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How Websites Lie

11 Sep 2014

Shady Content Marketing Tactics Revealed

When it comes to content marketing, there are two types of strategies: Some marketing companies (like us!) use smart and honest techniques to improve the opinions and rankings of the sites they represent, while others will do anything necessary – even if it requires questionable ethics – to boost their online presence. As the consumer, it’s your job to figure out which is which, and it’s not as always easy. To help you out, we have compiled a list of the most common tactics shady content marketers use and how you can spot them.

The Truth Twisters

The thing about the online world is that it doesn’t require an approval process. Anybody can purchase website development services (some can even make a website themselves) and write whatever they want on it. While most companies don’t straight out lie (thank goodness), they do twist the truth around to make it sound better. For example, a lot of businesses will put a banner on their site that says something to the effect of, “We offer 25 years of collective experience!” Sounds good enough, right? And to the average online peruser, they will read this and be impressed. But how many people does it take to make up these 25 total years of experience? It could just be 10 people with 2-3 years of experience each, which is hardly the same thing as a true expert with 25 years in the industry.

The Horn Blowers

Next up, you have the companies that brag about all of their achievements. They claim to have top ratings from unknown newspapers, offer number one sellers with no actual track record, and pretty much shout it from the mountaintops how awesome they are. But do these “achievements” really matter? First, it’s probably pretty easy to rank amongst the best in a newspaper no one has heard of. Second, anyone can claim to be a top seller, but where’s the proof? And third, all it takes to post a “We’re the best!” announcement is logging into the website and typing it in.

The Self-proclaimed Authorities

Close to the horn-blowers, but slightly more dangerous due to the clout these claims carry, these companies will give themselves certifications that make them sound more respectable. But they aren’t always what they seem. As an example, have you ever seen the term “Certified Green?” It’s super common, and it sounds pretty impressive. After all, who doesn’t want to give their business to a company who cares about the environment? But did you know that this is not even a certification that is mandated by the government? The Energy Star certification? That’s legit. The WaterSense label? True. But “Certified Green” means absolutely nothing. And while we’re talking about accreditations, did you know anyone can put the Better Business Bureau logo on their website? They don’t even have to be registered with the organization. Interesting, to say the least.

The Stock Photography Addicts

Now we have the people that use stock photography to the extreme. Sure, it definitely has its place; otherwise it wouldn’t be so popular. However, when products use purchased images to represent results, that’s giving customers false hope. And if they are using stock photos on their “About Us” page, well, it makes you wonder what they have to hide.

The Fact Maker-uppers

You want to know how bad fraudulent websites really are? According to Dr. Susan DiAngelo from the U.S. Small Business Association, an estimated 30% of all websites portray fake information. Pretty crazy, right? You know what’s crazier, that statistic was just made up. Bet you believed it, huh? Did you even click on the link? If you did, you saw it actually linked to the information about Energy Star certifications and had nothing to do with made-up websites. Some companies rely on your gullibility in order to earn credibility, and that’s just not right.

The Review Fabricators

Surely by now you are aware that it is illegal to pay people for reviews. In fact, even exchanging free product for them is supposed to be indicated. However, that doesn’t stop people from doing it. On sites like Amazon – known for their reviews – many businesses will offer incentives for their customers to post positive feedback. Yes, most of the reviews are real, and Amazon does a fairly good job of spotting the fake ones and removing them, but you should always buy with a little bit of caution.

But it gets even shadier than paying for reviews on third-party sites. Anyone can buy a domain name, such as rateyourfridge.com, and then act like they are doing you a service by offering you unbiased customer ratings on all of the refrigerators out there. However, what you don’t know is that the person running the site is actually the supposed number one rated fridge, whether they really are the best or not. And on top of that, they may even have affiliate links with the lower-rated options.

So what’s the moral of the story? Don’t fall for everything you read, and make sure any important claims can be backed up. And remember, while it is a content marketing company’s job to draw you in and make sales, there are a lot of ways to do it that don’t require lying and law breaking.