Nearly Every Successful Marketer is a Spammer

A9 recently largely died off. Why? Because few people talked about it, and it never gained any real traction. Google, on the other hand, even has people talking about their ads. Rand recently noted that he doesn't believe it pays to game Digg, while Loren notes that people are willing to game it for you for as little as $20.

Quoting Rand:

If you game Digg, you get none of these benefits. The visitors might click, they might even start reading, but if you don't have truly exceptional content, you're spinning your wheels - no one is going to remember you or your site as being anything other than a waste of their time; that's not a positive brand association.


If the content wasn't good enough to make the top of the link sites naturally, there's little hope that anyone who manages their own content will link to it.

Rule #1: If people enjoy it and vote for it then it is not spam.
I have seen average (or slightly below average) content become remarkable and Diggworthy through appropriate formatting and heavy use of Instant Messenger to seed the idea. If you can get the idea half way to the homepage (about 15 - 20 votes) before the general Diggers start voting you stand a good chance of making the home page.

Rule #2: Exposure leads to more exposure.
And in spite of the fact that you will not get many links to cheesy content, I have seen somewhat cheesy content garner high trust links from old school media sources. You really only need one of those types of links for the Digg spam to pay for itself. And those links are going to be hard for competitors to replicate (unless they know how you did it).

Is it wrong to pay people for exposure? If so then why do search engines teach content publishers to blend their ads into the content?

Rule #3: Most members of the media are overworked or lazy.
Another thing to think about, is that many of the people at mainstream media sources are lazy, underpaid, or overworked cogs. In the same way that some journalists have swiped ideas from bloggers before, many of these journalists may rely on these social news sites to find new things to mention or link at. And I have seen anchors at one social news site submit one of my stories to their site only because they found it on another one.

Read more about the relationship between public relations and the media.

Rule #4: New typically means easy to spam.
The newest systems are generally going to be some of the easiest to spam.

And the spam doesn't look or feel or smell like spam if people are reading about themselves. SEO Blackhat wrote a funny article about how to get seen on Digg and over 4,000 people voted for it.

Rule #5: Older systems are typically more expensive or harder to spam.
A year or two ago it was far easier to spam Google using mini domains and keyword rich anchor text, but since then the algorithms have been placing more and more weight on citation based authority. Newspaper sites are reporting a large increase in online exposure. The publish the same old bland content and are competing with more and more sites. I don't think I would be in error to assume that a large portion of that increase is due to bias shifts in Google's (and other engines) algorithms.

Rule #6: To be successful, you have to be a bastard to somebody.
In an interview with Rolling Stone (available free via iTunes), John Lennon stated that you don't get to make it big without being a bastard. And The Beatles didn't get to become The Beatles without being serious bastards.

Rule #7: Almost everybody spams.
Any for profit system has rules set up that help it make money at the expense of others. If you are starting from nowhere you really don't have much to lose by being a bit aggressive. After you establish a strong brand then overt spamming may not look as appealing on your risk to reward ratio scale, but off the start it shouldn't hurt to be a bit aggressive, and if people are going to hold that against you forever, then screw em.

You have to spam somebody to get people to grant you enough authority to influence other markets. After you gain enough influence you keep pushing after other markets:

Google's Eric Schmidt predicted that "truth predictor" software would, within five years, "hold politicians to account." People would be able to use programmes to check seemingly factual statements against historical data to see to see if they were correct.

A statement like that makes you wonder if a Google ad campaign might help determine what truth is perceived to be.

Even after you have lost touch with your core purpose businesses keep pushing for growth:

TRUSTe’s Fact Sheet (2006) reports only two certifications revoked in TRUSTe’s ten-year history... According to TRUSTe’s posted data, users continue to submit hundreds of complaints each month. But of the 3,416 complaints received since January 2003, TRUSTe concluded that not a single one required any change to any member’s operations, privacy statement, or privacy practices, nor did any complaint require any revocation or on-site audit.

TRUSTe has only a small staff, with little obvious ability to detect violations of its rules. Rule violations at TRUSTe member sites have repeatedly been uncovered by independent third parties, not by TRUSTe itself.

Is there a single profitable well known online business that doesn't spam or at least pay others to spam for them? And, at some point, did they spam to get where they are?

I linked to this before, but I love this audio file.

Here a down and out. There a game fighter who will die fighting.

Published: October 6, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing seo tips


August 6, 2007 - 2:05am

It's interesting, as the year has gone by, how this article grows even more appropriate. As algo's change, as results change, as indicators change, spam is still "relative"

February 15, 2007 - 9:05pm

Nice Article,
as I see it, spam is the only way to gain a new market, where spam is defined as "aggresive capaing to enter in contact with people who didn't know about you and let them know about your product".

Now, spam has different faces, some more anoying than others. Smart spamming that takes into account the real needs of the market to conquer and has a product that provides a solution for those needs will serve its purpose, the other forms of spam will only serve to waste time and create discomfort for the sender and the reciever.

October 6, 2006 - 7:58pm

Not sure I agree with it even though I'm sure tactics work. Interesting article.


October 23, 2006 - 11:57pm

Some good points here, Aaron. There is no way to get the ball rolling without forcibly introducing somone to your site, either through some money changing hands (for blogging, links, a directory listing, whatever) or some other push method.

When you stop to think about it, TV Ads, Radio spots and print ads (magazines, etc.) are all forms of SPAM that we've tolerated for years. We weren't asking to view / listen to those, but the station / publisher chose to use them to cover their costs and forces them upon us.

Without SPAM (no matter how subtle), we have no web - just a bunch of disconnected sites on the Internet.

October 6, 2006 - 8:48pm

Uh, disagree strongly, Aaron. Sorry, you're all wet on this one. Good, solid, ethical businesses always win in the long term because they don't alienate their market on the way to building their customer base...

October 6, 2006 - 9:14pm

Good solid businesses like Myspace, launched by having each employee "spam" their friends? How about AOL? I have a box that is full of probably over 100 AOL CDs and disks. In that box is a handful of non-AOL disks and CDs. I can't remember many names. Those companies liked AOL's idea but they tried to do it in moderation -- and flopped.

As for good, solid, and ethical.. Ben & Jerry's ice cream? I can't really think of too many companies that can be described with those three adjectives, whether they "spam" or not.

October 6, 2006 - 9:33pm

Umm... well spammer... thats a bit rude bro... well thats a part of the game... to achieve top rankings...

October 6, 2006 - 10:09pm

I think it's disturbing that "marketing" of any kind is now "spam." How many of you know about the two lawyers who where the first email spammers, and how the term came into being?

The word spam needs to die. It's retarded.

October 6, 2006 - 10:31pm

I used to be a paper based DM specialist. Along came the web and there was instantly an electronic DM medium.

The same rules apply you are playing the numbers, it's just you can be more targeted. What really annoys me is people signing up on a site and then getting hirty when you diegn to contact them with an offer on a product they've already shown interest in. The main culprits from my limited experience seem to be AOL users. They love jumping for the spam button, rather than using an unsubscibe option.

October 6, 2006 - 11:00pm

Well, things are going to change with getting in the top rankings of things. Check out our project, this is where users decide what is good in the rankings.

October 6, 2006 - 11:00pm

Well, things are going to change with getting in the top rankings of things. Check out our project, this is where users decide what is good in the rankings.

October 7, 2006 - 12:48am

well digg does have a few checks in place .. as in it puts up a red flag if it sees that most of the votes recieved for a new post are from 1st timers ... basically it assumes that there is a grp of testers (or shud we call them spammers) want to get a post to the mark whr other users will start noticing it !

October 7, 2006 - 8:56pm

With the release of my DemocraKey I got to the front page of Digg and got my product seen by 63,000 visitors on the first day! It sure as hell paid to spam in this case, and it really can't be beat as a guerilla business tactic for the small guy. On a sidenote, my domain is banned from digg now... although link obscuring works ;)

October 7, 2006 - 10:09pm

Completely disagree Aaron. Spamming is against the law. Sure, some big companies might send out large amounts of emails, but it's not "spam". Spam is unsolicited email... and I don't know of many people that make it big AND stay big by breaking the law.

October 7, 2006 - 11:48pm

There are many companies that get and stay big breaking the law. Do a bit of research on the diamond market, or the real goals of tort reform, if you think otherwise.

I am not talking about email spamming when I mention this... I am talking about push marketing. Pull marketing usually isn't really effective unless it is coupled with a bit of push marketing.

You typically see the success stories that catch on, not the ones that never surfaced in spite of being the best.

October 8, 2006 - 12:19am

If one has a legit website I really believe one has to be a little naughty to overtake the real spam.


October 8, 2006 - 4:19pm

I don't think Aaron is advocating illegal activities. He means be aggressive, and "if people enjoy it, it is not spam." I think that is a smart rule.

October 8, 2006 - 9:26pm

My point was...

If you are going to be successful, you need to ignore a powerful entity's rules and worldview, and will be defined using negative language by others who do not like seeing you succeed (perhaps at their expense).

October 9, 2006 - 1:34am

While I think that you overdid it a bit for affect, I have to say that you are right. So long as people have products or services that they want to sell then they are going to come up with ways to make other people (who they do not know) aware of those products or services. Advertising is, by its nature, intrusive. It is about entering into someone elses space (usually unannouced and uninvited) in order to make that person aware of you and/or your products or services. However, where Rand is right, is that the benefit of the intrusion is (usually) directly proportional to the quality of the product or service being marketed.

As to the beatles (you linked to a post about how good they were at marketing), it's worth pointing out that before they worked on marketing themselves, they spent their days and nights playing music. In other words, first came the love, passion and talent and then the marketing. Also, they never let the marketing take over. At the end of the day, it was always about the music for them and THAT is why they were so successful (both artistically and marketing wise). That should be a good example for us...our marketing campaigns have to serve our businesses, not the other way around.

October 9, 2006 - 1:42am

Hi SEM Basic
Check out the interview of John Lennon I linked to in #6. He admitted that they had sold out and much of what they did was just for money, long after the passion went away.

Were they brilliant musicians? Certainly. But he prettymuch stated that the very act of them taking off is what killed their artistic talents. That is part of why I find Radiohead so fascinating. Even when they hated their tours and the tours gave them a bleak sense of humanity they still used it to create new and interesting types of music.

I also think John was probably a bit negative and hurt when he did that interview, and thus his frame of reference was exceptionally biased, but it is hard to be successful and stay somewhat pure. The feedback loops associated with success can be all consuming in how they change your worldview. For starters, I think many highly successful people get:

  • an inflated sense of self importance
  • fake friends
  • more cynical
  • more scrutiny
  • more arrogance
  • more hypocritical
  • addicted to the influence they gained

And ultimately all of that can screw with your head. The faster one becomes successful the harder it is to deal with, too.

October 9, 2006 - 5:26pm

"Let's set the existence-of-God issues aside for a later volume, and just stipulate that in some way, self-replicating organisms came into existence on this planet and immediately began trying to get rid of each other, either by spamming their environments with rough copies of themselves, or by more direct means which hardly need to be belabored. Most of them failed, and their genetic legacy was erased from the universe forever, but a few found some way to survive and to propagate. "

Neal Stephenson

SEO Practices
October 9, 2006 - 10:07pm

We would have to start by defining spaming, what is considered spamming...?

What the big one's like Google and other's in the business say it is spamming?

They are the one's telling us what spam is, they give us the rules just because certain marketing strategies are in conflict with their interests.

Google is the number one spammer, just that their marketing strategies are permited by them, so they don't called them spam, they called them marketing.

Their Google Adword program is a Google spam program, they spam every website with their ads.

October 10, 2006 - 4:55am

That is precisely what I was trying to say. As long as you let others define what is within reason, and you are trying to gain authority, someone will define you as a spammer, etc.

You have to make your own value systems and definitions if you want to do really well.

August 13, 2011 - 5:00am

Not sure I agree with all your comments, but your article is well written and entertaining - great stuff.

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