It should come as to no surprise that you can purchase YouTube views, likes, comments and subscribers in order for the video, or brand, to appear more popular than it actually is. Popularly is a powerful tool to have, but it’s completely hollow if not genuinely deserved.

In fact, it works against most companies because if defies exactly why you would implement a video campaign in the first place: to build trust and relationship. Now, you’ve not only broken ethics, but you left evidence connecting yourself to it.

How it Works and Why it Doesn’t

If you search for “buy youtube views” on Google, you’ll find a list of websites offering the service, many with similar rates and different packages, some as low as $10 for 5,000 views. They claim to offer views, likes, and comments from “genuine” users. What does that mean? The accounts are genuine (meaning, they all have different names, ages, etc), sure, but not the actual users. Logically speaking, that would mean 5,000 people on payroll for a client’s $10 investment. It’s financially impossible. It’s just a bunch of servers logged in to different account names, and auto-viewing the video from different countries, most of them coming from the Middle East. The comments are auto-generated as well, and are typically a jumble of the same phrases over and over.

Mr. Khan, while endorsing Fat Blast Lifestyle across the web, claims his buddy, father and brother have all benefited.

Ms. Hasan only knows four adjectives: mesmerizing, well furnished, well made, and bewitching.

The auto-generated comments create several problems here.

1) The comments are a mess – Auto-generated comments are typically full of misspellings and significant grammatical errors that result from using software to jumble a couple phrases into several hundred. Not unlike the common literature within spam mail, these comments immediately look disingenuous, or at least written by a partially illiterate person. Either way, your fake audience destroys their own credibility, along with their positive testimonies.

2) They don’t stir the pot – Contributing discussion fuels a user’s passion and support of the video’s content, promotes shares across social media, and greatly enhances search rank within YouTube. The auto-generated comments interrupt the current conversation with a messy ad, offer little value to further conversation, and they cannot reply. If comments are purchased in excess, genuine conversations can be buried forever.

3) It looks obvious – Since all the comments are derivative of the same few phrases and keywords, it seems nobody watching has any individuality, differing or dissenting opinion. Any genuine comment will have an individuality, which sticks out like a sore thumb, and makes the long list of fraudulent engagements even more obvious.

Mr. ToyotaPrius79 can’t help but comment on the abundant spam around him.

The fake views are also pretty obvious, as well. YouTube stats are available on every video page (not channel pages) in the bottom right should the publisher choose to disclose the sources of the viewership. Here, an explosion of views can indicate two things: 1) a sudden and large increase in views created by a highly visible exposure, or 2) a server hitting the video link a few thousands times per hour.

Fake Views: Views jumped from 0 to 400,000 within days, then flat-lined.

Real Views: slowly escalated and snowballed, forming a nice bell curve.

Is Buying Views Trustworthy?

The view-dealer sites, themselves, all appear to be made by amateurs, having spent very little time or energy in web development or design. In fact, they seem downright shady. It’s not a coincidence that most of these sites appear unscrupulous, because they are! They are selling barely-legal services which are highly unethical and heavily persecuted against. Why build a nice looking site when you expect Google to shut it down immediately, anyway? Buying traffic and using content jumblers can get your website removed from Google’s search engine, so these companies must constantly be on the run. Once a site is shutdown, they don’t fight Google about it. They set up a new site just as quick, and make as many dealings as they can before they are shut down again.

You might as well be dealing with gypsies. Pursue at your own risk.

When it Works

Buying views may be useful when you are creating a fresh campaign and have no social resources, such as a strong social media following, or a public relations team. If used in very small amounts, it can help the campaign in its infancy, but becomes more problematic in later stages. Also, all the numbers need to correspond, otherwise your views, likes and subscribers look very lopsided. Lopsided views-to-likes is only acceptable if the content is believed to be heavily embedded across the web (such as any real viral video), however, that’s clearly not your market. The only reason you would be buying views is to seem popular on YouTube, right? In case you hadn’t noticed, nobody will see your stats on an embed, anyway, so consider what this looks like to your target audience: the YouTube user.

A little more than 0.26% of viewers gave their opinion.

A video with even a million hits, but less than a thousand subscribers, illustrates a broad disinterest in your content; defeating the purpose of feigning popularity.

The only other time buying engagements works is when the product or service requires such low commitment to the potential customer, such as being free or of very low cost. The more commitment required by the potential, the more convincing they need, and the more skeptical they become. If they recognize an unethical marketing practice, you might have destroyed any future relationship with them.

Who Uses Bought Views?

More people than you think, but mostly the entertainment industry. Music record labels buy views all the time in order to establish a new artist, album or song, by feigning its popularity. This is a priority for the entertainment industry because popularity is one of the biggest reasons for an audience to take an interest: to understand what’s popular in today’s culture. It’s about sensationalism: making people believe that this is relevant to them. Buying views for music videos is not uncommon knowledge, however, since many users will comment on how fast the video acquired over a million hits in a single day, despite low subscribers, likes or legitimate comments. Also, the high viewership seems to stop after the first day, and dwindles thereafter (as seen in the above images on YouTube stats). This practice is not openly disclosed, but it’s becoming under scrutiny this year with the 200,000,000+ viewed music video, Gangnam Style by Korean pop star, PSY.

EDIT: YouTube cancelled billions of views, several months after this post was published, after having proven they were fraudulent. And, yes, most of the views came from music giants such as Universal and Sony.

47% of views from the US, despite the fact that it is a non-English speaking song.

The entertainment industry is using bought views the smart way, though: establish a base, and allow for true social engagements to take over. Since its release in mid-July this year, Gangnam Style has been tweeted by massively followed artists such as Brittany Spears and T-Pain, and being covered frequently in the news. The video sells itself because the content is wildly entertaining, even for non-Korean speakers. One of the biggest novelties of Gangnam Style is the abundant amount of views it has amassed since its release, adding to the sensationalism. However, the content quality factor is what drives true social engagement, and the real customers. Had the video acquired a faux popularity without the quality content it provides, it could have been an embarrassment and, perhaps, a career-setback for PSY.

Just Don’t Do It

Remember PSY: it’s all about quality factor. If you don’t have it, you’re fooling yourself and nobody else.

EDIT: And still, nobody’s sure if all those views were real. Gangam Style is owned by Universal Music Group, which faked more than 15% of its total views.

If you plan to buy engagements in order to increase your search rank within YouTube, think again. In every video I’ve encountered that used fake engagements, including trial videos that colleagues and I had tested, none of them had placed well. This could be because most of the views and comments came from a far-off country of origin (and perhaps deemed irrelevant to my search within the US), or the fact that YouTube is already well aware of the fake accounts and is blocking the videos from reaching a higher search rank. YouTube has already shut down, and removed, many videos known to be using bought fake engagements. It’s also pretty easy for YouTube to recognize this when the video is just being hit thousands of times by the same IP address in just a few hours.

Google and Facebook have both made strong efforts to punish and remove accounts, even entire websites, that implement practices such as buying engagements, backlinks and utilizing content jumblers to fool search engines. Now that YouTube partnership and monetizing is open to everyone, it behooves YouTube to even further pursue these view-buying accounts as it could affect their advertisers. At that point, it becomes fraud, and YouTube will defend itself.

EDIT: YouTube removed every single suspect video using fake views in December 2012 in a purge of black hat view-counting users. So, yeah, called it. :-p

Buying engagements is just band-aiding poor content and poor promotion. Instead, learn from the poor engagements, and refocus your campaign. Maybe even try purchasing ad and featured placement packages with YouTube.