Remember the Wine Blogging Case Study? They Just Went Bust

Don’t believe all the hype you hear in SMO. Last year one of the most hyped successes in Social Media Marketing (SMM) was the Stormhoek Case study. Hey – that’s a CNN link, so it MUST have been great huh?

Well I was with a prospective client yesterday who has been a wine merchant in the UK for well over 100 years. they are not the kind of company to jump onto web 2.0 ideas in gay abandon, so I mentioned the Stormhoek case study with an air of caution as something that had been tried – but also as something that came with risks.

I am so glad I did. They may not know SEO and SEM, but after 100 years in the industry, they certainly know their wine companies. Stormhoek’s parent – Orbit Wines – went bust a few weeks ago and they are lining up bail out buyers.

I find it very hard to find case studies on so many areas of Internet Marketing and I think case studies are increasingly important in weeding out the “wheat from the chaff” and this one – prima facie – was one of the better ones.

The day before I was with one of the world’s largest Internet travel companies, talking to their SEO Manager. He said that he was having trouble finding a decent link building case study. I had trouble believing that, so went to my usual suspects… Sempo, E-consultancy.com and even Eric Ward’s site and guess what? nothing that I could honestly put in front of a blue chip marketing analyst and say “There you are. We did X. People linked to us. This resulted in Y.”

I posted on Webmasterworld in the hope that I was missing the obvious case study, but it appears not so far.

Matt Cutts and protecting scraped content

I’m not pretending to be any closer to Matt Cutts than anyone else in the industry, but it was nice when he answered my plea, after our site got scraped (word for word) with only our brand name and contact details changed, by not one but three other sites. I was even more pleased when he asked for my ideal tools to deal with such a situation. Here are the thoughts I volunteered, and even though Matt certainly didn’t promise action of anything specific, he did appreciate the feedback and I think any other ideas would be welcome for Googleplex the melting pot. They are certainly in “listening mode” on the issue.

My main problem, with the scraped content, was not SO much with Google but moreover the resulting poor reflection on my brand. So I found myself with quite a bit of “mopping up” to do and that’s not Google’s fault. But Google might be able to save webmasters some time and worry with the following ideas:

My ideal tools for dealing with copyright theft of web content

1. Being able to report it as per http://www.google.com/dmca.html without necessarily needing to post or fax. Although I can see the need to move to slow mail in these instances.

2. A “Case” list, so we can see if the problem is pending, has been reviewed or is fixed. A decision for the (legal) record would also be great, noting the date Google first indexed the original content vs the date it found the illegal content. This may help as evidence in the rare cases that get to court.

3. General advice on what to do when people use your content online.

4. The ability to see whether the domain/url has been purged from the index (as opposed to just not being listed) so I can see it is on a watch list.

5. If Google can supply a whois address, that would save some time, so we can send a “cease and desist” letter (with the obvious knowledge that the whois can be faked).

6. If Google has grabbed a postal or fax address from the site, that would be useful so we can send them a “cease and desist” letter (with the obvious knowledge that the address can again be faked).

7. A postal, fax or email address of the ISP hosting the site would be the most useful, so that we can also contact them with a more polite “cease and desist” letter. In the past we have found this to be the easiest route to eliminating duplicate content at source and it is less likely that the ISP has a fake address.

8. A tool like “similarsite:domain” command would be great, or something that tries to find content that may be IP theft.

The only perfect solution is to get the offending site content off the web, something Google can’t do of course, but Google can act as the IP owner’s friend and point them in the right direction. This helps to deflect the problem away from Google (once the URLs are flushed from the index) and helps the IP owner to stop the problem happening again at source.

I can see that giving out ISP addresses and other addresses needs to be done with some caution, but it is all publicly available and time is often of the essence, so I would suggest that if you can collate this information easily, then it is available straight away after a person has submitted a case, rather than when it has been reviewed. This allows the webmaster to take action quicker.

Matt didn’t promise anything of course! Just said the ideas were interesting. So those were my thoughts, which got pushed around the Plex. Are there any other good ideas to add to the mix?

Are all those “Tick Box” terms and conditions illegal?

I was at a breakfast meeting once, when a solicitor said “I don’t know about you, but I’ve never read any of those long tick box terms and conditions, Have you?

Well… sadly I sometimes do. But I think his approach is better. I think that 90% of all online Terms and Conditions contracts may be invalid in court. Let’s take Adobe’s flash player for example… I just had to install it to load a web page using a new Firefox browser. 4,800 words, which take 10 pages when cut and pasted into word. Including the phrase:

“Use of some third party materials included in the Software may be subject to other terms and conditions typically found in a separate license agreement, a “Read Me” file located near such materials or in the “Third Party Software Notices and/or Additional Terms and Conditions” found at www.adobe.com/go/thirdparty.”

Here are links to third party terms and conditions for every Adobe product. If you are smart enough to know what you are loading, you night find the third party terms for Flash Player 9.0… another 3,180 words from many other corporations, from W3c to apple. One is “Eric Young’s Open SSL Implementation” Which is typical of the others and includes the term:

“The license and distribution terms for any publicly available version or derivative of this code cannot be changed. i.e. this code cannot simply be copied and put under another distribution license [including the GNU Public License.]”

So… Does this mean Adobe has broken other licenses to use other code in its own products? Well… I don’t honestly know, but the solicitor at breakfast was right… being expected to read over 7,000 words on a collection of URLS is not practical. I am just trying to read a web page and I cannot do so without ticking that box. It is COERCION. It is undue influence. It is a contract made under duress. So let’s see what various people say about whether that counts as a contract.

The “Legal Practitioner” (Mike Semple Piggot) says of “Duress and Undue Influence”

At common law if a party enters into a contract under duress the contract may be set aside on ground of duress unless it has been affirmed expressly or impliedly after the duress has been withdrawn.

Wikipedia says a cause of Economic Duress includes:

2. Lack of reasonable alternative (but to accept the other party’s terms). If there is an available legal remedy, an available market substitute (in the form of funds, goods, or services), or any other sources of funds this element is not met.

Since I cannot negotiate these terms (or even read them well in that little box), so I conclude there IS no reasonable alternative but to accept the other party’s terms.

Some companies take the time to highlight the main conditions of the terms in a simple summary, in non-legal speak… but I still find myself with a lack of realistic alternatives.

I’m not a lawyer… but all those tick box terms of use? They suck and I don’t think they should count as a contract.

Do you?

Christmas day data proves that Facebook is more than just a fad

I know Christmas was ages away, but Hitwise has just produced a report (registration required) showing that Christmas Day 2007 was the busiest day EVER for social networks in the UK. For those not convinced that social networks have “traction”, this should come as an alarm call. On a day when most computers are safely tucked away – for many the ONLY day in the year when they should be switched off at the mains, we find that Facebook was the third most visited site in the UK over the Christmas period, pushing eBay into fourth place. (Mind you, in a separate report, Ebay well and truly took its place back on Boxing day as everyone put all their unwanted gifts online!)

The fact that Facebook was so large on Christmas day shows that we have started a change in our cultural and social behaviour. People must have felt a warm and fuzzy feeling, with their friends and family “virtually” in the room, sharing in the conversations around the Christmas tree.

But for marketers, the path for monetizing Facebook remains unclear. The new advertising system – whilst intuitive and clearly targeted – does not seem to “grab” people’s attention like adverts on a search engine and our initial campaign tests have been far from exhilarating.

A perhaps more promising path is the ability to set up corporate personas now on Facebook. These, however, need to be set up by existing members. The problem for third party marketers, like me, is that MY circle of friends and my personal interests are unlikely to be inspired by me setting up a page for a client in a very different field. Other marketers might argue that it is worth setting up false identities “pretending” to be interested in – say – Financial Services. But therein lies another challenge. One’s friends on Facebook are people that you have met. People you either trust (or want to keep close enough to see when they are going to stab you). If Facebook friends only gain traction when they also exist in real life, I fear that the “made up identity” could be a rather hollow character.

I guess one answer for companies is to produce virtual postions in their business. Roles that cross the divide between company and personal. “MSNDude” is an example, where this has been tried. However – once a company does this, they need to resource the position with a real person. Moreover, that person and that business needs to bring something to the table that adds value to the people on Facebook. That’s easy if you manage the David Bowie fan club. Not so easy if you sell insurance.

I have yet to see a Facebook case study that has REALLY given a company marked ROI.

Dirty tricks for making money online – 10 lowlife tactics

Network Solutions got “outed” on Webmasterworld the other day, for locking every domain name lookup done on its servers for several days, forcing people using their lookup to buy only from Network Solutions, at a price most people would agree is inflated. It has caused outrage in the community and rightly so, but it is not as if companies – big and small – aren’t making money using what I would call underhand tactics left, right and center. Here are 10 of the lowest tactics I have seen. Feel free to add others!

1. DNS providers using deception to steal domains during the renewal process

What you think you are doing: You get a letter in the post saying that your domain name is up for renewal (which it is) and that you can simply fill in your credit card details and send the form back to renew the domain (which you can). You don’t even know you’ve been had!

What you actually did: The form you filled in was not with the company you first bought the domain from, so when you signed the small print you gave the people sending you the letter the legal right to take the domain from your existing domain name registrar. Don’t take my word for it – Google has over 100,000 other opinions on this one.

2. Modifying a web page content based on your IE site history

What you THINK you are doing: This one is REALLY cool, if I do say so myself. You want to compare the cost or services of several competing products. You go to each web site and check the comparative and unbiased price comparison to see who is offering the best deal.

What you are actually doing: When you get to the “dirty trickster” they run a little script on the page that lists all their competitor web sites either on the page or hidden. All the ones you have visited are in a different colour, right? well the web owner can tell the colour and therefore see if you are comparing products and then deliver content that is specifically designed to sound better in some way than the sites you have already visited.

3. Phishing Emails

OK – you all should REALLY know that one. Not going to teach people to suck eggs. If you don’t, then you are not my intended audience… Doesn’t mean we can’t all get caught out though, so it has to be on the list.

4. Packet Sniffing and selling the data

What you think you are doing: You’ve got the usual protection on your machine, privacy settings right and everything. You trust your ISP (it’s one of the big ones) and you surf the net. you are pleased that you have a cheap ISP.

What you are actually doing: Every page you go to gets logged by the ISP, as does those of every other user. This data is then collected and merged and sold to a research company, which also buys the data from other ISPs as well. They then use this data to work out all sorts of user behaviour on the web and sell this data for about £20,000 for buyer per year. The market leader in this just sold to Experian for 240 Million dollars. Their product is great, but when you describe it like that it sounds rather worrying doesn’t it?

5. Changing the price when you blink

What you think you are doing: Going to (for example) the airlines to check out the cheapest way to get from A to B for your boss, then going to chat to your boss to agree an itinerary before you buy.

What you are actually doing: By going away from your browser and checking some details and then coming back, you have indicated your intention to buy. These systems are “live” and based on demand algorithms. Even though nobody has bought a ticket in the interim, some systems will increase the price the second time YOU search, as they know that the second time you search for the same ticket, your intention this time is to buy rather than compare.

6. Hijacking domain names that have expired

What you think you are doing: Using Yahoo directory or DMoz to find a list of sites on a specific topic that have been vetted by humans so that they have some level of quality.

What you are actually doing: When you click on the listing, you get to a site that is now owned by someone else, either appearing to be the original company or simply redirecting you to an entirely new company. What happened was that they original owner did not renew the domain name, so it got bought up by a domain name hoarder within minutes of it expiring and then the domain was 301 redirected to the new site. There is nobody at most of these directories checking the links after the fact. Indeed, Google then updates the directory links as well, giving the domain hoarder an often significant organic SEO boost.

7. Locking a domain name lookup and then increasing the price

What you think you are doing: going and looking for a suitable web domain that is still available for your new venture and collecting a list

What you are actually doing: The domain name register actually claims the domain name as you start searching and then if you do not buy it at that moment then when you are ready to buy, they say that it has already been claimed but that you can own it for an inflated sum. When you go to another domain name provider, they also have to agree that the domain has been claimed, but the other providers don’t have the lock, so you now HAVE to buy the domain name from the scammer if you want to buy it. This is worse than what Network solutions have been accused of… but since they charge so much for domain names anyway, some might argue it is the same dirty trick.

8. Providing an invaluable service for one monthly fee and then totally changing the charging structure

What you think you are doing: Buying a decent service at a decent rate and putting it into your business process – usually with a monthly fee for the service.

What you are actually doing: Setting you business up for being held hostage in the future to dramatic price increases. This happened to our business when a reputable affiliate system changed its pricing from load usage based to percentage of commission based… increasing the charge to us by by 1,000%. Although the affiliates were ours, the affiliate links went through the service provider’s servers, giving us an uncomfortable set of choices to make.

9. Packing third party software into downloads that change your browser setup to make money

What you think you are doing: Downloading a demo of a product that you know of and understand

What you are actually doing: You are ALSO agreeing to have another (third party) product being downloaded onto your computer. A common product is one that starts to underline certain keyword on your browser and insert hyperlinks on the fly. Clicking on these hyperlinks provides the software owner with “pay per click income” from unwitting PPC advertiser, usually going through a third party ad-exchange system (like Adsense or Yahoo search marketing but usually a smaller provider). This technique is not just limited to the small guys though. Try downloading Adobe Acrobat Reader without also installing the Google Toolbar! (Both companies have their HQ in San Jose… you think someone hatched this up over a drink?)

10. Buying up misspellings of your domain name

What you think you are doing: typing in a domain name that you already know into your browser to go to the web site

What you are actually doing: Typing in a common misspelling of the domain name, which has been bought up by someone else, sending you off to another web site entirely. This one will annoy a few of my friends for mentioning, but hey – I’ve already annoyed Hitwise, Google and Adobe so everyone may as well take a hit.

Linking Without Walls

In the midst of Pubcon, probably the largest webmaster conference in the world, an interesting little link Building experiment was bubbling in the background. It goes to show that not all links are built with clever gadgets, reciprocal request or paid links. Some are straightforward bribes. I am delighted to play my part – because the bribe, for me, was to get a chance to see the Blue Man Group. (See? They got the link of course.)

The experiment (come PR coup) was hatched by Joseph Morin, who linked up with one of the largest show promoters in Las Vegas to collect most of the unsold tickets in Vegas to the many shows that are on, over a two day midweek period. Carefully synchronized to avoid as many of the big Pubcon parties as possible, Joseph then offered these tickets to any blogger, You Tube enthusiast or viral marketer coming to the conference. The cost of the ticket? An unenforceable promise for us all to comment or review the show or do “whatever we do” online.

Well – after seeing “O” in 2006 and spending $300 getting tickets, this was not an opportunity to be missed. The Blue Man group landed a series of Bloggers and enthusiasts. I did not get the whole list…but the Blue Man Group certainly managed to get some publicity. At the start of the show, they played up the scam, calling out Jill Whalen and Greg Boser in an amusing introduction that must differ every night of the week. Not that Greg actually turned up, but Jill was certainly there. It didn’t seem to matter.

So was the link building scam a success? Well:

I am sure there are many more. That’s just for ONE of the shows. Joseph also arranged tickets to Spamalot and KA (which in the UK is a small car made by Ford) and Mystere.

This was a great link building campaign and based on good old fashioned marketing principals.