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Observations on Everything

How to Kill HostGator Affiliate Spam

gator-targetHonestly I thought the whole affiliate spam thing died a well deserved death a decade ago, at least for any business that considers itself reputable. Hell even Vistaprint has cleaned their act up in this area.

But no, today I got a message to one of my role accounts (role accounts are things like sales@, support@, accounting@ and so on). As regular readers can probably guess the role accounts I use aren’t particularly easy to guess, but at the same time they’re for use by actual people, so they don’t have the same random characters I use for tracking addresses. Someone could have picked this address up from a variety of places.

The bottom of the email contains this text:

You are receiving this email because you subscribed to HostGator promotional newsletters.
5005 Mitchelldale Suite #100,
Houston TX 77092 USA
+1 (866) 964-2867

This is followed by a link with the label “Unsubscribe”. Here’s when the bullshit starts: it’s not an unsubscribe link. It’s an affiliate link. Here’s the target (with the affiliate ID obscured to stop the asshole in question from getting any traffic).

http://secure.hostgator.com/~affiliat/cgi-bin/affiliates/clickthru.cgi?id=asshole%20

Now check the mail headers, and sure enough the DNS tracks back to members.linode.com, which is most certainly not HostGator. So I’ve opened a ticket with HostGator, and sent them a full copy of the message, which will give them enough information to find the asshole. It’s my hope they’ll be terminating the affiliate account without paying out a cent.

If I hear back, I’ll post an update.

Update

That was quick, about 90 minutes later I got this message:

Thank you for contacting us with your concerns. We are taking the necessary steps to remove this affiliate from our program as this is a violation of our TOS. Thank you for bringing this to our attention.

Why are Badass Programmers such Desperate Marketers?

badass_developerWe’re all used to getting spammed by fly by night businesses, all promising to solve some problem you might not even have, like getting to the top of Google.¬† Most of us would enjoy the opportunity to physically assault (ok, at least verbally) the perpetrators of this garbage, so it’s not often that you see a legitimate business engage in this sort of thing.

So it’s unusual to see a message like this one, from badassprogrammers.com:

Hey There!! Guess what day it is??? Happy Hump Day!!! ūüôā

J here, “Badass In Charge” @Badass Programmers in California..

Badasses don’t send salesy emails, so I’ll be brief and say that I simply wanted to introduce myself and our Web & mobile app development team at Digital Brand Group (DBG)… Our group recently launched a special services division called “Badass Programmers.”

Check us out! http://badassprogrammers.com

Our team is made up of some of the BEST Web & mobile talent you will ever work with, and we’re currently accepting new projects ¬®C free beer included! ūüôā

If you have any Web / mobile development, UI / UX design needs, or other design / programming related projects brewing, I would LOVE to schedule a call with you to discuss further!

Are you available for a call anytime this week or next?

Please let me know and thank you so much for your time!

J

¬°¬°

¬°¬°

¬°¬°

¬°¬°

¬°¬°

¬°¬°

P.S. You received this email because I thought you would find value in our team, but if you could care less, feel free to unsubscribe here.

Now I was thinking, “hey they’re all badass programmers, so maybe they just missed the whole ‘don’t buy some cr*p list from a shady broker'” thing. The email they spammed is the reply address from one of my systems. It doesn’t send mail unless you interact with it. Looks like one of our customers got his address list harvested and here it is, on some cheap broker’s list. but wait, these guys are a “special services division” of Digital Brand Group. You’d figure a “digital brand group” would have half a clue when it comes to marketing, right? What gives?

Let’s start with DBG, who have “offices” in Newport Beach and Trivandrum, India. Their website says that “DBG architects, designs, and develops custom Web and mobile applications with an international team renowned for delivering value through forward thinking and technology innovation” this clearly explains why they needed to spin off a services group to develop mobile applications. Or not.

Then we have “J”, “Badass in Charge”. Well, the email comes form “Jamon” and the person in charge at Badass, or at least DBG, seems to be¬†Jeremiah Jacks, so I’m thinking someone was stoned out of their tree and really this email is from “Ja mon”. Anyway, it’s so nice that the guy writing this warm, friendly introduction letter doesn’t have the balls or integrity to sign his (or her) real name.

Now clever J doesn’t want to send a “salesy” message, as he goes on to see if he can book a sales call. Duh. Pro tip J: don’t ever try copywriting as a career. Also, turn your spell checker on.

Now we have several clever lines of “¬°¬°” presumably so that we won’t scroll down to find out who this ass really is. There’s the deflect in the postscript: “You received this email because I thought you would find value in our team…” No. Really, I received this email because you are frigging desperate for work, you’ve clearly burned all your referral business, and you’re resorting to a rebrand and spam campaign in order to desperately try to save your sorry ass before the receiver shows up.

And then the final tell, the thing that lets you know that “J” really does know he’s desperately shotgun spamming to get business: that unsubscribe link goes to a weird port on ironchampusa.ru. Yup, his unsubscribe link is on a Russian domain. Nothing quite says “legitimate email” like that!

The way an organization deals with email marketing, says more about their ethics and/or desperation than almost anything else. Badass Programmers has made their ethical position pretty clear (they’re also @BadassDeveloper on Twitter¬†‚ÄĒ because brand consistency matters). Whatever they call themselves… run away.

Scam of the Day: searchregistry.org Domain “Search Registration”

Now that domain registrars have made another ludicrous cash grab by charging for domain privacy services, people are opting out of privacy protection.  Well, the scum of the Earth is waiting to victimize unsuspecting new registrants:

Hi there,

Domain Name: [redacted]  (Account #nnnnn)

This email is being sent out to you because search registration for [redacted] is pending.

Please register these domains to search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo ASAP to avoid late fees.

Registering for search engines would help you show up in search results and increase your online presence.

You can register your domain at: [link]

We sincerely appreciate your business! If you require anything, we are at your service.

Remember… If you do not register your domain with the search engines, it may not appear in the search engine listing when people are looking for you. Failure to complete your domain name search engine registration by the expiration date may make it difficult for your customers to locate you on the web. Complete your search engine registration today at: www.searchregistry.org

Sincerely,

Search Engine Registry
1787 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Suite 1025
Washington DC, 20006

But never fear. For acting quickly, not only will you avoid late fees (???), but you get a HUGE discount. Yes, now you can pay just $100 for nothing!

searchregistry.org scam

Fun with “sansoftonline.com SEO Company”

Every once in a while I get a Skype connection from someone trying to sell Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Services. My standard rebuttal is to show them how my business ranks higher than theirs on a search for “search engine optimization”. We do relatively well because years ago I posted a very basic article on Realistic SEO. Generally speaking, the site isn’t particularly authoritative on the subject, so the search has the link down in no mans land on page 22 or so (for a search done in Canada; if you’re outside the country your results will probably place it on page ten million or so). If you add “realistic” to the search then it comes up much higher, but still in desperation land (page 2 or 3). Read more

On Content Marketing: It’s about Content, Stupid

gold_flickr_digitalmoneyworld_180x180For the past few years, the leading edge of online marketing has been “content marketing”. As advertising becomes increasingly ineffective at driving sales, and as most lead generation tends to come via search engines, marketers have figured out how to produce content that ranks well in search, which brings traffic, which converts to sales/revenue/whatever.

The problem is that as more and more people buy into this, there has been a subtle change. Now the industry is engaging in “marketing content” rather than “content marketing”. The result is a flood of low quality content. Ten thousand blogs, all rehashing the same information in slightly different ways. So much duplication and¬†plagiarism¬†that it’s impossible to tell who had an original idea, if anyone. Read more

Six Degrees of Redirection

This is a story of feature creep. We started with an idea that was truly useful: link shortening services. These services allowed people to take bloated SEO-laden links (like the ones on this blog) and reduce them to compact links under 20 characters. Perfect for pasting into an e-mail, even better for a length-limited Tweet.

But link shortening isn’t rocket science, and I’m guessing even the US Patent and Trademark Office thought the idea too obvious for a patent (I mention this only because that in itself is an¬†anomalous¬†achievement, but I won’t digress into another patent rant here). So competitors emerged pretty quickly. How do you distinguish yourself in the link shortening business? Simple, add statistics! (BTW “statistics” is the plain old boring word for “analytics”, which is a made-up crapword designed to fool marketers into thinking they’re not doing math).

Then after statistics, some brain cell thought up the idea of loading the target window in a frame, adding a “value-added” toolbar. Not that the value add was provided to the user, who got to lose a little screen space and not see the actual target URL, but for the person providing the link, who¬†presumably¬†could track¬†minutiae like how long you spent on some page.

Next, services hopped onto the bandwagon. Twitter, Facebook, RSS feed aggregators and others all started adding a link-shortening, information gathering layer to any links posted on their sites.

So now we have a link on Twitter that goes to a short link generated by the author of the tweet. The author of the tweet has copied a link found on Facebook, which then redirects to a short link to a blog aggregation that goes to the bloggers short link that then goes to the post.

Six degrees of redirection. Each one making the web more brittle, more subject to the loss of an intermediary, less permanent, less connected. Every time one of these services goes out of business, hundreds of useful connections between content will get lost forever. None of this is good.

“Word of Mouth” + Campaign = Oxymoron

With the rise of social media sites and services (Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, and so on), a whole new field of “Social Marketing Expert” has been created. Aside from the obvious fact that it’s hard to be a credible expert in a relatively new domain, the silliness of some of these “experts” is laughable.

By far the best of this bunch are those who have been discredited elsewhere and are hoping that their bankrupt strategies can somehow find new life in a new medium. It may be true that “the medium is the message”, but sometimes the message sucks universally and thus transcends all media.

The prime example here is “word of mouth” marketers. These aren’t the people who say, quite correctly, that word of mouth is the most powerful form of marketing communication anyone can get, but those who figure that somehow word of mouth is a tool, something that can be created out of thin air.

Surely manufactured word of mouth has been sufficiently discredited that we don’t have to bear through more ill-advised campaigns in the social media space. Is there anyone still doing the “paid shill” scam, where people are paid to go into public spaces and talk up specific products? Have sufficient bloggers been roasted over online flames for accepting money in exchange for talking up products? Apparently not.

So get ready for a (hopefully brief) onslaught of bull masquerading as recommendations. It will be easy to spot, let’s take a look at a quick example:

Slimeball: Good morning.
You: Good morning Slimeball, what’s the weather like over there?
Slimeball: Pretty good, it’s a great day for DumbProduct!
You: So, it’s warm and sunny or something?
Slimeball: Actually it’s raining quite heavily, perfect for DumbProduct.
You: I see, and how are the kids?
Slimeball: They’re happy, thanks to DumbProduct.
You: Just hold on a second while I block you and write a negative blog post about DumbProduct’s unethical marketing techniques.

Bottom line: if you’re a marketer don’t do this. Just don’t. Build genuine word of mouth by delivering a great product and providing great service. Encourage your customers to talk about you, but please, never cross the line and start trying to pay for it. No good can come from this.