It seems like more and more bloggers are using traffic exchange services. I myself have been using Blog Explosion for a month or two now, but have been seeing more traffic exchange sites pop up, so I thought I'd try them out and report my first impressions (no pun intended, har har).
Before I get into the particulars, I thought I'd write a bit about the phenomenon in general. When I first heard about these services, I was a bit dubious. I thought it was simply a way to artificially get your hit count up. These sites employ a mechanism whereby you are forced to keep a site in your web browser for a certain length of time, after which you can click to go to another one. Each visit is added to your "credits" and these credits can be spent in a number of ways, but the most likely would be to have other members be directed to your site as part of their building of credits.
The cynical view is that it's easy enough to just hit the advance button, switch to another browser window or tab (or to another application), and then just come back after a little while and go to the next one, thus making it so that you spend a very minimal amount of time yet credits that translate into visits for your site. While this is certainly possible, and I'll admit to occasionally doing this myself, more than not I often see a site that has something interesting on it and I find myself reading and even commenting on it. These are blogs that I would never come across normally because they aren't famous and don't necessarily talk about one of my primary interests. When I do skip over blogs, it's normally for a few specific reasons. One is that I've already read it. Another is that I have absolutely no interest in the content. And a third is that sometimes my attention span isn't what it should be and the blog entries are long essays.
Another part of these services is a referral system. If you refer someone to one of these services, you get a small fraction of the credits they earn. And if they refer people, sometimes you will get credits from them as well. But I will tell you that of all the people I've referred (6 so far) I've gotten a total of credits equal to about what I would create on my own in a half a day, so it's not like you're going to just sit back and earn lots of hits for free. Even those who have been referring people for a long time will still benefit much more by simply surfing themselves.
So, for the most part, I think it's a tool that can aid everyone involved not just for hits to one's site, but for an actual exchange of real viewership. I often come across the same blogs I have before, but this is fine because they often have new content from day to day. Sure there are probably people who abuse the system and don't really read anything, but from reading about other people's experience, it seems like many people read a significant amount of the blogs they come across while building their credits.
Ok, so what are the various traffic exchange services?
Blog Explosions: This was the first such service I heard about. I joined a couple of months ago and so have the most experience with this one. I'm not sure if this is the first such site, but it may be the first geared specifically to bloggers. Your site must either be a blog or a service for bloggers. The sites I've come across have ranged the gamut politically and in subject matter. Many are simple diaries, but lots are about politics, current events, technology, medicine, you name it.
The site is loaded in a frame on the bottom of the browser window (actually it takes up most of the window), and the top frame includes links to bookmark the site, ban it from your future viewing, rate it, comment about it, report it to Blog Explosion if you feel it violates their guidelines, etc. You can also toggle filters for whether you want to see blogs that may have profanity as well as blogs that contain music backgrounds. Finally, a separate add banner appears that will, if clicked, direct you to another site entirely. Banners allow each member to draw people to their site who have a specific interest in what they are advertising, as opposed to just having people come to your site by random circumstance, so the thought is that the person will have greater interest and be a potentially more "valuable" visitor.
In order to advance to the next blog, you have to click on one of the numbers in an image that contains a bunch of numbers scattered randomly. Once you actually start surfing (and every time you move to a new blog), a counter starts timing down from 30 seconds to 0, after which clicking on one of these numbers will produce a credit (actually half a credit in this case). Each credit you earn will mean that Blog Explosion will direct one person to your site. The mechanism works pretty well, but it also is somewhat easy to look at the number, put your mouse over it, and wait for the timer to go down and click. Most of the other sites use this method, although one, Blog Clicker, uses something a bit better.
Finally, in addition to earning credits by surfing, one can get gifted credits randomly while you surf. Most of the time these are 2 or 3 credits, but they can still add up. Occasionally I've gotten these 10 or even 25 of these "mystery credits" and once I got a whopping 50! That would have been 100 sites visited! On average they probably account for 10-20% of the credits I've earned, I think, but this is just a very rough estimate based on my all-too-faulty memory! Oh yes, and can also buy credits with actual money, if you so desire.
Because Blog Explosion was probably the first and is still the most popular of these sites, it can sometimes take a while for them to approve your site or banners. Some of the others don't require approval, but Blog Explosion has decided it wants to make sure everything you are putting in front of its members' eyes is up to spec.
Blog Clicker: this site is a bit newer than Blog Explosion, but has many of the same features. The main difference that I see is that instead of waiting for a countdown and then clicking on a number, one instead gets no indication of such a countdown, but after presumably 30 seconds, 3 images appear along with a worded instruction to click on the image that corresponds to the word. For example, one will see an image of a car, a bird, and a fish, and the instruction "Click on the bird image." I think the fact that there's no way to tell how soon the image will pop up is very helpful in encouraging you to look at the blog. You know the saying, a watched pot never boils, so just waiting with no indication of progress it can often seem way longer than it actually is. The other thing that Blog Clicker does is to actually move the frame that contains the functional buttons or links from the bottom to the top of the page in a random way. This means more work to figure out where it is, which is a downside for people looking for quick hits without much work, but it also, I think, helps encourage people to read more, since they will at least be getting something out of the time that they will undoubtedly be spending with the interface.
In addition to being able to buy credits outright, Blog Clicker actually has subscription plans where you can pay $5-10 per month, and in return you are provided with credits as well as better "surf ratios" (more impressions of your own site per credit), better referral percentages, etc.
Unfortunately, many of the sites I visit on Blog Clicker are ones that I've seen before on Blog Explosion. This is somewhat predictable as many Blog Explosion users (like me) have posted about Blog Clicker. I think as time goes on many bloggers will migrate to one of these services primarily based on how much they like the interface, features, etc. While it's certainly possible to have multiple services up and constantly switch between them, ultimately it's a bit defeating after an hour of clicking around if all you have to show for it is a bunch of credits. Personally I would at least like to feel like I've read something interesting in that hour and not just mindlessly be hitting links, but that's just me.
WolfSurfer: WolfSurfer is also fairly new, but not as new as Blog Clicker. It contains many of the same features as the others, but its main difference is that it doesn't just cater to blogs. Unfortunately, this makes the site basically into one big ad. After surfing for just 15 minutes, it seems that 90% of the sites I come across are not blogs, but sites for you to buy something - cheesy stuff like online gambling, how to make money, multi-level marketing stuff, promotional services, etc. The other odd thing is that unlike the other services, I've gotten pages repeated after a very short period – maybe 5 minutes. I think the shortest period I had gotten something repeated on Blog Explosion was 6 hours, and that was after viewing a least a hundred other sites. But who knows, maybe WolfSurfer will begin to attract more bloggers and they can eventually drown out the spam-type stuff. One advantage to joining is that for those who are using it for traffic exchange, especially because real content is so underrepresented here, your blog should be noticed and read much more than on a site that has tons of others already. Or at least that's my hope!
Blogazoo is a very new service that caters to blogs, of course, and has similar features to the others. It's countdown is only 20 seconds and visible, but the actual link to advance (you have to pick the right color or number), only becomes visible once the countdown is complete. So far, most of the blogs I've seen on Blogazoo are ones I haven't seen on other sites. The downside is that for the moment, Blogazoo isn't fully operational, but is getting there. It has some features that also distinguish it from others, including a Personality Ranker (a kind of public profile page) which is supposed to help increase the popularity of your blog and a way to tell viewers your RSS feed so they can not only bookmark your blog address as with other services, but also subscribe via newsreader. It's still a little rough around the edges compared to the other services out there, but being so new it's really too early to tell what the potential is, and being so new, of course, means that people who sign up now have the potential for building up a decent number of referrals under them.
Traffic Troll: This site is similar to WolfSurfer in that it is not geared specifically to blogs, and has more of a concentration on earning actual cash payments (for referrals mainly). The types of sites are by in large similar to those found on WolfSurfer, which is either an advantage or a disadvantage depending on how you look at it. This was the only service amongst the ones I've mentioned where the clicking does not involve figuring something out. You just click on the "Click Now!" link once it becomes visible.
Clicking Crazy: This is yet another of the more cheesy/cash-oriented exchanges with no restrictions as far as the type of site is concerned. The interface itself looks very similar to Traffic Troll, so my hunch is that they are owned by the same people or perhaps it is a similar backend application that is being sold to numerous companies? Whatever the case is, I may lose patience with seeing nothing but MLM schemes and similar schlock, but I can at least hope that some more legit stuff like blogs start joining and provide at least some respite…
posted Monday, 31 January 2005