Studies of Life

Learning by doing.

Internet Marketing, MMO, SEO: empty promises, lots of damage…

09 November 2013 by Jim

Generally speaking, ‘Internet marketing’ is simply the marketing sector that specialises in promoting businesses online, but it is also a very precise buzzword relating to people trying to get rich online. But far beyond the decidedly common desire to make lots of money, Internet Marketing (IM) is a perverted form of making money.

Getting started with IM, the Griz way

Two or three years ago, I was diving into IM. As a curious little geek, I foraged for the holy grail of passive income, and I found Griz. Who is Griz? The Gandalf of the Internet Marketing world, one of the first people to start doing it professionally and, apparently, one of the first to systematically derive a more than substantial income from it. He got rich online, and his blog, which has disappeared in the meantime, being full of instructions on how he got to make so much money, became a beacon of light, a shimmering vision that attracted people like moths with the promise of easy money.

So how did he get rich? And, more importantly, how can you get rich online? (Yes, this is a keyword supposed to lure the IM ‘noobs’ to this post.)

In its essence, Internet Marketing is about creating popular websites with advertisements or affiliate links in order to be paid by companies like Google with its AdSense program or Amazon with its affiliate network.

Advertising / Affiliate links are fine…

Is it bad to make money via advertising? No, I do not think it is, because advertising can serve the need of someone looking for a specific product, a gift idea or something similar, or the need of a new company to grow its business. Affiliation, the relationship which consists in referring customers to another business and getting paid in commissions for these referrals, is also fine by most standards. For websites with ads or affiliate links on them, these two strategies have become the main income sources in an age where everything – at least online – is supposed to be free.

…but Internet Marketing is different.

Internet Marketing is not, like the New York Times or any other actual content-driven website, about offering high-quality content to readers, and supporting the content creation with ads. It is about supporting ads with content for the sole purpose of generating money from them. The advertisements, and of course the income linked to them, is the only goal for IM, and the quality of the content does not matter. It simply needs to be sufficiently good to make people ‘click-through’.

SEO or how to make dirt popular

Not only do IM enthusiasts create tons of worthless websites full of text that serves no purpose at all but to sell things, they have also created an entire shadow economy around SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, which consists in manipulating search engines like Google to direct people to their websites. Google uses different kinds of ways to determine which order its search results appear in. One of the main methods is the PageRank algorithm, an automatic process by which websites give each other credit via linking to each other. The website with the biggest number of links pointing to it from other (preferably highly ranking) sites wins and appears at the top of Google’s result page.

Normally, this algorithm would work fine and is actually pretty intelligent, because linking to a specific website B means the author of the site A at least thinks that B is interesting enough to tell other people about it. It is basically a way for Google’s servers to leave the task of deciding what is good content to humans, which should be applauded.

But it can be manipulated, and that is what SEO is all about, especially for IM.

The IM process

A typical IM project would be to create a small website (= layer 1) about a specific niche of products (think lawn mowers, sunglasses or anything else) with lots of ads or affiliate links on it, and then paying workers, often from poor countries, to create ‘supporting content’ i.e. writing hundreds, sometimes thousands of articles to publish on other websites (= layer 2) with links to the small website that is to be promoted. This can be repeated as often as necessary, creating a third layer of websites linking to layer 2, and another layer linking to layer 3, etc.

This has two main effects:

  1. Google will increase the rank of the small website to be promoted, thinking that thousands of others site’s owners are fans of this small website, and
  2. people will suddenly find that out of 10 articles they lookup online, 8 of them link to a small, worthless website instead of leading them to actual quality content.

What’s the harm? The disintegration of the Internet as a useful and high-quality resource. Think about it: an author with an honest interest in writing may produce a few good articles on a blog or a newspaper to help readers out or just write a good article (it does happen!), only to be buried in search results for a website that is only intended to make money off of the reader. That is what SEO is about, replacing the access to useful content with worthless cash cows.

Search engines have of course  caught up to the initially crude ‘black heat’ techniques, and started implementing filters and ways to detect such artificial promotion of websites. But as long as people dream of earning easy money online, they will continue trying to, and sometimes succeed in, promoting worthless crap online for the sole benefit of their bank account. 

IM is not at all a niche phenomenon.

The sector is so large that companies / websites like The Keyword Academy or Backlinks Philippines have sprung up to cater to all those people and provide backlinking services (creating the layer 2, as explained above).

Finally, it can be said without exaggerating that for every  piece of legitimate, well-intended writing online, there are 10-100 illegitimate pieces of crap buzzing around, guzzling up people’s attention, making the uneducated who do not recognise this ploy even less open to critical thinking and consuming millions of man hours in terms of work done by poor people. And economically, it promotes products that pay the most for referrals instead of products that are actually popular because they’re high quality.

Hundreds of hours of work for € 90

In my few months of being interested in IM, I wrote about 600 articles on sunglasses, vacuum cleaners, pet giraffes and other stuff, wasting hundreds of my own hours, and those of others who would later read that crap, too. According to Google’s AdSense website, my effort caused this:

16.044 page views
386 clicks
94,21 € in total earnings

Imagine that each page view lasts on average 15 seconds, and that for each click, a visitor read the entire article (about 3 or 4 minutes of reading) That means I cost humanity 92 hours (+ hundreds of my own hours) of its time that could be better spent on finding a cure for cancer (somewhat exaggerated, but still) or literally anything, just to harvest € 90 in earnings.

To me, that is depressing, and knowing that many, many others are still playing this game, producing boatloads of worthless crap, the total economical damage done has to be enormous.

Someone searching for sunglasses online would also have found them without millions of bad articles written by poor Asians for two cents apiece. The only purpose of IM is reroute a small fraction of the income of big online shops like Amazon and others to the pockets of wannabe millionaires.

I lived the dream, and came back to tell (and warn!) you about it. Even if I had made a lot of money from it, I would still not feel good about it. In fact, as my first 70 € check from Google arrived in the mail, I felt depressed, because I knew that I was wasting time and energy on doing something that nobody needed and that actually slightly hurt people by putting other, more valuable content, out of their reach.

Not every way to earn money is a good way to earn money.

And since I’ve been posting about investing a lot recently, let me add this: even though investing is a more widely played casino game and even though our modern economies can probably not exist easily without it, it is still outrageous to me that I, as a goddamn European twenty-something, can earn EUR 10’000 in a month without doing any actual work, just because I know how to put my savings to good use. It is not fair, no matter how pleasurable and exciting it is, that people with capital can earn ever more money without any work and without any benefit to society, when poor people in poorer countries are working until breaking their backs for EUR 500 a year. It’s just not fair. I would consider it to be fair if, one day, everybody started out with the same possibilities at the start of his life. At that point, whether you gamble or not is your decision. But right now, it feels wrong that it can be so easy to amass money this way when other people are fighting every day to earn their livelihood.

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