Digital Marketing Parasites

blog_parasiteRecently in my sales work with clients and prospects I have heard some very disturbing trends which has prompted this blog post. The most recent shocking meeting I had was this Monday but prior to that I also heard of some disturbing tactics being touted by some of Finlands’ “best of breed” digital agencies. Rather than name names and turn this whole post into a rant I figured I best just demonstrate why you should run a mile if you hear any of these tactics mentioned.

  1. Traffic generation via link farms, 1000s of domains, or “our network of websites”.
    When I heard this one I couldn’t believe it was still a tactic some agencies we’re employing.
    Good practice
    If you’re buying traffic from a network of branded content websites it’s good practice. If an agency pitches working with a well known brand name it’s fine (Ilta Sanomat, MTV3, Suomi24, YLE for instance). Look at TNS metrix advertiser list to get an idea of sites which are high volume in Finland. When an agency says we’ll drive traffic by advertising in a targeted way with traffic coming from (for instance) sites on this list then ask you to do ads and banner creative to work with them they’re probably doing an honest days work.
    Bad Practice
    Spamming search engines. If an agency says “we have a network of thousands of websites that can rank you in Google for your keywords” or “lets develop a network of 10,000 domains that link back to your brand” or “Google works by the amount of inbound links you get around the keywords you use, let’s therefore create 10,000 websites linking to you for your keywords”. If an agency comes at you with any of these ideas just show them the door. They are digital marketing cowboys. Spammers. Scam artists. Conmen. Parasites! There are ways these guys use to trick the search engines but it will usually only work temporarily until Google hunts down the offending sites and bans them. So if you’re at all worried about losing the current levels of traffic you get from Google then don’t do this. I first heard of these shady methods in 2002 and Google is on a constant hunt for the people that employ these tactics. The big problem with the parasites is that nothing happens to them when you get caught, because it’s your brand that is taking advantage of their tactics. It’s you the advertiser trying to get more traffic that gets caught and gets banned because it’s your site taking advantage of the inbound links. The parasite spammer just jumps to the next project.
  2. CPA/C (cost per acquisition/click) Daylight Robbery
    Again when I heard people were still doing this to unsuspecting advertisers I thought I had been sent back in time to 2003/4 when I first saw this bad practice happening. I thought that the reputable agencies had long ago realized that stealing money from their clients in this way would only get them a bad reputation. I was wrong. One of the biggest agencies in Sweden is doing this right now and they deserve everything they get from the client I talked too. Again I’ll start with what I consider is good CPA marketing;
    Good Practice
    When an agency says that they will drive traffic to your top keywords via search engines and shows you the performance all the while comparing this to organic traffic coming to you for free from search then again they are trying to do an honest days work. This way you can judge whether the click cost is justified for certain keywords and can see particularly which brand keywords you don’t need to bid on Google for.
    Bad Practice
    The agency focuses purely on the SEM paid clicks and charges accordingly. So I heard that the parasites in question were bidding on a CPA basis on brand keywords. The brand keywords were the best performing ones and the cheapest to buy because the client in question had excellent SEO for the brand terms and none of the competition bid on the terms. So they are buying the keywords for a few cents per click and charging the client €25 per sale from those clicks when the client would most likely have gotten the clicks for free anyway from organic listings. A huge margin for the parasite. My client referred to this as “almost a crime”. I agree. Flogging is too good for these toe rags. It’s the same with clicks and click packages. Be careful if you hear “we’ll sell 1000 clicks for €1000” because in many cases click prices are less than 20 cents each (unless they’re highly competed on) meaning your parasite is earning 80 cents to the euro from your media budgets. An easy thing to check is click prices for your keywords. Google has a CPC (cost per click) estimator where you simply enter your keywords and filter for CPC. Do that for your top 5 keywords before you talk to the agency so you understand the mark-up they are adding. Of course you have to pay for their time but make sure you know what you’re paying for and you’re not being ripped off.
  3. Social media gurus
    These guys are multiplying like rabbits. So far I’ve heard everything from “Do you know what Twitter is?” to “Post flame wars to drive up your web traffic”. It hurts my head to think about it.
    Good Practice
    The point of social platforms is to be a focal point of a community or to facilitate conversation. Engagement is key with communities and conversations. Social strategy should first take into account how you’re going to engage with the audience in a meaningful and useful way to that audience. Then measuring the impact of that engagement. It’s a very qualitative process and not like broadcasting your message like advertisers have done in the past. If an agency comes to you with a strategy that says you’re going to have to employ people full time to engage in long term social activities for your company then you have an honest company in front of you. Viral campaigns across social platforms can work as well but should only be part of longer term strategies that effect your brand, because it all affects your brand. Social should involve a lot of man hours because it’s about people communicating with people.
    Bad Practice
    Set-up a Facebook page and watch the traffic roll in! Get a Twitter account and use robots to locate followers and force them to follow you. Automatically get 1 million friends & followers, social automation. If you hear anything about social media that involves robots be careful. Search engine marketing parasites like the ones I mentioned in the above examples have also jumped on ways to spam social marketing as well. The affect to your brand could be disastrous if you ignore the bad word of mouth that can quickly be generated. People quickly complain. I for instance am using social media right now to engage with you to tell you I am pissed off with the digital marketing parasites that are plaguing the industry. That could happen to your brand and once again it won’t be the “social media guru” who deployed the spam bot, it will be your brand that gets the negative effect. Parasites usually survive in life and in digital marketing unfortunately.

The parasites give the digital marketing industry a bad name. Comments? Opinions? Rants? :)

Steve is a well known analytics specialist, author and speaker. A pioneer since 2002, he established one of the first European web analytics consultancies (Aboavista), later acquired by Satama (now Trainers’ House) in 2006. In 2008 he wrote his first book Cult Of Analytics published on May 14th 2009. He currently serves as CEO at Quru and has presented and keynoted web analytics topics across Europe. These include The Internet Marketing Conference (Stockholm), The Search Engine strategies (Stockholm), IIH (Copenhagen), the IAB Finland (Helsinki), Media Plaza (Amsterdam), Design For Conversion (Amsterdam) The eMetrics Summit (London, Munich, Stockholm), Divia (Helsinki) in addition to sitting on dozens of panels.

Posted in General, PPC/SEM, SEO, Web Analytics
8 comments on “Digital Marketing Parasites
  1. I think all those bad tricks/SEO black hat tactics/SM gurus bluffs will always exist. The amazing thing is that established agencies are using them.

    Excess of crisis and lack of talent provokes to give ethics up? HUM!

  2. @DJVassallo
    Could be that the economy is just forcing agencies to earn where they can but it’s very short term thinking and if they can’t do a decent job they should do something else in my opinion.

  3. I don’t really think this is a trend, there are a lot of bad apples out there and I don’t think that’ll stop. Just like there’s a lot of bad publications trying to sell their advertising space for way more than it’s worth.

    The only way to get rid of it is to keep educating clients but you can’t educate everybody, so this will stick around.

    @Delfin As for blackhat tactics, I don’t see a problem as long as the client is aware of the risk involved.

  4. @Thomas;
    I disagree on both points. Firstly, In Finland when I began working in this industry I quickly found out about the names in the SEO industry in particular and most in the digital marketing industry were honest. Now there are a glut of so called SEO professionals that not only engage in BlackHat practices but don’t tell their clients there is any risk. In the past 12 months I have seen these guys ripping companies off where they didn’t 2 years ago.

    Secondly, I simply don’t think there is anything good about BlackHat tactics. I admit they can work and you can outsmart engines temporarily. It’s also not illegal. The downside is that one day you will get caught and then you have to start all over again. There is also very little skill to Black Hat SEO so why pay for it?

    If you are a serious marketer then you need to get serious. The BlackHat mindset is all wrong. The mindset encourages the quick fix rather than encouraging driving more targeted traffic that converts highly. I would urge clients to concentrate on creating compelling persuasive content that converts the traffic it was designed for. Concentrate on that and you have a solid business to build upon rather than a temporary parasitic piece of spam.

  5. You seem to think that so called “black hat” tactics are connected to low standard sites. You might want to have a look at the top 10 sites in, lets say, hotels. risky marketing isn’t really connected to bad content.

  6. @Thomas; That doesn’t make it right nor mean that they won’t get banned if they are engaging black hat tactics.

  7. Juha says:

    You forgot “SEO consultants”, who promote the use of such fine methods as background-colored headings etc., nice keyword placement techniques that Google will have a fit about, once found out. I’ve heard one quite prominent Finnish SEO guru speak about these sort of dubious methods very openly a year back, at a seminary for media representatives.

  8. @Juha

    Yes an even older method to Spam the engines. And it doesn’t surprise me you heard a prominent parasite talking this shit up.

    What’s worrying though is that the media companies listening seem to have been taking notes.

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