Is Reality TV an Oxymoron?

Jul 8, 2014
This article is part of a series called News & Trends.

Recruiter chatter this week has been wild about the program. I’ve never watched the show, so I can’t comment on it’s entertainment value, but I can shed some light into the claimed audience size, social following, and web footprint. We all know that fake social profiles and phishing emails proliferate the internet. They exist because someone can make a profit selling likes, re-tweets, views, and +1s.

I can’t say with certainty that Top Recruiter uses these tactics to game the system. I can, however, show how I applied my SEO skills (5+ years online marketing, prior to and during sourcing gigs) to make an educational post about web due diligence. I’ve used only free web tools, although most require registration. Whenever possible, I have listed the source URL, and highlighted the portion of the link that can be substituted to any website address. As with any research, I do not trust one source for data points, so some information repeats to corroborate.


If you could drop in someone’s Google Analytics ID and get their stats, this would be a shorter article. Alas, you have to read on.

The 3 most popular commercial web analytics / audience metrics tools are Quantcast, Compete, and Alexa (owned by Amazon). Many websites use these, in additional to private analytics, to gather demographic and keyword metrics. Toprecruiter does not use any.

Alexa does create traffic estimates based on the information they collect. They believe TopRecruiter currently averages 1,245 unique users each month (41 per day) with 53 recorded backlinks. The diagram below from Alexa compares estimates from & in Traffic Ranking (lower is better). Note that SourceCon.QA launched in February of 2014.




It is not hard to validate social follow statistics, but it is important to know how those followers are obtained. Back in 2012, then Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was accused of buying twitter followers. Many legitimate corporations promote Facebook contests or use “like bait” to build follower inertia. For these reasons, Social Media marketers rarely use follow count as a primary metric. verifies the numbers claimed look real. They only count when the official share button or when shared directly on that network (not via hootsuite, tweetdeck, or many blog sharing plugins).

We can however find the inbound content that was most shared and liked via social media using This tool is designed for competitive keyword intelligence, but shows its versatility here. Pictured are the top 5 inbound links with social scores. All contain “casting call” for extras working on their program. This is a rather large portion of the total social numbers from people not interested in recruiting in the slightest.



I tried to get information directly from about the toprecruiter account, but their API does not show view stats from paid accounts. Chris Hoyt and others have already shown the unnatural pattern of views on Youtube.

Traffic Source:

Here again, Alexa is able to estimate that only a quarter of TR’s traffic comes from search engines. This would be great news if they were selling shoes or scented candles, but in the “content is king” world we live and die by, search should be the source of most web traffic. Conversely, this assumes 72% of their audience have bookmarked their homepage, or were referred by an established web link. If you believe that to be true, I know a guy who knows a guy who can get you a great deal on Florida swampland.



Backlinks / Inbound Links:

Backlink is the word that gave rise to panda and penguin in reference to Google instead of National Geographic cover stories. In theory, when someone shares your content with attribution, you obtain credibility from them. In the past, inbound links were the primary way search engines justified keyword ranking. Without boring you further, here is head-to-head backlink ranking with


Using I was able to dig deeper into the type of backlinks TR has obtained. Almost 100% of the links are considered DoFollow Links. In SEO terms, DoFollow links used to be the ticket to high credibility and high search engine rank. They pass all “link juice” from one domain to another. In reality they are rare, unnatural, and typically purchased. Google and other search engines have moved away from using these links as a primary ranking factor because they could be abused.

If 100% of the links pointing to your website are unnatural, you can only assume they have been purchased or planted. This tells me that old blackhat tactics were used in the past, if they are not in use currently.


Outbound Links:

Smelling smoke, I looked for outbound links that have been indexed by search engines. If the outbound links are authentic, at least some of them should be discoverable. Paid links are usually embedded deep within a complex structure of comments, blogs, web 2.0 sites, and forums in order to conceal their true nature. Another old blackhat SEO tactic is drive all traffic from smaller sites to your “money site” that provides no “link juice” in return. A naturally occurring website will link out in proportion to the number of inbound links. Both Google and Bing show they have almost no outbound links.

Link Source: provides the last bit of bot proof. Here, compared to (left), (right) we find even though TR is has been around for 3 years, only 14 root domains are the source of the 1000+ discoverable links pointing to their domain. Of those, only 7 come from unique C level IP addresses. Moz tracks C-level IPs as a way to reveal shared hosting blogs owned by the same person or company. Lazy Blackhat SEO folks will register several domains from the same hosting company and re-direct all the traffic to the primary site. There are valid reasons for having so few C-Level sources of backlinks but none where 100% of those links are DoFollow.

Compare this to with 3 times the number of unique root domains and twice the number of C-Level domains while reciprocating link juice proportionally.


Further analysis could be performed to reveal the nature of TopRecruiter’s link structure, but I wanted to share my findings and process with all interested parties. I feel there is a compelling argument for marketers, sourcers, and HR executives to understand how web due diligence like this can be performed. Don’t believe at face value what you see and hear on reality TV.

This article is part of a series called News & Trends.