Questioning the Legitimacy and Authenticity of Internet Marketing Advice & Sources

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.

Self Interests:

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".

Understanding Search:

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.

Giving Value:

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.

Anyone can grab a couple small samples or other biased statistics, and hit you with them over and over again, but there is no reason to subscribe to that sort of never-ending sales stream.

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.

Ugly Design:

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.

Dated Information:

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.

Gut Check:

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.

Published: April 4, 2007

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Comments

April 4, 2007 - 5:33am

Aaron, fantastic post. I liked your take on the paid ebook full of links. I just wrote a post about 5 free SEO e-books and in doing my research there are TONS of worthless e-books full of affiliate links. I thought I could at least find 10 e-Books to mention but had to settle for only 5 because that's all I could find that were actually worthwhile.

I'm completely there with you on the hyped make millions programs... if it was so incredible why give out the idea or try to make a profit off of it. I feel bad for people who really ruin their names by going into these types of things (no SEO, no PPC, make millions!!!!!!!).

April 4, 2007 - 5:50am

Killer post Aaron.

April 4, 2007 - 6:04am

I totally agree with everything you said, Aaron. Eddie and I (you talk with Ed on MSN) have kept Interspire 100% honest and it's hard to do that when you see every man and his dog making what looks like ridiculously easy money selling crap online.

I do believe that in the end the most honest companies win, and I think that we should get a gold star for resisting the urges to do any kind of misleading, dodgy or mass-marketing activities to get to where we are.

April 4, 2007 - 6:10am

Thanks for the kind feedback Michael and Peter.

Hi Mitchell
Good to see your new blog taking off so quickly. Tell Eddie I said hi.

April 4, 2007 - 6:42am

Kudos Aaron - truly a great post!

It became apparent to me early on that the internet marketers who pimp their wares (for $997, no $397, no $197, no $37 today only) are truly only experts at one thing - marketing to other internet marketers. They are today's Amway and Avon distrubutors - playing off the hopes and fears of those trying to better their position in life.

April 4, 2007 - 3:39pm

just reminds me of the .com heyday, when salesmen would throw around the terms 'bandwidth' and 'convergence' to try and establish their pseudo-knowledge of the industry. Shoot, the main culprit of this - that I personally knew - is now the CEO of ask.com...ha.

April 4, 2007 - 5:35pm

You make a lot of valid points here. Backing off just a little bit and providing valuable CONTENT (That is not provided after a squeeze) has provided me with loyal customers and good sales at the end. Review sites are rather scammy in general, but if you can PROVE that you know what you are talking about, the legitimacy can be worth its weight in gold.

Don LeGoullon
April 4, 2007 - 7:01pm

Saw Alan's comments on "http://www.seomoz.org/article/search-ranking-factors" regarding Keyword Use in Body Text where Alan said "If it is overdone it can suppress rankings. I think they are moving more toward topic analysis to learn what is relevant though." Not sure I agree. Do a search for "something" on G and examine the top entry www.something.com - interesting.

April 4, 2007 - 8:25pm

The approach I always took was to test someone's advice and then measure the results. If the results were good, it was worth my time to pay attention to them.

Its an imperfect method but it does eliminate a big category: people who give out no useful information at all.

I don't care how many references, how long your sales letter is, how many video testimonials you have -- if it is all hidden behind a door that requires a $500 key to open, forget it.

That being said, much of what professional internet marketing marketers do is pretty damn transparent. Typically you can learn more from the marketer's sales letter and means to promote their product than the product itself.

The reason so many horrible internet market products exist is because so many people want to be spoon fed success. I have had to work 7 days a week, 10+ hours a day for over 3 years now to get where I am. Thats not a product that sells.

April 4, 2007 - 8:54pm

Aaron,

You aren't saying that all Internet Marketing products are junk, right? Otherwise, you would be dissing your own book. You are saying to be careful about what you purchase. Do lot's of research, etc.

I have bought some really good Internet marketing products and some really junky ones. Unfortunately, most of them were a bit overpriced for what they provided.

I think I know who you are talking about that ripped you off. If it is who I think it is, I can't imagine paying someone thousands of dollars to be my mentor, when they don't actually train you, but someone else who hasn't made tons of money online trains you. I have also seen other marketers rip off other people's products like that, it's just not right. However, I do think there are people like you in the Internet marketing game who put out quality products and don't rip off other people's work.

I think it's hard to separate the bad from the good.

That said there is also a good amount of FREE bad information all over the net (especially forums) about SEO, affiliate marketing, etc. It's too bad there is no way for a beginner to know for sure who is telling the truth and who isn't without trying it out for themselves.

April 5, 2007 - 6:18pm

Aaron,
Excellent take. Attending industry conferences such as SES is another great way to network and connect with trusted sources. Find who the people upfront are. Get their names and online handles. Go to the forums, online communities and blogs where they post their stuff. I agree with the comment George posted above that there are lots of FREE bad information on the subject as well. But, this is also a way to separate the good from the bad.

Well done.

Marek

April 6, 2007 - 2:19am

Aaron,

One way to tell who the real expert are is if they write a post that "spills the beans" like this. I have been reading your blog for a short time and this post confirms what I already learned the hard way about so called "internet marketing expert". Thanks for telling it like it is.

I agree with Andrew Johnson above that real work 7 days a week is what it takes(for any legitimate business, off line or on). To imply otherwise is the core deceit of internet "experts"

You have earned a new fan. I get value with every visit to you site. Please accept my thanks for being truly authentic.

April 6, 2007 - 8:39am

I really agree that finding the right friends and mentors you can trust is key to success. I work with clients who have been caught in traps of the "get rich quick" "sell our ebooks and make millions". This list of things to watch out for is great. I plan to refer them to it before they make any hasty decisions. Thanks for the reminders and heads up. Great post!

David Lucas
April 10, 2007 - 8:53am

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I find it sickening that these people can get away with so many lies. I really wish it were easier to find legitimate information, such as with doing an accounting course, or a computer science degree.

I'm tired of these Ripoff Gurus!

Azhar A Malik
April 10, 2007 - 11:06pm

Great post.

"Any company that has ALL the solutions for you is generally doing you a disservice if you want to be a market leader."

Generally speaking yes, but there are some really good decent size companies / agencies which are providing very thorough integrated solutions. They are strong on and off line. It is no wonder they are not part of the internet selling hype.

Your have made one thing very clear in this post. It takes Time, Money, Resources (Developers, programmers, designers, content writers and marketers) and most of all a team effort to succeed.

Great post.

Steve Henderson
June 11, 2007 - 1:52am

What astonishes me is our communal ability to suspend disbelief the moment we go online.

Just about everyone understands that offline there is no free lunch and that "caveat emptor" is the rule of the road. So, how is it that we so universally and systematically delude ourselves that business online is somehow any less subject to the laws of nature (ie the jungle)?

The internet is essentially an information medium (the ecommerce is incidental - like shopping channels on TV) and most people come online to find information rather than to spend money. Newspapers, TV and radio have conditioned our expectations to require substantial quality info for free or nearly so - subsidized by advertising.

The online equivalent of traditonal media is a factual blog or website supported with Adsense (or similar) display ads. I can live with that formula a lot easier than a "free" ebook seeded with commission driven affiliate links - analagous to trade mag "puff" copy and just as worthless.

Steve - 4mostClassifieds.com

Brian Ostergaard
April 12, 2007 - 7:41pm

Great post, you can feel it comes from the heart.

I think there is a problem in “judging the book by its cover”. In some cases you have an expert that is very bad at writing/selling, but is a very good expert.

Let me give two examples:

There is a software company in my niche that makes a very efficient tool. Their web site is a one page sales letter built over a template from a “get rich while you sleep concept”.
Conclusion: The software and the support are very good, but the website is equally bad.

I have a very good friend that is the leading CMS-consulting in Denmark. He always says he isn’t a good sales person, meaning that he doesn’t sale, but just gives people good advice. In my opinion this is the best sales persons and he also has a lot of success selling.

I have asked myself why people buy from these sites without coming to any conclusion. A good friend explained to me that there are two kinds of people: The analytic and the intuitive. The person that is highly intuitive can make decisions without any facts supporting the decision, only based upon a feeling.

Being a highly analytic person I will probably never understand how you can make decisions upon a feeling.

Are there any rules for giving a link in your examples?

Tim
April 20, 2007 - 3:24am

Really good information,

You all talk about newbies and getting reliable information, I am a newbie and I have been going threw the unreliable on my own trying to get a start in this world of technology, yes its been a long road and I have yet to see any kind of profit. Yes I have put out some funds because I didn't know. I appreciate these posts and would and could use help.
I'm tired of the ripoffs also
Thanks again great post

June 13, 2008 - 6:06am

I totally agree with everything you said, Aaron. Eddie and I (you talk with Ed on MSN) have kept Interspire 100% honest and it's hard to do that when you see every man and his dog making what looks like ridiculously easy money selling crap online.

I do believe that in the end the most honest companies win, and I think that we should get a gold star for resisting the urges to do any kind of misleading, dodgy or mass-marketing activities to get to where we are.

This was posted over a year ago Mitchell.

But I assume that everything you have stated in that post no longer applies?

Interspire's licensing practises for Send Studio NX and Email Marketer are extremely questionable.

So is the removal of threads and banning of users from your forums for expressing their disappointment as such. Surely this constitutes as "Misleading or Dodgey activity" when you systematically sweep the ire of existing customers away (90 of them by your own omission), so potential customers aren't aware of the issue. I am not one of the banned users, I still ready and post regularly, however recently Interspire's behaviour has been terrible enough in this area to say that the self-awarded gold star you gave yourself a year ago should be forcibly ripped from your pocket.

As I said, your post is over a year old, so retrospect isn't fair for what I have said. But a small rebellion has already begun. Several customers have banded together to discuss options, at least one formal complaint lodged through appropriate government channels in Australia (NSW Office of Fair Trade), and even rumour of a site detailing the outrage of the customers, the sort of details that you simply discarded for future customers to view to protect new income. Hardly the sort of relationship a self proclaimed "honest company" would want with customer's surely?

Certainly Interspire cannot claim any star for honesty and respect for existing customers in this former customer's view. Interspire has ripped it's SendStudio customers off, And censoring non-offensive discussion means that Interspire is misleading potential customers that enter the forums as guests. They are being denied information that they should be privy to for future reference.

July 14, 2008 - 12:06am

This are things I expirienced first hand and wish I would have known beforehand

  • Interspire has no overall strategy and communicates poorly with it’s existing customers of what to expect.
  • Interspire sold SendStudio until the day they changed it’s name to Email Marketer without any information to the customer that they would be buying a dead product. Free updates for recent purchases where only given after an uproar of customers who recently bought
  • Renaming a minor updated Send Studio to Email Marketer to increase upgrade fees by several 100% and leaving existing customers with a dead product.
  • Interspire in it’s own admission does not mind loosing long term customers when making substantial changes to their policies.
  • Pricing structure is unpredictable (running update and upgrade costs are not disclosed)
  • Complete change of update policy, introducing upgrades and updates and applying same changed terms of conditions to existing users who purchased under different terms.
  • Censoring it’s forums and only allow POSITIVE POSTS negative post will be deleted and users banned.

Don't get me wrong the software is excellent, the support is great (but also has to be great, as there are often problems with it which are usually attended to very quick) but it's up to you whether you would like to build your business based on a company which does not care about you as a customer.

I recommend to get the terms and condition under which you purchase in writing and also ask what the expected cost will be for the next three years to keep the software updated.

December 10, 2010 - 7:20pm

Hi Aaron,

I think that you make it seem like all us marketers are good at marketing and nothing else, but in the end you're a marketer too. What's so wrong about asking for an email to see some free value, when you can later opt-out easily?

For example, your "free" SEO tools have an optin too -- why not just give us the link to download instead of making us join your list when I didn't even know I'd be receiving emails?

Don't get me wrong, I am NOT against it, I do it too, and I really really enjoy your emails, some nice free content in there. And if I didn't, I'd simply opt-out and end of story.

But IMO it's kind of hypocrite to say that NO marketer should ask for an email optin if their value is so nice, if you're doing it with your tools too.

In fact, I didn't like your tools, I uninstalled them because they did not do what I wanted to, but I have no problem with you sending me frequent emails which in the end, all have a call to action.

Again, not against your practices, I do the same thing, but:

"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?"

Why don't you do that with your software? A friend of mine actually told me to download it myself because he didn't want to opt in.

That aside, I think it would be fair to congratulate you for all your hard work. I'd love to purchase your training stuff, but unfortunately it's a bit expensive for someone living on a country where wealth is not as common as in developed countries.

Cheers!

December 12, 2010 - 2:08am

I think that you make it seem like all us marketers are good at marketing and nothing else, but in the end you're a marketer too. What's so wrong about asking for an email to see some free value, when you can later opt-out easily?

There is a big difference between...

  • regularly offering value (say like the thousands of free blog posts we offer) and then monetizing a small portion of what you do VS
  • offering nothing of value without hawking something for sale

For example, your "free" SEO tools have an optin too -- why not just give us the link to download instead of making us join your list when I didn't even know I'd be receiving emails?

1.) If you *read* the page where you opt-in, it gives you the option to get the auto-responders or not.

2.) We get *tons* of support requests from people who are too lazy to read our usage instructions & such on our SEO tools. I find that setting up a minor barrier helps filter out some of the undesirables while still letting hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people access our stuff.

Don't get me wrong, I am NOT against it, I do it too, and I really really enjoy your emails, some nice free content in there. And if I didn't, I'd simply opt-out and end of story.

But IMO it's kind of hypocrite to say that NO marketer should ask for an email optin if their value is so nice, if you're doing it with your tools too.

My point is not that asking for an email is bad. The point is that *NEVER* offering *ANY* value *EVER* outside of things which require an email address is typically a signal of poor product quality where marketing message trumps product quality. Most typically the people who do that create the sales message and then build a product around the sales message, rather than creating something of value & then selling it.

The difference between the 2 is not particularly subtle.

In fact, I didn't like your tools, I uninstalled them because they did not do what I wanted to, but I have no problem with you sending me frequent emails which in the end, all have a call to action.

Notice that the *content* of said emails was largely teaching a lot of stuff & giving away a ton of free tips rather than just hyping hyping hyping whatever the marketer was selling. In that way, you liked the side bonus more than the main thing you thought you wanted from us. So I would count that as a win.

"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?"

Why don't you do that with your software? A friend of mine actually told me to download it myself because he didn't want to opt in.

As stated earlier, we get THOUSANDS of support requests from people too lazy to read. So the small barrier helps restore a bit of my sanity. Further, including the tools in the autoresponder helps ensure people use them...so many days in the autoresponder does remind people to make sure they have the tools installed.

That aside, I think it would be fair to congratulate you for all your hard work. I'd love to purchase your training stuff, but unfortunately it's a bit expensive for someone living on a country where wealth is not as common as in developed countries.

Some people see limitations where others see opportunities. If your country has a lower standard of living than many others do, then that means that when you become profitable & grow your business you have the ability to leverage more affordable labor resources to grow your business.

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