The following is a guest post from Mitch O’Connor.
The Internet has often been described as the “wild west” of technology – it’s exciting, constantly changing, and there are loads of opportunities. But there’s the complicated side of the wild west as well – vague regulations, little enforcement, and morally questionable practices. A divisive issue that’s at the heart of this metaphor is Internet anonymity. Proponents claim that the Internet is one of the last places where people can express truly unfiltered freedom of speech. Opposers of Internet anonymity claim that it can lead to crime and deception, and indeed, people do tend to lie more on the Internet than in person.
Social media is changing the game of course, and a lot of discussion is going to be had about Internet anonymity in the coming years. However, proponent or not, one thing is clear – anonymity removes accountability, which can lead to dirty sales practices. You might think you can get away with these tactics because people can never trace them back to you personally – and you’d be right for the most part. But the image of your company or website will suffer, and the temporary increase in sales caused by those dirty tactics won’t make up for the long-term damage that they can do.
#1 – False Reviews
This might be the easiest dirty sales tactic to succumb to. It’s incredibly simple to create a review of a product yourself and post that review as somebody else. People have been known to do this on sites such as Amazon, ConsumerSearch, CitySearch, Yelp, Epinions, Customer Lobby, TripAdvisor, and any other site that allows users to post their own reviews of products or services. Certain sites make this process even more attractive. For example, you could probably go on Fiverr or Craigslist right now and see an ad for a writer willing to create a positive review of your product for a small fee. Again, Internet anonymity will allow you to get away with this.
However, people are becoming more and more aware of bad reviews and fake customer testimonials. Reviews that sound overly salesy or that stick out (i.e. one ecstatic review among hundreds of bad ones) will be a red flag for any discerning Internet user. Researchers at Cornell University have even developed software for developing fake reviews. Not only will you lose the trust of your customers, but if you live in the E.U., you could eventually face legal action.
#2 – Bait and Switch
Remember how annoying being Rickrolled was? Maybe this never happened to you – basically somebody would send you a link to a video, telling you that it was something important. Then the link pointed to the YouTube clip for singer Rick Astely’s 1987 “hit” Never Gonna Give You Up. Sadly, some companies do this to their customers – promise them one thing then give them something else.
For example, consider a possible affiliate link like this:
An affiliate would probably host this link because they realized that “infant Halloween costumes” was a popular keyword phrase. However, if he or she decides to use that popularity to point the user to other things, they’ve just pulled a bait and switch. If this link led to adult costumes, Halloween decorations, or something completely unrelated, ask yourself – would you consider buying from Halloween Express or its affiliates? Your visitors won’t either. Not to mention, certain types of bait and switch can get you in trouble with the FTC.
#3 – Excessive Popups
This tactic isn’t necessarily “dirty,” but you’ll definitely lose some credibility if you use too many popups. While it’s true that popups can be very useful for getting email subscribers, they’re undoubtedly annoying when excessively used as a sales technique. In fact, the Psychology Department at North Carolina State University once conducted a study where over half of the participating college students quickly closed popups regardless of what they say. Also, don’t forget the fact that you can’t place Google ads on sites that have more than three popups. And don’t even think about using popups as a bait and switch.
#4 – Deceptive Banners
In an effort to fight against “banner blindness,” some webmasters like to place flashy banner ads next to their affiliate advertisements. The problem here is that they look spammy and untrustworthy – probably because the majority of them are. Banners that claim visitors are the “one millionth!” or that look like Windows alerts completing a download are often blatantly false advertising. A rarely used (but just as damaging) technique involves using banners that look like links to popular sites such as YouTube or Facebook. If you’re doing this, you’re essentially creating something along these lines:
#5 – Bad Emails
Call it “unsolicited bulk email” if you will, but spam is still widely used as a sales technique. In order to avoid possible violations of your ISP regulations, fraud allegations, and a bad reputation in general, just avoid this practice altogether. Generating an organic, targeted email list takes time, but it’s not impossible. Forgo the quick tricks to get real customers.
Another aspect of the “bad email” game involves the overuse of auto-responders. Even if you have a dedicated email list, you don’t want to send your customers a barrage of auto-sent offers. This depersonalizes your business and is generally annoying.
About the Author: Mitch O’Conner is an online marketer and writer. When he’s not building sites, generating traffic or writing content, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, watching TV, playing games and camping.