My client paid $6,000 for SEO traffic… but all of it was fraud

I get a lot of messages from potential clients who want me to take a closer look at what’s happening – or not happening – in their online businesses. In almost every case, they’ve spent many thousands of dollars on advertising and consultants, but they aren’t seeing any growth in sales and revenue.

So I’ll dig deep into the data, and usually what I discover is some combination of poor planning, bad execution, and a general lack of precision in collecting and analysing the right kind of data to generate the insight needed to make profitable decisions.

But sometimes, I’ll find something a bit more sinister. I’ve been doing this a long time and I have to admit that this has happened with a somewhat alarming frequency. It’s always a bit of an awkward discussion to have with a client when you find out that all the “users” they’ve been seeing on their site weren’t actually human.

Nice traffic bump!


In this case, my client had engaged a cheap, offshore SEO consultant to generate more traffic to her online store. After a few weeks had passed she began to have “record traffic days” as she put it – with user numbers about 3x larger than average. Great result!

The only problem is that sales hadn’t increased at all. In fact, during these periods her sales conversion rate had actually fallen overall. Her SEO consultant on the other hand was reporting the news of his great success in raising traffic numbers.

This is fairly common in that when you have a disparate team of disconnected specialists, they won’t take responsibility for the most important metrics, just those that they feel they are directly accountable for. In this case, all the consultant was being paid for was traffic, and he didn’t think the quality of that traffic was relevant.

Digging deeper

I was able to isolate the traffic which was generated on these “record” days, and take a closer look at the details. Unfortunately, a not-so-rosy picture began to emerge from the numbers…


Bounce rate on this traffic was 0%, meaning these users always generated some kind of interaction hit. Humans don’t behave this way, and this is a clear signal that something is fishy with this traffic.


Average session duration on the traffic was just 4 seconds! So these users came to the site, and within 4 seconds, they generated an interaction hit, then left the site. That again really doesn’t sound like something a normal person would do.

Bots, bots everywhere

Looking into the referral source of the traffic gave the final piece of information needed.


The traffic was sent from a website which allows SEO specialists to pay money to have non-human traffic sent to a target site, in this case, my clients. Back-tracing the referral source leads right to the front page of this dodgy service:


Well, that sucks.

There’s not much you can do in this case, because the money has been paid and the traffic has been sent. If you’ve been using contractors from overseas on Upwork or a similar service, you can try and dispute the costs, but this will only apply if you notice the problem in the first place, and if you know where to look to uncover this deception.

In recent times there has been a strong move to outsource services like SEO and Google Ads to online contractors who charge next to nothing for their time. Although it is often an alluring prospect due to the low cost, we often find huge problems with the quality of these services and a lack of accountability on the part of the service providers.

Prevention is better than the cure

The best way to avoid this happening to you and your business is to adopt a “data-first” mindset to everything you do. If my client had access to the right numbers and a good analyst to interpret them, they’d have seen this immediately and stopped it.

We encourage all our clients to adopt this “data-first” mindset for all of their business activity, whether the cost of that activity be paid in dollars, or in time. Because both resources (time and money) are very important and often limited.

I’m now working closely with this client and have built them a real-time dashboard which carefully tracks all their KPIs, updated each hour:


We’ve also set up an alerts system which sends us an email if any of our KPIs falls way outside of their regular ranges. See the drop in “Pages/Session” above? We got alerted when that happened (don’t worry, it was just a technical issue).


Trust the numbers, and remember that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”. We’re here to help you get set up and operational with your own customised data and reporting systems – just get in touch.