I just finished reading an article about deceptive online marketing practices and felt the need to give my opinion on the subject. Especially since I have first hand experience with a former client that engaged in not only deceptive practices but unethical and down right dirty practices.

Honesty and hard work used to be the cornerstone to building a successful business. At least that’s what I was taught while growing up. The internet seems to have changed that mindset. Many successful online companies have lied and cheated their way to the top. So, in a way I empathise with companies starting out online and want to use these tactics because “they’re doing it, why shouldn’t I?”

For many years the internet has been a “wild west” of sorts. There weren’t many rules. And, the rules that were in place were easily circumvented. Since there was no internet police, companies acted like outlaws raping and pillaging as they pleased. And yes they made a lot of money doing so.

Link building. Thanks to Google making back links such a big part of their page rank algorithm, companies sought to get as many links to their websites as possible. This spawned “link farms” which are sites that had thousands of links to other websites. They would then run advertisements on their site in hopes of generating some income. Google caught on and devalued links on these link farms. Thankfully, these types of sites are not showing up on the top pages of Google any longer. As a consequence, some company websites still suffer today from having their links on these link farms and can’t get them removed. A quick fix comes back to bite them in the ass.

But, Google still regards back links as very important to ranking a website. So, this has spawned yet another tactic. Now, there are webmasters selling back links, with or without the knowledge of company owners. Most of these webmasters are very discreet with this tactic and only accept links that are related to the site they are adding the link to. Google likes to see links to and from related sites. For example, if a pet related site links to a penis enlargement site, this would not be good.

The problem with this tactic of buying and selling links is that it’s not a natural process of linking to each other. It’s bottom line driven. So, the consumer suffers because they are being told (by the top Google search results) that these sites are better than the others. There may be many other sites that deserve better rankings but simply don’t have the money to pay other sites to link to them.

What about the companies that engage in ethical link exchanges? Many times these companies are manipulated by the online marketing company that is trying to build their back links. So, they will write “marketing copy” in their link requests instead of telling the truth.

An example was talked about in the article I read this morning that prompted me to write this one. You can find the article here: Deceptive Marketing: A Necessary Evil for Search Marketers?. (Now, this is how a natural back link occurs folks! I found the article interesting and wanted to give them credit. Simple as that.)

The example was a marketer that sent a link request that mentioned that he had a favorite site from which he liked to buy stuff for his son on birthdays and holidays. But, he had no son! It was a marketing tactic. A lie to help him win the link. So, in my view, what else is this marketer willing to do? How far is he willing to go with the lies?

Another “black hat” SEO technique is to buy a lot of different but related domain names and create small websites on each. These sites are built for one thing only…back-links. They offer no real value to a consumer. Many companies have tens or even hundreds of these types of sites. I know of one very large company that hired a staff for this task alone. Remember the JC Penny story just a few months ago?

Google got somewhat wise to this tactic and now takes into consideration if a bunch of inter-linked sites are within a specific IP range, they get lower rankings. Of course, the black hats then simply create multiple web hosting accounts and place 4 or 5 on each, in order to get around the IP range issue. Some web hosts are now offering SEO web hosting that deal with the IP range issue. What a game!

In my opinion, Google should scale back on the value of back-links in their algorithm.

Now let’s talk about so-called customer reviews. You don’t have to worry about companies like Amazon or eBay. Their reviews are from real people that made real purchases. Nowadays, there are third party companies like ePinions, Bizrate, etc. that allow folks to post reviews about other companies. The problem is many of these services allow you to review a company you may have never purchased from. They don’t really have any way of knowing. So, they accept the review (good or bad) and you as a consumer trust they are real.

Google now uses Bizrate reviews as part of their ranking algorithm. Now, companies create fictitious email accounts and submit reviews to these services in hopes of getting better search result placement. There are many companies doing this. More than you think.

Google also allows webmasters to submit reviews site maps for individual websites. This means a company can create fake reviews on their own site and submit them to Google. Not to mention the fact that you as a consumer are being duped into trusting the company because they have so many great reviews on their site.

In Google’s defense, they have made and continue to make improvements to their algorithm to try and defeat the cheaters. Their latest Panda update being one of them. But, it’s a very big job to tackle. For every update they make, someone thinks of a work around.

How about contests? You’ve all seen them. Win a $50 coupon. Send us a photo and you could win blah blah blah. These can very easily be rigged and sometimes are. I know a company that did this. They went so far as to look thru all the entries to see if the person ever ordered from them. If not, their entry was disregarded. If they found a customer that spent lots of money with them, they would win the contest. If they couldn’t find anyone, they would make up the winner and nobody would actually win anything.

Ah, but now they have your email address. What will they do with it? If they are willing to deceive you into entering a contest, what else are they willing to do?

How about companies that claim they give a percentage of their revenue to charities? I know a company that claimed they gave 10% of their annual revenue to charities. They did not. They listed on their website about 10 different organizations they claimed to give to. In reality, they gave a few hundred bucks to only one of them.

This is yet another ahem…marketing tactic used by many online companies. They are trying to build your trust. You see lots of great reviews. They give to charities. They have great contests. They must be a company I can trust. It’s sad but true. We’re being lied to and most of the time there is nothing we can do about it.

Having said all that. Again, I can empathize with some of the smaller online companies using some of these tactics. After all, they didn’t invent the game. They are just trying to play it. And, if everyone else is cheating, why can’t I?

In my opinion, lying and cheating is not a way to run a business or run your life. Most cultures (if not all) consider lying and/or cheating to be wrong.

I’m also a step-parent of two teenagers. At the expense of sounding old, this new generation seems to think that it’s ok to lie, cheat, be lazy, etc as long as they get something out of it. They think of only the quick fix that will satisfy their needs now. They do not think of the long term consequences of their actions. They are children and that’s what they do. But, it’s our job to point them in the right direction and hope they make wise decisions. It’s very difficult to do this when there is so much successful deceit.

Many online companies think just like teenagers looking for a quick fix no matter how they go about it. Is this really want we want to be teaching our children? If you’re a parent and engage in these kinds of tactics, let me ask you a question. Do you tell your children not to lie to you?

By the way. I made up the first review below in hopes of getting you to add your comment. (Just kidding)