surfers who will spend quality time at your site once they are introduced to it. They also have a discussion forum, blog contests, etc. I recommend this exchange highly for all bloggers, but they have somewhat strict criteria on the types of sites they will permit in the rotation. If you have a real blog (in English), it should be no problem getting approved though. No emails whatsoever outside of what you sign up for at the Blog Explosion site.
  • Hit Silo: A newer traffic exchange. Some good features such as user control over how frequently your site can be shown to other surfers. Not much email except to make major announcements of improvements to the site. However, the way you earn credits is unnecessarily complicated and confusing, making the value of this exchange somewhat questionable.
  • StartXchange: Generates lots of email (one email on most days). However, you can unsubscribe from the newsletter without deleting your account. But this is a finicky exchange whose rules regarding advertising on your blog are difficult to comply with (they consider many ad networks verboten, so unless your blog has pretty much no advertising, you shouldn't bother with this exchange).
  • Traffic Era: One of the bigger and more popular exchanges out there. The same company owns and operates Hit Silo also. The technology is very good making surfing on this exchange a painless experience. Once you assign the credits to your blog sites, expect a very quick surge of hits since there are always lots of people surfing on this exchange (you can control the rate at which your site is hit, but even at very low settings, you can expect a few hundred hits every hour until your credits run out). Definitely a top recommendation, especially if you don't own a blog site that would qualify with BlogExplosion.
  • Traffic Splash: Generates lots and lots of email (at least one email, sometimes more, most days) that you can't unsubscribe from. Otherwise, it is a decent exchange.

After your blog gains some publicity and becomes more popular (or notorious, as the case may be), you should not be relying on traffic exchanges for any traffic to your blog. As mentioned earlier, most exchange traffic is not really interested in your blog to begin with. So, you should use exchanges (especially good manual ones like Blog Explosion) as a way of publicizing your blog, and then try to wean yourself from such sites in the long run. If your blog has interesting content, and you gain some initial publicity so that blog readers know it exists, getting traffic from them should not be a problem.

In addition to traffic exchanges, I also have experience with two other services that attempt to publicize your blog. Both of these services are blog exchanges. They provide you widgets that you embed in your blog. These widgets show snippets or banners provided by other members of these blog exchanges. You earn credits for your blog depending on how many times these widgets are displayed to your visitors. The credits then translate into your banner or blog snippet being displayed on other members' widgets. The two blog exchanges are:

Spottt: A small 125x125 pixel widget with a Spottt banner beneath it. You have to display this widget prominently on your blog (somewhere "above the fold"). The content is static and changes only when you reload your blog. Since the buttons you create for Spottt are static, the effectiveness of Spottt in promoting your blog is limited. I have also, on rare occasions, found somewhat inappropriate images on the buttons on display on my blog. Technically, you can hunt down the offending blog and tell Spottt not to trade impressions with that blog, but it seems like too much trouble since you can not actually do it from within the Spottt widget on your blog, instead you have to log into Spottt, hunt for the other blog and explicitly blacklist it.

BlogUpp: This is a more interesting widget that can be made as wide as 250 pixels, to show 2 blog snippets simultaneously. The widget also has dynamic content with snippets of blog pages sliding in and out of view. This widget also has to be embedded in your blog in a prominent place. Because of the dynamic content, this widget is more interesting to your visitors. Moreover, when snippets of your blog are displayed on others' blogs, the dynamic nature of the content in the widget will encourage more visitors to click through to your blog.

The problem with both these services is that when traffic to your blog is very low, you create fewer impressions of these widgets. This in turn creates fewer impressions of your blog in these widgets embedded in others' blogs. As traffic to your blog grows, these exchanges produce exponentially bigger returns. Good luck!

2 comments:

Col. Hector Bravado - Denver Six Shooter said...

Found this on Reddit. Great post, and thanks for slogging through all these sites to teach me something about a traffic generator I knew very little about. Haven't checked around for your other posts, but do you have any experiences/opinion with blog registries? I'm pretty ambivalent about the ones whose widgets I've put on my blog: Bloggapedia, Blog Top Sites, Blogged and Blog Search Engine. From what I can tell, I'm getting zero traffic referrals from them. What are the value of these things, in your mind?

I've also submitted to curated registries, such as Technorati and Alltop. These seem to be a safer bet, but my Technorati request vanished — they don't appear to support Ning sites, which is where my writing lives.

Blogannath said...

Hi,

Thank you very much for your nice comments. To be completely honest, I don't have much experience with Blog Registries. I have stayed away from blog registries and link exchanges mostly because I haven't read much nice about them. I am sure if I had done a lot of research beforehand, I wouldn't have read much nice about traffic exchanges either. But somehow, the traffic exchange bug bit me before the blog registry or link exchange bug, so I had a chance to try them out for some time. At least traffic exchanges deliver some traffic to your website when it is very young while the other methods involve a lot of work with no guarantee of any traffic at all!

I also tried out Technorati, but their site seems to have undergone some kind of revamp and now I can't even ping my blog from there or anything like that. I have no idea how people find anything they want on their site. I haven't even been there in a month or so now.

Thank you for visiting. Hope you find the information on my blog useful. If you pick "blogging" from the tag cloud in my blog's left side-bar, you should get access to more posts that specifically address my experiences with blogging and things that go with blogging. You can also follow this link to get to these posts: http://blogannath.blogspot.com/search/label/Blogging

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