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Honest or Sketchy: Who Do You Think Sells More?

Does any of this sound familiar?

  • “Instantly jack up your sales!”
  • “Earn money the easy way!”
  • “Lose weight overnight!”

I love that last one. Who wouldn’t want to wake up 5 pounds lighter?

It’s sad people still buy into this crap. But that doesn’t mean it has to spill over onto your blogs.

…Or does it?

Here’s the deal. It’s 2013. Readers are smart. They notice honesty and smell baloney 10 blog posts away.

As content creators it’s our duty to be transparent and deliver honest messages. Right?

But what if the above messages actually do sell??

In this post I’ll share some good…and some sketchy ways to sell online. You decide which route is better.

Some of the sketchiest sells online

When I revealed my secrets to money-blogging I mentioned how the web, believe it or not, was a pretty dark place not long ago.

So, in case you’re curious, here are some rather sketchy ways I’ve seen folks succeed and sell online. Please don’t try them, they are nearly impossible now and will probably get you banned from Google :)

I. SEO powered reviews sites plaguing the World Cup

Back in the hay day of review sites it was possible for lousy websites to rank high in Google’s top 10.

I’m not even sure if the SEO was even called “black hat” back then, it was so standard.

Questionable site owners would stuff a blog with keywords and affiliate links then get it linked from a couple authoritative sites.

It worked, the keyword game was pretty wide open.

Googlers would search a phrase like “upcoming World Cup schedule” or “book a flight to Aruba” and get some review site instead of the World Cup homepage, or a site like Delta.com, respectively.

Kind of crazy, right?

I know some guys who managed 5-10 of these such sites and would mass-produce content before a big event, like the World Cup or the Olympics.

They’d outsmart Google by building so many backlinks and tweaking desing just enough to get their blog looking like a major site folks actually wanted to reach. Then a few weeks before the event (world cup) these satelite sites would receive massive traffic.

Then they would monetize heavily by affiliate marketing merchandise related to an event or things like travel and hotel offers.

Even now I find it hard to say this sort of affiliate marketing is wrong (and not just plain brilliant) but I’m sure Google had other ideas when they passed Panda.

About.com has more info on black-hat.

II. The Adwords Perry Marshall phenomenon

A few folks out there were even smart enough to pay Google to scam Google Search. Yep, and Google took their money.

So, umm, how did it work?

Well these few savvy (and corrupt) folks dumped heavy amounts of money into Adwords PPC advertising campaigns. A results delivered firm, Google will get you clicks for the right price :)

The premise was simple, you keep spending more on Adwords as long as the return you see on your money exceeds amount spent.

Ya know, a familiar model for many businesses?

So who did it?? This guy is one example and quite frankly he disgusts me.

For several months he appeared in every single Adsense ad I saw around the web. “Dominate the web with Perry Marshall” was his tagline, or something like that.

How did he make money?

The process was very meta. The crook paid enough to rank well for uber-popular phrases like “rank with adwords” and also to appear in high percentages of those Adsense ads. When you click his ads (I did, I get really curious) I was bumped instantly to a landing page selling…a book on, guest what?! “How to Rank Well and Beat Adwords!”

His sketchy offer was a cheap guide to beating Google for like $34 (great deal!)

Eventually Google wised up and replaced this goon with useful articles on how to actually get the most out of Adwords :)

Interesting story though.

III. Illegal iPhone email traps

This one comes from personal experience.

Back in university, some way through my sophomore year, I was approached by a crew of business/computer students interested in investing in and beating PPC their own way.

I said yes, couldn’t hurt right? I wanted to learn code, was tired of economics lectures, and felt it was my turn to get online.

One week later mid-meeting I walked out.

I realized the plan was to design lots of advertisements in Adobe InDesign (fun) that rotated “enter-for-a-chance-to-win” offers for products like iPhones and Blackberries (not so fun). Once clicked these ads drove users to a landing page where email addresses were collected illegitimately. The emails were sent to third party sites who paid about 25c a pop.

So the sketchy offer here was a random shot at a free iPhone.

The passive income model here was you’d set up thousands of rotating ad offers and earn from email “commissions” I guess you could call them.

No thanks, I’d rather chuck my Mac out a car window.

These three offers stank up Search and the entire blogosphere. Thankfully (and I know, I hear your groans) Google Panda came around. Most sketchy operations relied heavily on Google’s Top 5-10 so this wiped out a good deal of the sketchos.

Now, for the good stuff.

Please read closely, these methods actually do work and I actually do know this :)

A lot of internet success nowadays depends on them…

Why honesty works better long-term

While the sketchier methods above supposedly did get sales, they are a dying breed. It’s honest, value-adding offers that will really sell for you in the long-run.

Here are three examples:

I. Transparent affiliate marketing

Looking to begin affiliate marketing on your blog? Great! You should know first though it comes down to a lot more than just posting links.

How it works: User readers review, clicks link, buys product ⇒ you pocket a commission (PayPal)

But how it really works is this:

Readers are smart. They get turned off easily. And if a money purchase is involved, 9 times out of 10 someone will navigate directly to a site (like BlueHost, for example) because that makes them feel more comfortable.

Beginners like comfort and obviously no ones like sketchy.

So you’ve got to make your affiliate offers really, really freaking honest. Here’s a few suggestions that I know work:

  • Tell people you really would like to earn: Great marketers honestly, even shamelessly tell readers they need commissions to keep the blog/business running. We all have to eat.
  • Be specific: Hint that if readers dig your offer they should click through before purchasing. Be really specific because for some people this process isn’t obvious.
  • Tell people you’d appreciate their business: “Thanks for your support/business/loyalty/whatever!”
  • Write a full disclosure: You can write a whole page on your blog explaining how you earn, and that you only recommend things you love. This helps, though no one usually reads it :) Right Ana?
  • Talk features, not details! Perhaps most importantly, walk your readers through awesome features of a product you are marketing! Don’t talk painful details or prices (unless absolutely life or death necessary). Allows auto emails? Great! 99% uptime gauranteed? Good! Takes 30 minutes to setup? Bad!!

The strange thing is us bloggers often get more affiliate commissions when the reader is aware they are granting us a commission by clicking! Cool huh?

I’ll end this section with a few affiliate reviews you can learn from in terms of structure and style:

These guys really know what they’re doing. Give ‘em a visit and a comment.

II. Email subscriptions with really clear promises

Just like being transparent with your affiliate offers it really helps to be clear what lies within your email newsletter.

Everyone has an email nowadays and uses it many, many times each day to login and sign up yet but people are still skeptical about giving it away. Especially generation Xers.

So write “I’ll never share your email.”

Or write a whole page (see CopyBlogger example) explaining why you respect an email address.

Then go ahead and sell that newsletter.

When I wrote on landing page strategy I really dove into this one, but the point is to highlight a few really irresistible benefits that lie within your email list (things only available to subscribers).

The honesty behind this offer really comes by telling people what they’ll get and won’t get.

Of course, it’s your job to actually deliver your promises ;) If you can’t do that…

Check out how I sell it for a decent example.

III. Don’t talk a talk you can’t walk

My last point here is dear to my heart so please listen up.

As a blogger you offer something in general – advice, tricks, knowledge, etc.

The tempting route is to claim we know it all. Create 10 page tabs each with a few drop downs that show off all our areas of expertise.

The problem comes when we don’t have the content to back it up.

You’ve got to walk the walk these days.

Readers browse around and find one article on a category? Some expert this person is.

It’s not smart to have a whole section on something you only cover once. Likewise, don’t put fluff around blog to make it seems full when it’s actually not.

If you’re honest about you do, what you cover, even if it’s just a couple topics and you do it well, your readers will really respect you.

You’ll get a lot further than you think.

See how simple this blog is? It’s just 30-some articles and an email list!! :)

So which one is better?

  • “Build PR 10 backlinks!”
  • “Make money while snoring!”
  • “Save a child today! Donate now!”

Gee, I could really just keep going.

So what do you think? Does it pay off to be totally honest all the time?

Is this our duty as online content creators? Is there a grey zone, a middle ground?

Can we benefit from being…dishonest?

I’ve love hear what you think. Post a comment and let’s discuss.



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18 comments, add some wisdom...


  1. I am really glad i stumbled on this post. Like Arbaz said, this is one of the post i have also really read to the end and i have also bookmarked for future reference. You have really convinced me that honesty and transparency is the good way. Coming to think of it, the smart savvy reader will not fall for most of those tricks, so it is like better to just take the honest approach. Honesty is something anyone can build any business on, it is a solid rock after all as it is always said, “It is the best policy.”

    • Greg Narayan says:

      Read whole thing? Awesome Emmanuel!!

      Warms my heart :)

      What other principles beside honesty and transparency do you think are good for founding an online business?

  2. Arbaz Khan says:

    Hi Greg,
    The post above is superb. I always love when a blogger writes like he is talking to the reader. I would mention one thing that this is one of those few posts that I have read entirely.

    As you mentioned, being transparent when it comes to affiliate marketing is the only key for success. The best example I would mention here is Pat Flynn. He always mentions if the post contains an affiliate link, that he would make money out of it and maybe his readers love it. This love is clearly visible in his Monthly Income Reports.

    So in my opinion, to get lucky with affiliate marketing, you would have to be transparent and honest.

    Cheers :)

    • Greg Narayan says:

      Arbaz,

      Great to see you here. Thanks for reading the whole thing!

      Write like I’m talking to the reader…yes!!

      I try to be really transparent. The (smart, savvy) readers here seem to appreciate it.

  3. Yeremi Akpan says:

    Hi Greg,
    This really does you justice!

    Nothing is as fishy as a promise that is too good to be true. When I stumble on one online, my BS finder is automatically triggered.

    I believe that as bloggers we stand to make more when we are open about the fact that our business is sustained by affiliate marketing. When people know that the money you earn does not cost them any extra buck, only the very ‘freedumbish’ would want to take without giving.

    I however do not add the (aff link) warning after every affiliate link as I see some bloggers do.

    I think that is an over kill. A better way of going it would be as you say, a disclosure page that details our affiliate relationship with some products we promote.

    I believe with a disclosure page, the likelihood that a link may be an affiliate link has been adequately communicated. Further emphasis seems like you are working extra hard to reduce your conversions…

    • Greg Narayan says:

      Really cool points Yeremi, I always enjoy your comments. It would seem the disclosure page is best.

      “Freedumbish” is a great word.

      Yeah you nailed it, it’s all about giving great content then suggesting readers give back too.

  4. Alexander says:

    Outstanding post.

    I am quite new to the blogging world but i wont consider employing any shady techniques just to get traffic. I remember seeing the Perry Marshal ads back then and to be honest, i kinda suspected him to be a crook at first sight. There was just something about the man’s smile that flashed danger signs in my mind.

    Its definitely best to be honest all the time.

    • Greg Narayan says:

      Ha ha exactly Alexander! That smile was evil.

      I’m so glad everyone else noticed him, was worried that reference might totally miss.

      Thanks as usual for reading.

  5. Bieng honest is the key now a days to sell more. Thanks for the shout out Greg, when it comes to review something, I do my best to be as honest as possible and provide the ultimate review of the product.
    Congrats for another GP on problogger. ;)

  6. Abdul Rauf says:

    Nice tips for bloggers and sale-writers, Greg. Thanks again for sharing wonderful and practical tips

  7. Shahzad says:

    Greg,
    I have that Perry Marshall ebook worth $37. I don’t know if it has helped me a bit. I think a BIG NO. These days I am trying to learn more regarding AdWords. To be honest, Adwords is harder… harder than make money blogging ;)

    So do you have successful experience in AdWords?? Then can I request you for your help, Greg??
    And you don’t charge for that, right? (Biting nail shamelessly)

    • Greg Narayan says:

      I’ve dabbled a bit Shahzad, what are your targets?

      I noticed Derek Halpern does FB ads (at least on me) so that may be a future endeavor…

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