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Autosurf / Traffic Exchange Pros and Cons

Published on : Saturday Jun 17, 2006 01:11 PM
Author: Eric, All Star Web Marketing Blog

Autosurf and traffic exchange programs are built around the idea of getting free traffic. Of course, nothing is ever really free. What they're really doing is asking for your time -- quite a bit of it, if you expect the traffic to pay off.

Unlike most web traffic, autosurf visitors aren't looking for what you're offering. They may not even be interested in the class of products or services that your website is selling. The fact is, they're selling something, too. They're surfing to earn credit so the traffic exchange will send traffic to their website, or to earn money, and consequently, the traffic from an autsurf exchange is worth about 0.1% as much as the traffic from search engines.

I tested this theory using Google's AdWords program as a control. I created a Google AdWords campaign to send traffic to a landing page, and kept track of the conversions. I also set up an autosurf campaign across several popular autosurf programs. All links shared the same landing page.
The Verdict

Over the course of the test, the Google campaign generated about 10,000 hits, and generated aproximately 400 sales. The autosurf campaign generated 100,000 hits, and only 4 sales. Here are my theoretical explanations:


Uniqueness: Searchers were over 80% unique, autosurfers were 50% unique, on average and on less popular exchanges, the unique ratio drops much, much lower.

Active searching vs passive watching: Searchers generally have very specific goals in mind, and they're looking for a site that can deliver results for them. Autosurfers are just trying to earn visitors back to their own websites. They're not looking for what you're offering.

Information overload: Autosurfers are suffering from information overload. Normally, when a visitor finds an interesting website, they hang around a while, do some reading, browse the offerings, and check out the links. Autosurfers have a new website crammed down their throats every 20-30 seconds.

Market: Autosurfers are primarily hobby/part-time webmasters or people with little or no income looking for "easy money". If you have web inventory that appeals to that audience, you may get lucky.

Sleepsurfers: While there are anti-cheat protections built into every traffic exchange I've seen, sleep-surfing is rampant in the autosurf world. Many users have an extra computer that does nothing but autosurf, while they work on their websites. I'm doing it right now. Sleepsurfing isn't simply common: It's absolutely necessary if you expect to earn enough traffic to make a difference, rather than pay for clicks.

It's both the best and worst thing about autosurf programs.

Now for the upside. Many popular traffic exchanges offer text link ads, similar to Google's AdWords program. It's often possible to disable autosurf hits and use your credits to pay for ad clickthrus, which indicates at least a passing interest in your product or service (provided you've written good ad copy).

Referrals: Most exchanges allow you to refer other people for credit. Typically, referrals work like MLM programs, where you earn a small percent of your downline's earnings. In theory, you can refer lots of people who refer lots of people, and your credits skyrocket. In practice, the attrition rate is through the roof, so referrals typically perform very poorly. Luckily, some exchanges offer credit just for driving traffic to the referral link, so it's possible to earn credit on a traffic exchange without surfing.

Pay for hits: It's often possible to buy buckets of hits from traffic exchanges. Just keep in mind what they're worth. You're generally better off going with a pay per click program, such as Google's AdWords, but if you use purchased credits for text ads, it may be worthwhile.

Account upgrades: Most of the autosurf programs offer account upgrades that boost your earning ratios considerably. If you're planning to surf for several hours daily, it's probably worth the investment. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy an account upgrade (which often comes with generous doses of bonus credits, monthly), than to buy traffic using the pay for hits system, so if you're thinking about paying for hits, you may want to look at the upgrade options, first.

Some account upgrades also offer auto-population of your direct downline, as well. As I said before, the attrition rate is very high, so most of your accumulated downline will mean little more to you than a few extra bonus credits (as many as 10,000 - 20,000+).
To Recap

* You can use account upgrades and buy-in options to gain heaps of credits.
* Credits can have limited real value if you take advantage of clickthru-based impressions, rather than squander them all on buckets of autosurf hits.
* Certain types of campaigns can work well with the autosurf audience. It takes some creative thinking, and you'll certainly want to dedicate pages (or even whole domains) specifically to an autosurf audience, but it's possible to monetize some of those hits.
* It's possible (recommended, if you get serious about it) to join multiple exchange programs and run them all at once. This works particularly well in tab-enabled browsers.
* A few traffic exchanges get enough traffic to be listed in the top 10,000 websites on Alexa (and several are in the top 50,000). Such sites are likely to have more active users, which will increase the unique hit ratio (and consequently, your conversion rates).
* Alexa usage stats make it clear that there are hundreds of thousands of people using autosurf exchanges, though it can be difficult to find a traffic exchange with more than 10,000 active user accounts.
* Like Google's AdWords, it's quite easy to test conversion rates for microcopy if you manage to accumulate hundreds of thousands of credits (which is not terribly difficult). This knowledge can be used to tune ad copy to passive, webmaster audiences, which can provide useful information for other marketing efforts.
* It's very easy to get lots of hits flowing... just keep in mind that hits are worthless without conversions.


* One search engine hit is worth about 1,000 autosurf hits, but if you tune your landing pages, you can improve this potentially damning ratio.
* It's possible to waste a whole lot of time and energy on autosurfing, and wind up with very little to show for it.
* Autosurfers can be very difficult to market to. What sort of person would spend their valuable time looking at untargeted ads for get-rich-quick-schemes and MLM programs? That said, some of them do have money to spend. Most autosurfers are just testing the waters. Only about half of them ever accumulate more than 1,000 credits. What most have in common is that they have websites, and they want traffic.
* Hostile software alert! Many of the sites on traffic exchanges will attempt to install malware, viruses, pay dialers, etc... In order to avoid potentially serious damage, be sure that you have an active virus scanner, and that you restrict your browser so that it won't attempt to install software. You'll also want to block popups, and restrict javascript functionality to the bare minimum (but don't turn it off, or the software won't work!).

Some traffic exchanges:

If you want to try it out, here are some of the better exchanges I'm familiar with. Note that I've left out several major exchanges (including entire species), for various reasons. Mostly because I didn't see good results with them.


Source: All Star Web Marketing Blog

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