Guest Post: Cheap Is What It Sounds Like

Editor’s Intro: Matt Powers is in the branded merchandise business. It’s a competitive field, where expert use of online advertising to get the word out is fundamental. As we know, online advertising can be a nasty minefield when entered without the proper tools and training. In this guest post, Powers walks us through the hazards of linkbaiting and other fraudulent practices.

Spot The Crap And Move On

When we choose our marketing and ad buying strategies we often pay more attention to the deal we’re getting than the results we end up with. It’s the classic case of good deals going bad. Though marketing and advertising strategies include a certain amount of trial-and-error, to be successful you need to read the fine print and think about your return, not just the number of impressions your getting.

The craptastic opportunities that exist in media today are endless and there’s no way to list them all, but there are patterns, so that if you spot them – run, don’t walk, the other way. It’ll save you money in the long run.

Spoiled Catch – Linkbait Disasters

If someone is advertising “top page ranks,” at bottom-basement prices you might want to check into how they’re doing it. There are many ways to garner high organic search results. One easy way is linkbaiting. And many linkbaiting strategies — the art of creating content that garners inbound links from around the web — walk a fine line between being kosher and raising the ire of Google. Even big-time companies fall for SEO schemes. Take J.C. Penny. Though the company spends about $2.46 million a month on paid ads on Google last year the company also hired a SEO firm to get high search ranks for keywords such as “dresses,” “furniture,” and “luggage.”

But a New York Times investigation found J.C. Penny’s search results were a little too good. By hiring an SEO expert, the newspaper discovered that someone paid to have thousands of links placed on hundreds of sites that linked to It’s a pay-to-play strategy that’s the equivalent of “payloa,” the illegal practice of record execs paying radio disc jockey’s to play their artists’ music. Google penalized J.C. Penny, taking them from No. 1 in search to about No. 78 for some terms. J.C. Penny in turn fired its SEO firm SearchDex.

If you hire an SEO firm and find that your company is gaining tons of links from weird, almost empty websites, then know your SEO firm is probably practicing black-hat link strategies that will get your domain in hot water with search engines. Make sure your SEO-firms follow Google’s written guidelines. Don’t be lured by easy money and a high-link count. You might regret it.

It’s 2012, Do You Know Where Your Online Ads Are?

Linkbait isn’t the only cut-rate pitfall. One Harvard study found that 14% of one advertising company’s placements were “tainted by fraud or violations of its policies.” The study also discovered online ad firms engage in “invisible ads,” where they show you large ad impressions but in actuality place your ad on non-relevant sites and bury them behind code where users never really see your ads.

Other companies stack banner ads on top of each other getting impressions for all of the ads while only showing one ad. Harvard Assistant Professor Ben Edelman publicly called out ad firm Hula Direct for producing ad banner farms. Big time firms like Vonage, Verizon and Universal Studios were paying lots of money for these bogus ads.

Other companies find their ads showing up on “lingerie” sites and other websites where content isn’t relevant to their business. Spam isn’t just a noxious meat popular in Hawaii; it can also be the land where your online advertising lives. So the next time your web marketing firm shows you a very high ad impression report dig a little deeper and do ad audits before you cut them a check.

Quality Matters

While lapses in SEO strategy and online advertising can be chalked up to inexperience, buying cheaply made promotional products is a long-time failure of most businesses. When it comes to slapping your logo on pens, bags, shirts and key chains most business just look at the pennies they can save instead of searching for a quality product that reflects their brand and coincides with their demographic.

In a tight economy saving money is the name of the game, but don’t cut corners when it comes to advertising. It may end up costing you more than you bargained for.

Matt Powers is an Internet Marketer at Blue Soda Promo, an online promotional products company. BSP imprints logos on items like sunglasses, tote bags, stress balls, koozies and polo shirts at ridiculously low prices.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.