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« Weekly Recap: YouTube's Dirty Little Secret & More | Main | 8 Steps To A More Successful Music Career In 2013 (Free Ebook Download) »

YouTube's Dirty Little Secret

Ever spotted a terrible video on YouTube with an inconceivably high view count? Of course you have. Would it make you feel better knowing that most of those “views” were completely automated and only lasted 30 seconds with the sound turned off?

Vagex (referral link), a hugely popular YouTube exchange platform, is largely to blame. Credits are so cheap that members sell 2000 views for $5 on eBay and Fiverr and still turn a profit. As countless “buy YouTube views” sites testify, the views are by real people, mostly in the US. Not the sort of people who actually watch the videos, much less pay for music, but they tend to leave that bit out.

If $5 is too rich for your blood, you can earn credits by downloading one of their free viewers and letting it “watch” videos for you in the background. 

Firefox Viewer

If you don’t have any videos of your own to promote, you can sell your credits back to Vagex directly. The current exchange rate is 26,730 credits for $1. That doesn’t cover the electricity cost of generating those credits, but clearly people are willing to do it, or the exchange rate would be more favorable.

Since the videos aren’t actually watched, the views themselves won’t generate new fans, but…

Could Vagex still be useful as part of a larger promotional campaign?

 Their FAQ lists these benefits:

  • Greater perception of popularity
  • Your video will show up as suggested/related more often
  • Higher search rankings on Google and YouTube
  • In search results, people tend to choose videos with more views

Sounds reasonable to me, but does it actually work?

To find out, I paid $30 to allocate 100,000 credits to a new video, immediately after uploading it to YouTube.

Vagex Setup

For the purposes of this experiment, I left the view length at 30 seconds, selected 100 likes, and left the other options unchecked (subscribers, favorites, comments).

Vagex Start

I also announced the video on Twitter and via a $30 Promoted Post on Facebook. Despite the latter reaching 15,540 people, it only generated 71 plays on Facebook.

Status - Facebook

I could’ve taken the promotion further with an email blast and multiple announcements on multiple networks, but I didn’t want to draw attention to the phony view count. After nearly a month, I’ve still got credits left, but enough data to draw useful conclusions.

Vagex Results

YouTube Results

84,438 credits generated 21,545 views, minus whatever legitimate views occurred. The video averaged 900 views per day:

YouTube Views

In other words, it cost me 4 credits ($0.0012) per view. That’s 862 views for $1! That sounds like a lot, but Vagex explains in their FAQ that it typically costs 3-4 credits per view, so my results are typical.

What they don’t explain is why multiple credits are required to generate a single view. Maybe YouTube identifies and compensates for Vagex-generated traffic.

How many comments did those 21,545 views generate? Not a single one! Nor did the needle move on any other metric that I can track.

Viewer Retention

Viewer retention was dismal. Nobody made it past the first minute? One would hope that the fans watching on Facebook did, but their data is lost in a sea of fake views.

Which brings up another important point: Vagex hoses YouTube’s analytics, which could otherwise help you target further marketing efforts.

Conclusion: Vagex didn’t enhance my promotion at all, beyond the unmeasurable benefits of a higher view count.

To truly go viral, a video requires:

  • higher retention times
  • high quality backlinks
  • likes, favorites, subscriptions
  • comments from strong accounts

The video itself doesn’t have the necessary ingredients to go viral anyway, but it serves as a nice backdrop for the remix, while reinforcing the lyric.

You may argue that my particular formula (30 second views, 100 likes, no subscribers/favorites/comments) is to blame, and you may be right! I’m sure there are more effective combinations. Maybe if I had selected 300 second plays at 10 credits a pop, I would’ve dominated YouTube and won a Grammy.

As an epilogue, I just allocated 5 comments to the video in my Vagex control panel, so the page wouldn’t look so desolate. Instead of 5, I got 42 comments within the hour! Most were generic and spammy, and in no way applied to my video. Like all things Vagex, commenting appears to be completely automated.

Where do you stand? Is Vagex a deadly sin or a necessary evil? Are you going to try it? Would you admit it if you did? Let me know in the comments!

Brian Hazard is a recording artist with eighteen years of experience promoting his ten Color Theory albums. His Passive Promotion blog emphasizes “set it and forget it” methods of music promotion. Brian is also the head mastering engineer and owner of Resonance Mastering in Huntington Beach, California.

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments (16)

I think it could be a helpful tool for getting an artist started out on youtube. No one will search an artist if they don't know about them, which means the artist needs to do covers and such to get attention. But if they're only posting original songs, it's hard for them to get discovered. I think this could help give some artists the push they need.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterElena

can you earn enough from Adwords or whatever that thing is called to pay for this? That would be an interesting comparison. Very weird to think about where and how people who use this are expecting it to pay off.

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

It sounds awful to me ... and surely Google's latest algorithm tweaks and increased focus on measuring 'engagement' would negate any supposed benefits of a high view count?

Anyway, I guess it depends what kind of audience you're aiming for. Personally, I get more excited to see great videos with few views, as it feels like I'm really discovering something ...

January 11 | Unregistered CommenterCatherine Hol

Point taken Elena, but as you can see from my experiment, all those paid views did nothing to heighten my exposure.

Peter, Vagex prohibits you from using the service on monetized videos, or else you'd stand to make a profit!

January 12 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

none of these people are real fans. if your thing is gigging they won't be at any of your gigs.

and if your music isn't great, you won't get any further than fake youtube hits.

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterGar

One of our clients just had their video removed from youtube for using Vagex. it's against their t&c's to emply a service like vagex to cultivate view count.

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterAds

I can certainly understand why anyone would do something like this. It is hard to cut through mess of cute kitties, celebrities, crappy bedroom covers, and of course the countless artists trying to get attention. I still don't know how Gangnam Style got so popular. In the end, if the artist can expand their fanbase even a little bit, it is worth it. Honest? No. But then again, most successful businesses never played by the rules.

January 12 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

I wondered what the playcount boost did to your search rankings so I typed in " color theory drive you home" and it was the first hit. But the vid is nowhere in sight for "color theory" or "drive you home" searches. It's an interesting experiment, but it did minimal work to help people find the vid in search results.

January 13 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

Nice sleuthing Rebecca! It's not even on the first page searching for "color theory band" which is pretty much all me.

January 13 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

So this is how Gangnam did it ;) Awesome post. Thanks, Matt x

January 14 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Early

Thanks for the post, it's really interesting. Let's be honest, the world will be based solely on deception in couple of decades, if we keep doing such things. I have always wondered how all those terrible pop songs with stupid lyrics could have millions of views. Well, that's the art of marketing. On the other hand, Elena made a good point. It could be a very interesting marketing tool for new and unknown artists. She's put a bug in my ear.

January 16 | Unregistered CommenterLorne Marr

My youtube views have been hard won. I feel a little down sometimes that my most popular video so far only has 20,000 views and a video of some dude's cat taking a crap has 1.2 million. Do something real folks! And stay with it.

January 30 | Unregistered CommenterAaron Gibson

Yeah I tried out the promoted post on Facebook and also found that it was ten times better than actually advertising on Facebook. After numerous testing with Facebooks advertising I had almost given up but since the I have used the promoted posts I have had way more leads likes and comments on my posts. Finally something that works on Facebook !!!!! But as I read your post I also feel that having that "Play" button from the video on your promoted post is like the perfect call to action button you can get as we know people on Facebook don't like to leave Facebook. But they will more often than not play or check out your videos which if you have done a good job on will push them to leave your Facebook to your website. As for those fake views on fiverr ect. they are a complete waste of time as if you see where some of the traffic comes from Countries that are known for spammy viewership

Hmm. I havent seen too much change from facebook advertising....sounds like I should try promoted posts? Why would you want fake views? I put out music videos, and I guess I am hoping folks will just like them,.. and its getting there slowly. I say it is better to stay legit.

Really interesting set of comments on youtube - tending to confirm my own impression. I work very hard to generate genuine views of my/our music videos, with the result that we have comment ratios of about 7% to 10%, and like to dislike ratios typically of 25/1 to 50/1 and even better. It is so hard and time consuming though. Some videos seem to lead in terms of youtube search results and recommended videos yet others get totally lost, and I haven't any idea of what it is that is working. The videos are very good, though I say it myself, and I base that statement on those ratios, which I observe to be miles better than those of similar videos, except that those videos still seem to somehow manage to garner the lion's share of the views.

June 14 | Unregistered CommenterAndy Maynard

It's a mystery to me too Andy! I've got to hand it to YouTube though, for at least trying to crack the code for us. One of these days I'm going to work through their YouTube Creator Academy!

June 17 | Registered CommenterBrian Hazard

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