Because I offer a marketing related ebook and blog about marketing stuff I get about 20 emails a month asking me if I reviewed product x or heard of person y. Most of the time these are hyped short lived marketing products or services that are repackaged ideas from 6 months earlier that upsell people on other junk. This is my general review guide on what types of products and services are trustworthy.
Are They Getting Paid Directly?
If people offer something of quality then most of their referrals are probably going to be more likely from non-affiliates than affiliates. Be wary of products that sound too good to be true, especially if the reviews sound exceptionally similar. Some merchants go so far as to pay people to spam internet marketing forums asking about their products.
Are they Getting Paid Indirectly?
On some of my other sites I have made thousands of dollars by publishing content on topics I am ignorant about, only because I saw brands spending millions of dollars on advertising and piggybacked on their marketing and brand.
Even if a site is using contextual advertising or some other non-direct ad model it does not mean that it should be trusted as non-self interested. In a search and advertising driven Internet world, just writing about popular things brings in money. If their ads are aligned top and to the left in the content area they shouldn't be trusted at all.
Even free non-profit content can be shady. Many not for profits pay their CEOs over $300,000 a year, and many people write about topics that grant themselves link equity, mind-share, or authority just by talking about them. John T Reed is exceptional at propping up his own domain via hate marketing.
Personal Trust of Sources:
It is much easier to rip off anonymous people than it is to rip off your friends.
A person who has spent significant time and effort building their brand and exposure is not going to wildly recommend scam after scam because building their mind-share and brand equity cost them too much to just throw it away.
The better you know the person making the recommendation and the more you trust them the more likely they are to be making a good solid recommendation.
If two independent friends recommend something then you can probably bet it is worth doing. Two days ago a friend mentioned a name to me and today I saw a mention on a blog I follow. After the second mention I had to have it, with no questions asked.
Early SEOs, early AdSense publishers, and early domainers did not get rich by telling everyone to do what they are doing. If something is highly profitable, easy, and scalable why are they selling it? Why not just do more of it themselves?
If they are not motivated by profits and just like helping people their site should offer valuable information or serives for free or given away for donations instead of selling all the time. The first version of my ebook was free until I got a bunch of market feedback to help make it valuable. I really didn't care that much about money until I get sent a bogus lawsuit. I still blog a lot because it is an easy and scalable way to gain reach and authority with minimal cost.
Others are in far better position than I am and give back a lot, but most of those people are not constantly selling you something. They give just because they enjoy doing so. Some of the early domainers offer great entrepreneurial advice, fund non-profits, and even give living advice.
Think of Externalities: Value & Profit Have to Come from Somewhere:
- Spam Google and Make Millions While You Sleep!!!
- Unlimited Automated Content Today!!!
- You are only $19.99 and one click away from wealth!!!
The value of any deceptive technique is inversely proportional to the number of people using it. If a spam idea is scalable and actually works, the profit has to come from somewhere.
If an idea is aggressively marketed, works (in a best case scenario...though most of the scams do not), and fills Google or some other large network with spam those networks will fight it off. They have to fight it off or they will lose their trust and market position. This is why companies like Digg have to keep some perception of control to keep their authority.
We strongly believe attempts to game Digg are ineffective. While it would be foolish to say that Digg has never been artificially manipulated in the 2+ years (50,000,000+ diggs) we've been live, we're confident that such attempts do not impact the content that reaches the home page.
But eventually the market calls them on it if it is a lie.
There is a reason the term banner blindness was coined. People learn to ignore even legitimate forms of advertising. If an idea tricks end users then eventually people are going to learn to ignore the noise.
That is not to say that there are no shortcuts, but if any single spam tool is widely promoted is going to have a limited lifespan. I generally consider spam to be things that are mass marketed to newbies and appeal to laziness, typically via wording that essentially means something like "secrets formula to unearth unlimited instant profits without passion or effort, guaranteed".
Anyone who tells you that all you need is a one page website is probably missing the point of search. Of course it is possible to rank a one page website, but typically only if it is in a non-competitive market, or if that person is well known away from that page, or if that page offers significant value, like some self reinforcing authorities do.
Anyone who does not offer any value without squeezing information from you to pound you with an auto-responder is going against the general trends of the web, and the trend for how most people create authority by first creating and sharing value then monetizing.
It is even worse if the list is leveraged to hype the same things that are hyped by other JV gurus at the same time. If their information contains nothing but affiliate links to the next big thing then tune out the noise.
Real people trying to help you will recommend things that are of low margin or free. Give away value and people will come back. That is what Google does. And it works.
Is Email a Better Format?
If people allow free subscriptions to email lists, and their content has ANY real value, they would be better off sharing some of it online so they build their link authority and exposure. If you were sharing something that was honestly valuable and decided to make it freely available wouldn't you want as many people as possible to see it?
If they send every email twice with slightly different headlines or lots of oops I forgot messages realize those for what they are - aggressive hard sale marketing, not accidents.
Price Point & Temporal Effects:
If the price point is high and you hear next to nothing about a topic right up until many people are hyping it all at once they are probably getting paid an affiliate commission to hype it. Don't buy the hype.
Do the Math:
A few years ago one well known Internet marketing company tried hard closing me on some mentorship program. After I did the math I realized that I was already making more than my business mentor would be making working under the head guru. Where is the value in a business mentor who uses exceptionally aggressive sales techniques to make less money than you do?
Years later the same company who tried hard closing me was blowing up my inbox asking basic SEO questions. Months later they started selling an SEO information product at a higher price point than mine.
Your Complete System:
The web works so well because it is loosely bound. You can get the best pieces of this here, and the best parts of that from over there, often free. If you want to start a blog it is easy to set up Wordpress with a MySQL database (both free).
It is exceptionally hard for me to just keep up with the topic of SEO. Any company that has ALL the solutions for you is generally doing you a disservice if you want to be a market leader.
A Paid Ebook Full of Affiliate Links:
Some people sell no cost information products then load them up with affiliate links. If your sales price is all margin there is no need for back-end upsells. I asked my mentor NFFC how many affiliate links was too many to place in a for sale information product. He said 1.
What happens when affiliate commissions invade an information product is that the author tends to give you recommendations that run really deep, doing things like recommending smaller pay per click search engines alongside the big players even though the smaller ones have little real traffic and are probably not worth your time. Another problem is friendly recommendations and recommendations of paid products where better free alternatives exist.
Outside of UseIt, most authoritative sites generally look aesthetically pleasing, with some unique design elements to them. If a site is ugly then I think that cuts at the credibility of the information, especially if they use hard sales techniques.
Who are they?
Look for the same signals of credibility that librarians look for. If you can't tell who is behind a website it is probably a bad idea to buy from it. And if the person who told you about it said it is a secret or for members only, and there is an email subscribe box on the landing page I would not trust them. If they have to use games to garner attention then their stuff is probably a joke.
One of the flaws of search is that many current experts are people who own old domains and are still considered experts even if they have not kept up with their topic for years. Just because a document is dated does not mean it is bad, but an old document about a changing field like SEO is going to have a high likelihood of having some bad analogies or advice in it.
If you are skeptical of doing something don't do it.
Why Write This Page?
When I first got on the web I was lucky enough to meet people like NFFC, read Andrew Goodman's book and learn about Seth Godin, and learn to gain more confidence in my marketing skills. I was also lucky to be able to help set up a Search Engine Strategies conference and get a free pass.
If you are lead astray off the start you may not stick around long enough to succeed. But if you find the right mentors they may help you succeed far quicker than you expected.
I have friends that have grown faster than I have because they associated with good friends that provided symbiotic marketing opportunities. If your friends and information sources keep learning, keep pushing, and help build you up then you are going to do far better than a person who listens to people focused on maximizing how much revenue they can get out of you, because maximizers will keep selling even after their products stop delivering value, and they are more likely to lead you astray than to help you out.
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