There is a world under the one we see every day. It hides in the badlands beyond the happy world of advertising with shiny physical products, happy music, and charming salespeople. The people who inhabit this underworld don’t sell anything you can feel or touch.
They tell you what you want to hear, wrap a solution to all your problems up into a digital package, take your money, and vanish before you realize what happened.
I spent three years exploring this realm of Internet marketing before I realized what was going on. That’s the insidious thing about it: even an otherwise honest person is susceptible, and find themselves too deep to escape before they realize what they’re doing. I was fortunate enough to escape before it took any of my money, and before I hurt anyone.
What follows is a satirical guide to Internet marketing. These are real things real people do and make a lot of money from. Some of these things might be illegal if you actually do them. Most are unethical. Some of the advice is actually good to an extent, so it’s hard to tell. Ask in the comments if you’re not sure.
Note: This post comes in at just under 5000 words.
Who can be an Internet marketer?
Anyone! The great thing about the Internet is anonymity. Would you guess that most of the richest Internet marketers were living in poverty while claiming they were rich? Many of them joke about how they made their money telling other people how to make money.
This feels wrong, doesn’t it? To claim you’re loaded and presume to tell other people how to become rich while you can barely pay the power bill? But you will be rich soon enough, so it’s only a temporary deception.
The fact is, being rich is a state of mind. Even someone who is by every objective metric rolling in cash can still feel poor. They’ll look at their neighbors garage with its three Bugattis, then back at their garage that only has one Porsche 911 and feel bad.
Don’t be like that though. You’re rich as long as you feel rich. Being an Internet marketer is all about bringing reality closer to how you feel. If you feel poor, you always will be.
Spend enough time in the world of Internet marketing and you’ll notice that self-help bloggers and Internet marketing bloggers have a strong affinity. Their syndicates, a concept I’ll detail later, don’t always work together, but there’s a lot of idea sharing there. The self-help people usually aren’t as monetarily rich as the Internet marketers, but you’d never know from the way they act.
Making money on the Internet
You’ve probably seen people on Twitter and Facebook with enormous followings, and you knew they were making bank every time they posted a link. You want in on that, don’t you?
I’ll be honest here. A lot of the ethics you learned in grade school weren’t the truth. Teachers who shared it wondered why they could barely scrape by being “ethical” while politicians, investment bankers and career car salesmen were rolling in dough.
Here’s the secret no one had the heart to tell your teachers: there’s nothing wrong with the methods these awful people use. Just the things they did with the methods, or the extents they went to. Scamming rich people is great.
It’s the only way money makes its way into the economy from the bank accounts of the rich. Otherwise it sits there doing no one any good. But scamming old people out of pensions, retirement funds and investments in property just isn’t cool. They’ll be dead before they can recover!
But there’s a swarm of people out there with money, lines of credit, and plenty of time to patch things up after you get your piece. These are your prospects. Some marketers treat them as chattel; a disposable commodity.
But that’s the wrong way to see them. They’re real people with friends, families, dreams, and plans. They’re coming to you looking for answers, and you should at least try to give those answers. But most of the time they’re looking for something no one can really give, so you can only make them feel good.
Someone’s going to offer an answer, even if there’s no useful answer to give. It might as well be you, right? They’ll buy your products and probably never get anywhere with their dreams, but that’s beyond your control.
Most dreams are ill-defined or unrealistic. The best you can do is make people feel good while pursuing the impossible. You’ll make them feel good while they’re trying, and that’s what counts.
Tell yourself this every time someone calls you a fraudster, scammer, or criminal. Those people just don’t understand the valuable service you offer. You’re giving people their dreams.
Still, always consider how far you can take it. And not just because someone will bring a fraud investigation down on you if you go overboard, but some day you might be on the receiving end if they get wise to what you did.
You’re going to make a lot of money taking incomes, savings, and liquidated investments to shore up your own future.
Some day someone will turn it around on you. They’ll find your impossible dream and try to sell it to you, and no one will have sympathy for you if you were careless with the dreams of others.
When they find a way to take your money, don’t you want them to show restraint? Think about the future as you work. You could be the prospect some day.
Picking a market
You can, theoretically, sell anything to anyone. But that takes a lot of work, far more than the benefit you’ll derive from that work. So you need to focus. What makes a good prospect?
This is a given. You can’t make a sale if your prospect has no money. A good marketer should long for the day when everyone is wealthy, but not so content that they don’t want more things. It could be said that marketing is an altruistic profession. You thrive when a lot of people have a lot of money.
Your prospect needs to have time to invest in your reading materials. They need a way to read your blog posts, emails, and other messages. A hard-working single mother who barely has time to take care of her kids is probably not the best prospect.
Though if you’re creative enough you might be able to sell something to her boss through her, maybe landing her a raise or promotion for being sharp enough to spot the opportunity you offered.
So how do you sell a person their dreams?
This is the easy part. You’re dealing in dreams. Focus on something you already know about. For example, someone working in retail might aim for other people who work in retail. You’re scraping by on minimum wage. You know other people scraping by on minimum wage.
There’s a built-in market! Most of them have time after work and on the weekends, money to spend, and they’re usually young enough to not suffer in the long-term if you take all their money.
Study the market
What do the people in this market want? Well, that’s easy if you work retail. “A better job.” At the least, they dream of being the manager, or of starting their own company. Or they long for a better job in general.
Create a product
Since you primarily deal with unrealistic dreams, the sky is the limit. The simplest thing with other retail workers is a guide on creating a job using the skills a retail worker has. “Being nice to people you don’t like” or “dealing with middle management” is the beginning of a product.
Let’s run with “dealing with middle management.” This is pretty easy. Find blogs on management, find the most popular posts, and rewrite them in your own words. But instead of writing to managers, write to retail employees.
Even better, play the worker against the manager and paint the manager as the bad guy, and encourage the retail worker to revolt by creating their own business. Aiming for the manager’s job is likely to get them fired, so this is safer.
Of course, they’ll probably never get anywhere. But you’ll make a lot of money-making them feel better about themselves. They can carry on with the knowledge that they’re trying to make their lives better, even if they’re still spinning their wheels.
Creating a product is, unfortunately, dependent on the situation. You’ll have to work out the details based on the people you’re selling to. It isn’t too hard if you know the market well.
Making a sale
You need to sell something to make money. Basic stuff. You found your market, studied it, and created an amazing product based on your findings. You know this is going to make you rich, but how do you actually sell it? Here’s how.
Features are boring. Talk benefits. Why does your prospect need this product? What problem does it solve? Why is your product better than the alternatives? Tell them.
Most things you’ll make as an Internet marketer are hard to quantify, so stick to aspirational language.
For example, your keyword research tool does everything Google’s own research tool does, but you need to justify the cost for your product.
You still need features, but you’ll sell them as benefits. Your keyword research tool might have a way to scan pages for the density of a given keyword. This hasn’t been a meaningful metric for over a decade, but it feels important. Make sure the reader feels that it’s important too.
For example: “Fancy Keyword Pro scans your pages to make sure they meet industry standards for keyword density so you don’t have to do tedious manual calculations.”
Of course there’s no “industry standard” here. Search engines aren’t stupid. But it feels right, and you’ve made the reader feel like it’s important. This is all that matters.
Call to action
This is, quite simply, calling someone to action. It’s the “Buy” or “Download” button after a piece of copy. Try not to get creative here. Simplicity converts. The instinct most new marketers have is to get clever with something like “Click this button to buy now.”
Try to resist! People have learned “Click here” leads to something good, so they’re less likely to think about it. You can benefit from the efforts of other marketers by using this habit to your advantage.
Now let’s dive into the toolbox of Internet marketing.
There are four ways to generate leads on the Internet: Search engine optimization, advertising, social media, and mailing lists. There’s no either/or here. You’ll use these methods, and often all at once.
Advertising is often annoying. You’ve seen those flashing ads, popups, and the generic punch-the-monkey banner, right? These are ads. But the best ads don’t look like ads. They blend right into the content.
And for your purposes, they are content. They’re relevant to the content they’re embedded in and offer genuine value. Google’s built its entire business on this. They blend ads in with content on their search results so it’s hard to tell that they’re not search results.
Google even encourages advertisers in their display network to do the same. Is it wrong if Google encourages you to do it? Of course not!
Search engine optimization
This is fundamental lead generation in blogging. Social media is a form of lead generation and can support your blog, but your social media accounts will never grow if you don’t have a flow of interested people from other places. Search engines are free and easy sources of traffic.
It’s a simple as knowing what searchers are looking for. Pepper your writing with relevant terminology, encourage people to link to you from their blogs, and you’ll see search traffic. Simple.
This is the power of blogs. You write a piece of content once and Google will send people to it forever. Every free lead from Google is a lead you don’t have to work for ever again.
Mailing lists are perfect because you don’t need to go out looking for people to sell something to. All you have to do is fire off an email when you have an idea for a product. The leads are already found.
The great thing about email is that it’s considered more private. A tweet or post on Facebook will slip by with most people ignoring it, but you’ll rarely send an email that isn’t opened. You’ll build your mailing list primarily from people who find your content through search engines and subscribe.
Social media is like a mailing list. Conversion rates are worse. Most people only get 1% of their followers to click-through links, and it’s hard to get them to buy anything. These are “weak leads.” Your best bet is to periodically send them to your mailing list signup page.
The best part of social media is that it’s free. You’re effectively making a deal with the company that provides the service. They give you the means to connect with your audience, and you give them the data generated by the activity within your following.
You probably already know how to blog. You write some useful content, tell some friends about it, and hope for the best. Right? Wrong. Well, almost. This works for an average thing-of-the-day blog. An Internet marketer’s blog needs a little more.
A good marketer’s blog is a tool, not a place to dump information. Every post, page, and article should serve some function, whether it’s making a sale or building authority.
Here’s a set of tools and techniques to turn a blog into the core of your Internet empire.
Landing pages are where your calls to action go. They’re little side pages that follow the three steps to making a sale. Remember that making a sale doesn’t necessarily mean exchanging product for money. It could also be initiating a download or mailing list signup.
You should aim for squeeze pages. These are pages with nothing more than a single column with your sales copy and call to action. You don’t want them to get distracted by sidebars and headers. Some call this manipulative because it only gives one way out: your call to action.
They wouldn’t even be there if they weren’t interested, so applying a little pressure to get them past the call to action isn’t unethical.
This is also known as a ‘silo.’ It’s a page where you gather links to related content on one page. Search engines love these, and people love linking to them. You’ll want to put a mailing list signup box here. Your cornerstone pages should lead to a call to action.
For example, the first few links could build your authority as an expert in the field, while the last link leads to a sales page or signup form. This is where most of your leads will come from, so don’t get lazy and phone these in. Every bit of effort you spend on cornerstone content will pay off big and for a long time.
This is where you practice the art of deep linking. Create related content and link it together. Try to lead your prospect to a landing page or cornerstone content page. For example, you might have an article on setting up a WordPress blog, which leads to an article on WordPress security, which leads to a landing page that sells the prospect on your WordPress security services.
These webs serve two purposes: authority building and prospect leading. You can take a prospect through a long tree of content and really set yourself up as an expert. At some point, you’ll lead them to a sales page.
Try to push them right to the point of exhaustion. It’s best to wear your prospect out before they reach the sales page so their doubts won’t interfere with the value of what you’re offering. Some actually talk their prospect into getting drunk here, but that breaks the one rule of ethical marketing: don’t make your prospect do something they can’t recover from.
You can’t know if they’re a recovering alcoholic or alcoholic waiting to happen.
Analytics are how you know what people are doing and where they’re coming from. The main value here is knowing whether you’re getting the right kind of traffic to your blog, or if you’ve misjudged your audience.
For example, you might assume the market for your motorcycle blog is a stereotypical biker. But maybe you find that your best traffic, in terms of sales, comes from a knitting forum.
All this is great, but don’t you want to take it to the next level? You need to start thinking of all the people at your level of success. You can work together to support each others’ products and produce shared success.
Find others in your niche and arrange to promote the products of members. It’s best not to talk about the fact that you’re doing this outside the group. Some people get a weird vibe from it. They’ll throw around unhappy words like “collusion” and “price fixing” and accuse you of being deceptive.
Imagine 10 friends with thousands of followers, related niches, and authority within that niche. You can review each other, promote products from other members in the group, link to each other, and share content. Try to keep the size of your syndicate down, otherwise you risk it fragmenting.
You should tier your syndicate. You’ll have three groups: core, true believers, and hangers-on. The core group is the people you started with. They’ll know the most about what’s going on and work with you in the planning stages of product launches.
The true believers tier isn’t privy to all the details, but they won’t ask questions. They’ll come up with compelling sales copy for your products and help generate a lot of business. They’ll jump from product to product, chasing the latest thing as the old one starts to falter. True believers are always happy to see an email from you because it means they have something new to sell. If you ever speak at marketing conventions, these are the people you get discounts for.
Hangers-on are the oddballs who found your products and really believe you helped them. They’ll sing your praises to all their friends and family, and buy every product. Try to keep these people engaged and interested, but they’ll tend to get bored with you and move on. Your best bet is to pass them around to other core members.
There’s another group I omitted from the list up there because it needs a separate discussion. This group doesn’t like you. And not only do not they not like you, they’ll want nothing more than to bring you down. They’ll call you a fraud, say you’re scamming people, and try to make your life miserable.
Some of them even develop a following of their own. They’ll write exposés and act like they’re fighting some monster. Your best bet is to ignore them. They’ll seem like a big deal because of their following, but they really don’t matter.
Their mob is small, and is rarely (if ever) seen by your followers.
More on mailing lists
I should talk more about mailing lists. Too many beginning marketers will ignore these because they’re not “cool.” Maybe they’re used to seeing a lot of spam emails and think any marketing message coming to their inbox is bad. This is a belief you need to drop fast.
Most mailing list providers need something called “double opt-in.” This means the subscriber signed up, then clicked a link in a confirmation email. That person’s intent is clear: they want to receive what you have to say. Someone who doesn’t isn’t going to sign up, so there’s no issue.
Mailing lists are one of the most powerful lead generation tools you have available. Think of your list as stored leads. These are people who already want what you’re offering, have given you permission to offer it to them, and don’t need much convincing.
These are autopilot for mailing lists. A person will sign up and receive a carefully crafted string of messages at fixed intervals. You can build people up to a sale, invite them to opt in to other lists, and many other things.
You should spend time humanizing your autoresponder by sending out messages that seem like they’re written specifically for the recipient. You might have to actually talk to your subscribers since some will respond, but most are just happy someone is talking to them at all.
Segments are a way of saving money on sending and help prevent unsubscriptions. It’s all about relevance. Someone might sign up to your mailing list for comic books, but they only want to receive affiliate offers from Marvel, not DC.
They hate DC comics with a burning passion and will instantly unsubscribe if you talk to them about DC. They can opt in to the Marvel segment and never see a message about DC comics. Isn’t it great?
You should develop special segments for people who convert easily. You can email these people when you need a lot of money very quickly.
Making an eBook is as simple as restating the words of a talented writer in your own words. Take those restated words and combine them into an eBook! It’s better to come up with truly original content, but you don’t have to. You can even outsource making new eBooks once you have enough income.
And you don’t have to sell this eBook. They’re great as incentives. Most Internet marketers use them to convince people to sign up to mailing lists, as I describe below. eBooks make a great signup incentive. Tell people they’ll get your eBook if they give you their email address. Simple.
You can also use them to show authority by making it clear that you really know what you’re talking about.
As a product
Some eBooks are products all on their own. Most people will use something like Amazon KDP, but you can sell them yourself. This is more technical and requires setting up your own payment and digital delivery system. Not for the novice Internet marketer.
As an incentive
This is the more popular way to use eBooks. It’s something you offer as a download in the introductory email for new signups on your mailing list. Some mailing list providers forbid this since they mistakenly think of it as a bribe in exchange for email addresses.
It’s true that open rates are lower and unsubscribe rates are higher this way, but it does boost the subscriber numbers if you want to use it as social proof on your signup form.
This is what it sounds like: a way to prove that you’ve got something worthwhile. Work with your syndicate to produce reviews and testimonials for sales pages. This will dramatically increase sales.
So what do you do with the email addresses you collect? Sell things! Mailing lists are great. These are people who’ve already told you they’re open to what you have to say, and a properly segmented list lets you send things to the people who are most likely to buy them.
You should work with your syndicate here. Presell their products by talking about them on social media, then fire it off to your mailing list with an affiliate code once the product launches.
It’s best if people mistakenly think you’re suggesting products because you found value in them. Obviously, you have a profit motive here. You’re picking stuff with high commissions and good conversion rates. Work with your syndicate to set prices on things so new customers come to your list (and the lists of True Believers) expecting a certain price.
You should occasionally go outside the syndicate with products not made by friends, so people won’t get the idea that you only work with a handful of people. No one likes to think they’re part of an insular community. People will get that idea if you only ever plug products from the same few people.
How to use an affiliate link
A lot of people will drop a random affiliate link at the end of an email or place it on a blog sidebar. But this isn’t going to work. The best place to put affiliate links is right there in the content.
For example, you might be writing a guide on search engine optimization. And you just happen to know of an eBook on the subject, or a useful tool. This is the perfect place to link to something for a commission. You’re in the middle of selling someone on the benefits of doing something, so they’re primed to buy a relevant product.
Legally, you have to declare that it’s an affiliate link. In practice, few people do this. People are, in general, smart enough to realize you’re getting a cut on the sale. The last thing you want to do is treat your customers like idiots.
At a certain point of success you won’t even need to work. This is what those people who put beach photos on their blogs did. They worked hard for a while, then gave someone working their way out of poverty a chance to build on that success.
There are people in developing countries who speak perfect English and who are perfectly professional. You can hire them to write content, run social media accounts, handle email, and anything you can think of. You’ll work as much or as little as you want and help someone improve their life and community. Isn’t it great?
Think of this as advanced outsourcing. Eventually your prospects run out of money, and you’ll feel bad about making them pull out the credit card. Sounds like the end, right?
But don’t worry, you can outsource this! You’ve heard of boiler rooms, right? They’re phone banks where you toss prospects to when you’re done with them.
People working in these call centers push people to take out lines of credit to buy into valuable products. You’ll make a percentage of every sale and never have to see or think about the people being sold to. The products are similar to what Internet marketers sell, but the pricing depends on how much credit the prospect has.
So now you have your product, know how to sell it, and are ready to pull the trigger. Is this going to make you an Internet superquadrillionaire? Well, probably not. You’ll need to keep doing this until you’ve built enough income to start outsourcing. Once you’re at that point, the sky’s the limit.
This is not far from reality in unethical Internet marketing. That’s the joke. Laugh!
The truth is, this stuff works amazingly well. There’s an entire industry built around these things–boiler rooms are a real thing. It’s easy to get pulled into this way of doing things. Any moderately charismatic person can whip up some fluffy-sounding drivel that plays on fears and desires and make a load of money.
But it’s not the only way to make a healthy income on the Internet. It’s a tool just like any other, and is usable for both good and bad. I advocate using it for good, and try to hang out with people who feel the same way. I hope you’re someone like that.
You don’t need to lie, cheat, or steal to make a healthy living with the Internet. You can go far creating something worthwhile. It isn’t as profitable as it would be if you were lying, cheating, and stealing, but you won’t have to live with the knowledge that you lied and cheated your way through life.
Having trouble sorting out what’s good advice and bad advice? It’s hard when even the most unethical marketer is good at wrapping themselves up in a nice package.
Ask in the comments, and I’ll see if I can help.