Last year a Minneapolis-based ad agency named Solve set out to prove that purchased youtube views are a meaningless way to measure a video’s success online. The company created and posted a 4-minute long video that was totally blank. Then they managed to manage to get 100,000 real views for the video with almost zero effort.
Again I should stress that this video got 100,000 REAL views. Actual human beings watched this video (or at least let it play) on their computer screens. Every youtuber knows that it’s hilariously easy to rack up tens of thousands of fake views; you just have to buy them from a shady website like this…. –
A youtube view is generated each time a new IP address plays a video. So some people just create programs that load and play a video, switch IPs and then load and play the video again. But the more sophisticated operations are able to promote “real” views because each view comes from a real person. The catch is that most of these real people don’t realize they’re “watching” your video because it’s hidden in the code of a popular web page.
Youtube warns their users that fake views can get their video deleted or their account suspended. But that almost never happens. 300 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube every minute so their techs don’t have time to figure out how some 14 year old kid’s iphone unboxing video got 20,000 views in 2 days.
But the folks at youtube are no dummies and they’ve realized there’s a demand for fake views. So the website basically sells junk views to people who want to increase their view counts. Youtube calls the service “promotion” but it’s only slightly less sketchy than the hackers that embed videos in places they’re not supposed to.
And this brings us to Solve’s 4-minute long, blank youtube video. The agency wanted to prove how pointless it is to buy viral success directly from youtube. So according to AdWeek, “Solve promoted the video as pre-roll to U.S. viewers using YouTube TrueView In-Stream advertising. Viewers could skip it after five seconds. Solve was charged if a viewer watched at least 30 seconds.”
When the run was over, the video had accumulated 100,000 views from people who “chose” to watch the video. But of course these people didn’t really chose to watch it. They just chose not to click away once it popped up. 46% of viewers did watch at least 30 seconds of the video but the team from Solve thinks that a lot of those people didn’t realize they were looking at a blank video. Instead they thought they were waiting for their real video choice to start playing.
Solve wound up paying 1.4 cents per view so those 100,000 views cost them $1,400. That’s a lot of money. But if you’re an ad agency with a client that is demanding that their video “goes viral,” 1.4 cents per view seems like a bargain.
And that was the point of Solve’s experiment. The agency could have told their imaginary Blank Video client that their promoted Youtube run was a smashing success. But those 100K views were worthless junk. About half of all viewers will watch 30 seconds of anything if you shove it in their face. But that doesn’t mean they’re actually paying attention. Solve CEO John Colasanti explained the point of the experiment to Adweek….
“Among many marketers and agency peers, ‘views’ have become the holy grail. Views offer a seemingly simple and easy way to measure the power of content. This is a false indicator of success, particularly when a video receives a high number of views, but a low level of likes. Often the video didn’t truly go viral; the view metric was purchased.”
So the video’s view count was high but the level of “engagement” was low. And that’s the problem with all promoted videos. You can’t buy viral success. A true viral video gets spread around because the content is good and worth sharing. So promoted pre-roll video views are no better than the junk you can buy from supercheapyoutubeviews.com. But some people obviously don’t care about engagement. So if you just want to get some real (but super expensive) views for your video you can run your campaign via google Ad Words.
I used to absolutely love youtube. It was such a fun, simple, efficient, user-friendly website. But Google just couldn’t leave well enough alone and bit by bit they’ve turned the site into a cluttered, spam-filled clusterf*ck. It seems like youtube only exists so that Google can force people sign up for Google + pages that no one will actually use. Have you looked at a youtube channel page lately? The new designs are ugly, boring and confusing. I just don’t understand what that company is doing to that site. It seems like they take one step forward and then they take two steps back. Case in Point: Last year Google “confiscated” billions of fake views that big name media companies had purchased so that their videos and channels would seem more popular. I thought this was a great move since fake views, likes and comments have really ruined Youtube’s social credibility. But for some reason, Google just made some changes that will make it harder for users to spot fake youtube views.
In 2009, Youtube added “insight data” options to every video on the site. Unless you turned off the “statistics” option, viewers could see lots of information about where your views came from. Here’s a screen shot of what that used to look like.
Those stats came from a video that was created by a spammer who was trying to get people to sign up for some get-rich-quick scheme. Most of the views on his video were almost certainly purchased. If you buy phony youtube views, you’re not actually getting real “views.” Instead your paying for hits on your video that have been disguised as views. After Youtube started the Insight program, view-sellers had to start covering their tracks by routing those hits through plausible referral sites like facebook and Twitter. It seems that the easiest way to cover the source of fake views is to make it seem like the views came from a “mobile device.” According to these stats, more than 1.5 million people watched this spammer’s video from a mobile device. A ridiculously high number of views from a mobile device was a huge red flag and it almost always meant that all of those “mobile device” views were fake. As I said, you could turn these public stats off but if you did, that would also be a red flag since it meant you had something to hide.
So as I explained in my post, How to Spot Fake Youtube Views, it was sort of easy to tell which members were buying phony views. But for reasons that defy explanation, Google has removed some of the Insight Data options. The public no longer gets to see where a video’s views came from. Scroll up and look at that screen shot I posted. All that stuff about Views from a Mobile Device and Views from Facebook are gone.
The loss of this data sucks but it’s not all bad news. Google did enhance one aspect of the Insight reports. Users can now see WHEN a video got its views. Check this out:
That’s the Statistics Data for a video that was recently entered into Arpin Van Line’s “Movin’ With Arpin” video contest. The winner of that contest was determined by youtube views and likes. They guy who submitted this particular entry has (allegedly) won a small fortune by cheating in other online video contests. If you look at the “Daily” data for that video you can plainly see that it got a huge avalanche of views out of no where. Then after a second bump, the video’s view count totally flat-lined. That (probably) means this guy bought a bunch of fake views and likes and the spike and the bump represent the days his orders were filled.
Oh but you wanna hear something funny? This guy still lost even though he (allegedly) cheated his ass off! Another contestant (seems to have) bought twice as many “likes” and wound up winning. So there’s a lesson to be learned here. NEVER ENTER A VIDEO CONTEST IF YOUTUBE LIKES OR VIEWS HELP DETERMINE THE WINNERS. You can buy thousands of fake views and likes on sites like Fiverr for just a few bucks and it is simply impossible for a sponsor to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a contestant’s views or likes are fake. So just do yourself a favor and stay out of those contests.
If you poke around the microjob website Fiverr.com you’ll discover that you can have thousands and thousands of “views” delivered to the youtube video of your choosing for just a few bucks. But don’t get excited; you can’t just buy youtube super stardom. When you order one of these gigs you’re actually buying hits that are disguised to look like views. So 15,000 real people will NOT be watching your video. Your view count is simply going to get inflated by 15,000. Some of these bogus views are generated by bots but in many cases hackers will secretly embed a video on a popular web page. Every time someone accesses that page the video automatically plays….albeit silently and invisibly.
Fake views are really starting to have a big impact on the way youtube works. Google’s adsense program is getting scammed out of lots of money and lame, wannabe Internet stars are wrecking the site’s integrity by purchasing phoney viral success. It seems like the folks at youtube are finally fed up and they’re now cracking down on users who buy fake views. A few weeks ago youtube actually removed more than 2 billion fake views from lots of big name companies and they even shut down the channels of some of the more egregious offenders.
It’s easy for youtube’s engineers to spot fake views since they can see data that the general public doesn’t have access to. But what about the rest of us? A lot of video contests use youtube views as part of an entry’s score. How can you tell if a contestant is cheating by ordering fake views?
Unfortunately you can’t….at least not for sure. But these scammers leave a lot of clues so it’s easy to spot views that are probably fake. Let’s take a look at a youtube video from a channel that hosts close to 300 self-help/get rich quick videos. It’s is run by some dude who wants to teach you how to apply martial arts lessons to the world of real estate….or something like that. Yes I’m being serious.
WOWEE! 2.1 million youtube views! That guy is gonna be the next PSY! Or maybe not. Maybe he’s a con artist who bought millions of fake youtube views because he wants to make it look like he’s popular so that suckers buy his book or send him donations. I’m not saying that’s the case….I’m just saying MAYBE that’s what’s happening here. Why do I think that some of those 2.1 million views might be fake? Here’s a quick run down of all the red flags I see in this screenshot:
1. The view count is suspiciously high: You should always be suspicious when you come across a video that has an inexplicably high view count. Regular youtube users understand what types of videos get a lot of views and this particular video just doesn’t feel like it should be popular. Would 2.1 million people really watch a 9 minute long get-rich-quick video?
2. The channel has a relatively low number of subscribers: 10,994 subscribers might sound like a lot but that’s a ridiculously small number for anyone who is getting hundreds of thousands or even millions of views on most of their videos. Here, check out the stats for a GOOD youtube channel; The Final Cut King. The FCK (heh) gets about a million views for each of his videos. But unlike the real estate guy he has more than 220,000 subscribers. Those are numbers that actually make sense.
3. The video only has 2,254 likes: Guess what? You can buy likes and comments on fiverr too. But those are way more expensive than views. So people who buy fake views sometimes don’t even bother ordering fake likes and comments. Consequently the stats for those videos are totally lopsided. It’s just not realistic that only 1/10th of 1% of the people who watch a youtube video will click the thumbs up or thumbs down button.
4. The video only has 20 dislikes: Few scammers are going to be smart enough to order DISLIKES. Two million views and only 20 dislikes just scream fraud to me. If millions of people had actually watched this video a few thousand of them would have clicked the thumbs-down button. That’s just how things work on youtube.
4. The video only has 489 comments: This number also doesn’t jive with the view count. Once again, let’s use the Final Cut King as an example. Here’s one of his videos that has received 2.5 million views. It has close to 6,000 comments (and over 30,000 likes/dislikes.) Comments are REALLY hard to fake since each comment needs to come from a different account and the comments need to be spread out over days and weeks to look realistic.
So the basic stats here seem pretty fishy. Let’s drill down a little deeper into this video’s data to see what else we can discover. If you look under a video’s view count you’ll see some symbols. If you click that symbol that looks like a bar graph a bunch extra stats will pop up.
If you click on the stats button for the get-rich-quick real estate video, this is what you’ll see. The arrow indicates the one gigantic red flag I spotted.
Now we’re getting into the really good stuff. This data shows us where all of those 2.1 million views actually came from. It used to be that if someone ordered fake views you could tell right away because the referrer sites would all be pages like buycheapviews.com or whatever. But the view-sellers have gotten smarter and they’ve figured out ways to mask the origin of their bogus views. And the number one way they do that is by tricking youtube into thinking the views came from a “mobile device.” Does it really seem possible that 70% of the 2.1 million people who watched this video watched it on their their iPhone?? That’s just ridiculous. And the facebook and Twitter numbers are almost certainly fake too. View sellers like to embed their videos on those sites because it seems natural that a lot of views would come from popular social media sites. If this video does have fake views, the video was probably also secretly embedded on all the other sites listed. After all, how the hell can you get thousands of views from a youtube video that’s been posted on iTunes or LastFM!? The data that you don’t see here is also suspicious. If this video really had gone viral you’d see referrals from specific blog posts or news stories that featured the video. And if the channel has any real subscribers, you would also see lots of views listed under “referral from a subscriber module.”
Let’s take a look at the traffic stats for a different video. In 2011 I was in a video contest where the finalists were determined by youtube view counts. This contest turned into a total clusterf*ck and people cheated like crazy. I didn’t know what was going on but after doing some research I quickly discovered that anyone could simply order youtube likes, comments, subscribers and views. These are the stats from one of the cheaters who made the finals.
Check out the item that’s 2nd to last in that list. 2/3rds of this video’s views came from the website Viralzoo.com. What the heck is viralzoo.com?? If you ever see a weird website listed in the stats, check it out. In this case, Viralzoo.com is just a bogus page that’s used as a front for view-fakers.
There’s another piece of very important data in this image. Look closely at that blue graph….
This graph shows how quickly the video got its views. You can see that the view count suddenly skyrocketed after the video was posted to those referral sites. All those referral happened BEFORE the video became popular and zero new referrals happened after it got all those views. That means that nobody liked the video enough to share it ANYWHERE on the entire Internet. And that big plateau means that the view count has basically remained the same for a year and a half. So from this data we can tell that the video was posted to a few different websites all at once. Then the video gained almost all of it’s 49,000 views over a few days but then suddenly the video somehow went un-viral and pretty much nobody every watched it again.
So….you can find out some pretty amazing stuff if you check the public stats data of a youtube video. Unfortunately youtube lets userrs turn that option off and most people who buy fake views are smart enough to hide their referrals. But turning off the public stats is a pretty big red flag in and of itself. This is what you’ll see if a user wants to hide their referral data:
If you’re ever in a video contest where youtube views matter you should tell the judges that they should ask all the contestants to leave their Public Statistics data ON. There is no legitimate reason for a contestant to hide the source of their views.
Here are a few other tips for spotting fake youtube views:
1. Check the youtube channel of the person who posted the video. Many youtube users will post links to their facebook pages, blogs or twitter accounts on their youtube channel. You can check these sites to see if the person is genuinely popular. If a video’s stats say that 50,000 views came from twitter then the creator of that video should conceivably have a pretty massive twitter following.
2. Keep an eye on the number of likes and comments. If a video gains 30,000 views in one day but receives zero new comments or just a few likes you know something shady is going on. Popular videos always get a steady stream of likes and comments. If a “popular” video isn’t getting any comments it means that real humans aren’t actually watching it.
3. Read through the comments and look for anything hinky. A lot of the people who sell views, likes and comments live in foreign countries like India. So fake comments sometimes don’t make sense or are done in broken english.
4. Check out the channels of some of the people who have left comments. If you look at their activity feed you might notice that they have been doing tons and tons of really spammy stuff like commenting on dozens of get-rich-quick videos or liking every music video created by one random aspiring hip hop artist.
And finally, I’ve saved my best tip for last: Just stay away from video contests where youtube view counts or likes help determine who the winners are. Like I said, there is no way anyone outside of youtube can be 100% sure that a video has fake views so cheaters will always win view count races. Sure, you could try and contact the judges and tell them how easy it is to buy youtube views but they probably won’t give a damn. If they actually cared about running a fair video contest they wouldn’t have run the thing on youtube in the first place.
I’ve never been exactly sure how all these Fiverr sellers are able to generate fake views but I guess it’s done with bots. Views are determined by which IP addresses access a video. So these bots need to somehow switch IPs between each play. If you have such a program it’s an easy way to make a lot of cash. Just look at that gig I posted. 29 people are currently waiting for their order to filled. So that seller will make 145 bucks and all he has to do is run his bot 29 times.
For years google stood on the sidelines and watched users inflate their view counts using a variety of nefarious means but now it sounds like they’ve decided to try and fix this problem. And this is GREAT news for video contest filmmakers. Fake views and likes have totally wrecked every video contest that is run on youtube. If views and likes affect a video’s score, cheaters will be able to win that contest easily. Why should anyone bother to get legitimate views and likes if they can just pay $5 and win in a landslide? In late 2011 I was in a contest sponsored by the microjob website DoUpTo.com; $15,000 was at stake and the finalists were determined by Youtube views. Things got ugly really fast and a few videos were able to achieve massive view counts in just a few days. These videos weren’t getting any likes or comments so it was obvious the views were phony. I contacted the guy running the contest and explained flat out how people were cheating. But it seemed like the guy knew exactly what was going on. He basically said we understand and unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do to stop this. We encourage you to do whatever it takes if you want to make the finals. Why would DoUpTo actually encourage contestants to cheat? Maybe because their site is a lot like Fiverr and plenty of their users are in the view-selling business.
So buying views is really cheap and really easy. But now finally it looks these transactions are no longer 100% risk free. Apparently it’s easy for youtube to detect these bots and now if you buy some views you might get caught and your video will be pulled. And if you rack up multiple violations your entire channel can be shut down. So if your video gets pulled in the middle of a video contest you are totally screwed. What are you going to do, tell the sponsor that you need to re-upload your entry because you got busted by youtube? So when it comes to buying fake youtube views and likes, remember kids, just say NO. It’s not worth the risk. And hey just between you and me, if you need to get a lot of youtube views really fast, just do what I always do…I pay youtube to promote my video! It costs more than 5 bucks but you can get thousands of real views from real humans and there is zero chance you’re going to be disqualified for cheating or have your video zapped into oblivion.
Every once and a while I will come across a “viral” video contest where the winner is determined by youtube views. And when I do see a contest like that it takes a lot of will power for me NOT to enter. You see, in my time running this website I have learned a lot of shady tricks; and “how to get to get tons of fake youtube views” is one of those tricks. Basically if you go to the right website you can order all the views you want. But those “views” are just fake, junk views. They’re just generated by some guy in India using a computer that is constantly changing its IP address. (or something like that) They don’t come from real people. So in most “viral” contests, buying fake views would be considered cheating. If you buy fake views, there is a chance you could get caught because fake views leave evidence behind. And not only could you get disqualified from the contest you’re in, you could be kicked off of youtube for violating the site’s Terms of Service.
So like I said, I try not to enter “viral” video contests. But about two months ago I came across a contest that was being run by a new micro-jobs website that I just had to enter. The competition was being run in two stages. In the first stage, people were supposed to create funny videos about giraffes (The website’s mascot is a giraffe) and then try to get as many youtube views as they could in four weeks. The people who created the Top 5, most viewed submissions got to go on to round two where they would compete for $15,000. I decided to enter but I promised myself I would NOT buy fake youtube views. (here’s my submission) I figured that with the resources I have at my disposal I could get into the Top 5, fair and square. This website just keeps getting more and more traffic so I stuck a banner ad for my own video at the top of this page. And man, did that get me a lot of views! Plus, I have a kind of popular youtube channel with a few thousand subscribers. So I was able to get a good chunk of views from there too.
But inevitably, as the view count deadline approached, the cheating began. Several other contestants started buying fake views and I was pushed out of the Top 5. I contacted the contest organizers and I explained how you could tell when someone’s view count was phony. But they said they really couldn’t do anything about it because the practice wasn’t actually against the rules. (So technically, it wasn’t even cheating!) So basically I recived the OK from the contest organizers to do whatever I could to get in the Top 5. But I still didn’t want to take the easy way out. So I started looking for a legitimate solution to my problem.
And I found that solution in like five minutes. It turns out that any youtube user can now sign up for the site’s “Promoted Videos” program. Basically you can now buy views from youtube! Except unlike the other views you can buy, these are REAL views that come from REAL people. If you use youtube’s promotions program to get 10,000 views, it means that 10,000 different people actually watched your video. So while some might consider this bending the rules of a viral video contest, no one could claim that you’re breaking the rules since your views are coming from real people and since you’re not violating youtube’s terms of service.
Here’s how the program works: After you sign up you pick which video you want to promote. Then you tell youtube how much you are willing to pay per view. I think I went with 12 cents but you can go even lower. And remember, that is the most you are willing to pay per view. You then get to select the keywords you want associated with your video. So if your video has a giraffe in it (like mine did) you can select “giraffe” as a keyword. Then when someone searches for giraffe videos on youtube, your video will appear in the “Promoted Videos” sidebar. The more specialized a keyword is, the more you will pay per-click. Here’s a a screengrab of my Promoted Videos Dashboard that shows the keywords I used for my giraffe video:
So even though I “bid” 12 cents per view, most of my views only cost me 2 or 3 cents. And as you can see, the keyword “funny” was the most popular keyword by a long shot.
After you set your keywords, you tell youtube how much you want to spend every day promoting your videos. If you say “$5.00” youtube will run your video as an ad all day until you have spent $5.00. I think the best thing about this program is how fast the process is. If you want a huge number of views right away, you can tell youtube you want to spend $200 a day. Youtube will pimp your video like crazy and by end of the day, you’ll have thousands of real views. Here’s what your “dashboard” will look like once your “campaign” is up and running:
The final view count for my giraffe entry was about 16,000. And that was enough to get me into the finals. As you can see, I recived 10,659 views thanks to youtube’s promoted video program. And that means I was able to get 6,000 views on my own. And that’s pretty damn good! If the other contestants hadn’t bought fake views, I would have been able to get in the Top 5 without any help from youtube.
So youtube’s Promoted Videos program is pretty much just a giant, view-creating machine. However many views you want, you can get. And you only get charged when someone actually clicks on your video. But there is one major drawback to this program; this s&%# ain’t cheap. I spent about $300 to get those 10,000 views. So was it a wise purchase? Well, the results of the contest I was will be officially announced on November 1st so check back here on Monday to see how I did.
UPDATE: The sponsored decided to split the prize 3-ways so I won $5,000. That means my investment paid off big time. But one of the other winners just happened to be the biggest cheater in the view-count round. So it was awesome to win $5,000 but I’m annoyed that a cheater got a slice of the grand prize.