Marketers everywhere are being asked to do more with less these days—fewer resources, greater traffic and engagement; less time, more content; the list goes on. So what are agency and in-house marketers to do when they’ve over-committed and they realize they’re not equipped to deliver? Many choose to do the right thing and own up to it. Others choose to cheat.

As someone managing an agency relationship, it’s important to be able to decipher when the numbers look almost too good to be true. In this article, I’ll outline the various ways dubious marketers and agencies inflate their performance and the steps good marketers can take to ensure they’re not being duped.

Down on the (Click) Farm

For the uninitiated, click farms are entities where individuals get paid to interact with content for a fraction of a cent per engagement. Advanced click farms are run by small groups of individuals with hundreds of phones, computers, and accounts working in an automated fashion to interact with various marketing channels on behalf of their clients. Employing click farms is an effective way to drive traffic—not qualified traffic, mind you, but traffic nonetheless. Many unscrupulous agencies utilize click farms to drive results and show clients quick wins.

click farms

When reviewing traffic, many marketers focus solely on the end statistics and rarely review where that traffic is coming from. Digging deeper into onsite data to determine where users are coming from and how they’re interacting with your website is the best way to understand whether click farms are driving traffic to your site. From there you’ll just have to figure out how to filter out the shady traffic.

Tag Once, Tag Right

Proper tagging is the key to proper reporting. On the flip side, improper tagging is the key to inflating your results, whether or not you’re doing it on purpose.

I’ve worked with a number of clients with duplicate tracking codes on their sites (for whatever reason) and I always explain to them the consequences of having duplicate reporting scripts, especially if they are pointing to the same property. What ends up happening is the platform will double count pageviews and pages per session, and it can affect overall bounce rate.

Some marketers turn a blind eye to bad tagging because it projects success (e.g., “our traffic has doubled vs. last year! We must really be great”), while others intentionally manipulate tracking scripts to generate desired outcomes.

As a good marketer, you should be cognizant of ongoing performance, investigate spikes, and question results that seem too good to be true. It’s the only way to defend your data against reporting manipulation.

false bounce rate chart

This bounce rate is a lie.

I, for One, Do Not Welcome Our Spam Bot Overlords

Bots. I hate them, but not everyone shares that hatred. Some marketers use bots to “improve” their metrics, and some use them to harm their competitors.

That said, bots are effective at brute forcing metrics, but not much else. They simply serve to unfairly skew data to either the benefit or detriment of the websites they target. Much like click farms, you can protect the integrity of your data by digging deeper to determine where traffic is coming from and how it is engaging with your site.

Resist the Temptation

As time goes on, we’ll continue to see more and more marketers (agency and in-house) adopting some of these shady, “traffic-generating” and “results-driving” practices in an attempt to prove their ROI to stakeholders. And just like all the other blackhat techniques, this will probably work for a while. But it won’t work long-term.

The problem with these schemes is that they’re all about propping up metrics that mean nothing by themselves, which is a surefire way to doom yourself in the long run. Once you turn to the dark side and showcase your tremendous “success,” it’s hard to go back to honest, sustainable strategy and you eventually find yourself turning to blackhat strategies just to maintain what you have. The best way to reach your goals is by taking the time to create a great user experience and build long-term relationships with real customers. Jumping from shady practice to shady practice will never get you there.

In a world where juicing numbers can be as easy as adding a second tag to a website, you must learn to spot and diagnose when numbers look a little too good. It’s the only way to protect yourself from data manipulators, inaccurate results, and a whole lot of facepalming.

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Andy Stuckey

Andy has overseen digital marketing strategy, online functionality implementation and data analytics for some of the nation’s largest brands, including Sears, Rackspace and Intuit, among others. Today, Andy serves as the Global SEO and Analytics Manager at Genesys, a leader in omnichannel customer experience and contact center solutions.