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What’s Wrong With Internet Marketing

Published 7 years ago - 25 Comments

Here’s how most of the Internet marketing industry works, you know, the guys who sell you courses packed with the latest tricks…

  • They get “NEW” insights into something that seems to work, whether a way to get traffic, or to increase conversions.
  • These insights are often learned from books, from their own experience, or from each other’s experience.
  • Then, they offer to share that information with you in return for some of your money.

So far, so fair, right? People who have information that other people need should be able to sell that valuable information for a profit.

I agree with you. Except, in this Wild West frontier land of Internet marketing, you usually find two all-too-common factors.

They are anecdotal fallacy, and manipulation. Let me explain my problems with these.

Anecdotal fallacy

People who sell Internet Marketing need you to believe that they’ve got something secret and amazing, which would change your life if you knew it. They need you to perceive a “knowledge divide”.

Unfortunately, human nature, the way we think, the way we buy and sell, and the way we respond to messages, is pretty much the same as it was two or ten or a thousand generations ago. Most of the heavy lifting of marketing theory was done in the last century. We’ve pretty much got it figured out.

So the Internet marketing gurus need to find a way to make you believe they’ve found a secret that nobody else knows. Here’s one great way to do that.

Anecdotal fallacy is the name given to a logical error, in which you could take some isolated evidence out of context then claim that it proves a general point. In other words,

Look, this worked for me, that means it will work for you too!

One of the clearest examples of this was a product I bought from Ryan Deiss, called “43 Split Tests”. Ryan sold this as a product about five years ago, I bought it out of curiosity, and found it’s full of some of the most misleading information I’ve ever seen.

Here’s an example, taken straight from Ryan’s site:

Background Color

Here’s another variable we get asked about time and time again. For some reason, people are just fascinated with the psychology behind background colors.

We were too, so we tested this variable pretty extensively. Robin’s egg blue (Hex={6495ED}) was the clear winner. We actually saw a 31% increase in conversions over dark backgrounds. White and gray backgrounds are also effective.

Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color

Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color

What’s wrong with this? It’s taking data gathered in one context, and stating categorically that the result is universal. Note the comment under the image:

Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color

This is a clear example of the anecdotal fallacy. I’ll be the first to acknowledge they may have tested this on thousands of visitors, and maybe got thousands of conversions. But the first thing to point out is, these tests were all run in a certain context, probably on certain types of sales pages or squeeze pages, using a particular target audience. So there’s zero reason to claim, “Robin’s egg blue is the optimal background color,” as though it is a general rule.

You can see another way in which this section of the report is obviously trying to mislead, in order to make its results seem credible and impressive.

It’s this quote…

We actually saw a 31% increase in conversions over dark backgrounds.

I’ve run hundreds of split tests, for a range of clients and on a range of different sites. I have never seen an example of any design change — never mind something as irrelevant as background colour — have that kind of impact.

Here’s what they should say…

We also tried a dark background on these pages, which was disastrous because conversions dropped by a quarter.

(If they were honest. Which they’re not.)

Here’s more smokescreen text, designed to fool you into assuming there really are easy wins on sale. The report goes on to say…

White and gray backgrounds are also effective.

What does that mean? I bet it means that white and gray backgrounds were comparably successful as the pale blue. This is almost certainly true. And I doubt there was any significant difference between them. So all it’s really telling you is that light, plain backgrounds are boring and don’t distract from the real content, but they did find a way to make their pages work worse (by testing dark backgrounds).

In my book, that’s just lying. And it’s lying in order to fool well-meaning professionals and business owners into handing over hard-earned cash for products that are unscientific and deliver little nutritional value.


If you cut this new Internet Marketing sector down the middle, you’ll be hit with an overpowering stench of manipulation. Manipulation in marketing means trying to get people to buy stuff they don’t need, which won’t improve their lives, by making them think it will.

Most Internet marketing gurus aren’t experts in marketing. They’re experts in manipulation, obsessed with parting people with their money at all costs, instead of getting on with the important work of building a better world for all.

Now, all the manipulation tactics are based on real psychology, have been around for a long time, and they all tend to work.

My problem is, they tend to work for reasons that only make sense in the short-term, and I’m interested in helping people to build sustainable businesses, not grab short-term profits at any cost.

I’m sure you’ll recognise many of the tricks below…

The Manipulation Formula

Here’s a bunch of examples of the kind of language

  • “New!”
    They’ve stumbled across a new “insight” that they’ve been secretly testing. You could be among the first to take advantage of it. (Of course, if something really IS new, or innovative, why not say so. But it doesn’t take much to be able to claim something is new, does it?)
  • “Exclusive!”
    They’re offering insider information, which only a few people know. We all like to be invited into the VIP area. It makes us feel important. But what if you realise the whole club is the VIP area?
  • “Limited availability!”
    This is the False Scarcity con. If they’re claiming to offer this only to the first 100 people, that’s pure manipulation. They want to sell as many as possible, and they know that the perceived fear of losing the opportunity will persuade you to buy now. (And if you don’t buy now, just wait for the stream of emails explaining why they’ve been forced to make just a few extra places because of the huge demand.)
  • “Must End at Midnight!”
    This is the False Urgency hustle. Jeff Walker’s “Product Launch Formula” is the classic example of this. Instead of simply offering something to the world, come up with a reason to make it available for just a short period. Build up to the launch window, then throw everything at persuading people to grab their credit card before they lose out.
  • “This is Working Like Crazy!”
    We’re all looking for cheat codes in life… the magic chat-up line, the incredible penis enlargement herb, the one weird trick to a flat stomach… anything that promises easy, instant, or magical results. Anything that sounds too good to be true is probably too good to be true. (Anyone can make a campaign seem to be incredibly profitable with a big enough budget thrown at it, and these guys have big budgets.)
  • “If You Aren’t Using These Tiny Tweaks That Can Make All the Difference…”
    This is playing on your fear of loss, combined with the doubt and curiosity generated by tiny changes that can deliver big results.
  • “Everyone is Jumping On This!”
    This variant of the popularity factor has been around for ever. It uses slightly different psychology to the “exclusive” tactic, but it’s also working on the fear of being excluded. Tell a prospect that something is popular makes it seem like the safe option. (It’s probably more effective on mainstream markets, whereas early adopters would respond better to novelty and exclusivity.)
  • “People Just Like You Are Making Money on Autopilot”
    They’ll present evidence of how other people have made easy money, just by following the simple steps. Of course, you don’t get to see people who tried it and didn’t make a penny.
  • “Wait! Don’t leave this page!”
    Exit popups are just annoying. Do you really want to annoy somebody into becoming a customer? (I realised I actually had one of these running on a free product download page, so I removed it!)
  • “Was $12,000… Now only $97”
    Of course, the fake discount. Again, this isn’t exclusive to Internet marketers, even regular retailers pull this scam. Remember, just because something was on sale at a previous price doesn’t mean anyone bought it.

Here’s An Example I Got In My Email This Morning

Frank Kern is an extremely successful Internet Marketer (see what he’s earned), who ran an intensive launch a few months ago. I didn’t sign up for the (four-figure?) product, but I followed his tactics with interest.

I was slightly surprised to see the first email from that launch sequence arrive in my inbox again today, and immediately noticed several of the tricks I mention in the list above, so for fun let’s highlight a few of them.


Overall, you can see what this email is doing. It’s hinting that there’s easy money to be made — something for nothing. And there is easy money to be made (for Frank at least!) by using untruths, by playing on people’s psychological weaknesses, laziness, and jealousy. Frank’s very good at using all that to make serious money, and if making money at any cost is “success” in your book, then I recommend you go and study from Frank. (Here’s another interesting analysis of one of his sequences.)

But here’s my question for you…

  • Do you want to make money by manipulating your customers’ emotions in order to get them to do something they may regret?
  • Or do you want to help build a world where everyone shares what really works, improves everyone’s lives, and will do so for the long term?

I love small business, forward-thinking organisations, and entrepreneurs. These are the true heroes, who are really making the world a better place by delivering honest and fair products and services to the people who really need them.

For me, I actually think it’s morally wrong, and short-sighted, to pimp out any knowledge that can really help these heroes.

That’s why I’ve chosen do what I can for them, irrespective of their immediate ability to pay, and make all my courses and materials available for free.

A Better Way

Most Internet marketers are professional manipulators. They spend their time making bigger and bolder promises to part you with your cash, only to sell back to you the latest tricks they devised to do it!

They want you to think that only they can offer the path to true success. They can’t. They may help you to make some money, after they’ve made some from you of course, and if you’re willing to become imitations of them.

They want you to think it’s complicated, and then they want you to believe they’ve got shortcuts, hacks, cheats, a magic bullet, which of course you can have for a price.

I’ll confess, I’ve been suckered in once or twice. I’ve felt that sense of sickness, that other people are making tons of money using these methods, that maybe I’m failing to be everything I can if I don’t join them.

I’ve felt that little rush of adrenaline when I hear them use the language of “killing it” and “crushing it”…

But then I realised that what they’re referring to is me, and you.

I don’t want to manipulate, with artificial constraints or fluffed-up claims. I’m happy to give first, and to trust that most people are basically good and honest.

You know what? You don’t have to manipulate in order to build a following. You can be honest, truthful, transparent, and vulnerable.

Everyone out there has a heart, and we’re all looking for people and things we can trust and believe in.

Here are some simpler truths about marketing, all without manipulation.

Marketing is challenging, but the most important fundamentals are the same as they’ve ever been. The most important challenges are figuring out who you are, what you really want to do with your life, what you want to mean to the world, and what your customers mean to you.

Get those basics right, and maybe you’ll find true success.

Of course, there are new channels appearing constantly, more today than at any time in history. But you don’t have to jump on them all. This week’s trick is a hack to “get tons of traffic” from Pinterest. (That technique, by the way, may be totally inappropriate for your business.)

There are no secret tricks you have to master. There are no magic beans. You can do it.

The secret is in the magic marketing beans. Plant them, under the right conditions, look after them, and they’ll grow, naturally. Just get the basics right. Then you’ll grow your own produce, which doesn’t just mean profits, but customers, followers, who are all part of the ecosystem, and who – if treated right – can generate more customers and followers…

And so it goes on.

Why Open-Source Marketing?

Published 7 years ago - 15 Comments

About Open Source

Open Source is a concept originally developed as a method to build software, using a distributed model that allows the worldwide community to collaborate on a project.

The development of complex software systems requires a massive amount of people power. The core idea of open-source is that, by giving the world free access to the code base — the core intellectual property — the product will improve faster and be more widely adopted, than it could using a top-down, proprietary, hierarchical model.

The method has proved extremely successful, enabling some of the world’s most popular software products, such as Apache, Mozilla, Linux, and WordPress.

The idea of Open-Source has now spread beyond software development. Here Wikipedia lists some of its other applications. The former CIA spy Robert David Steele has taken the concept the furthest in his 2012 book “Open Source Everything Manifesto”, in which he argues for open-sourcing all the world’s intelligence. (Read a review here)

It seems that, whenever you have complex knowledge, technology, or intellectual property, which can benefit from rapid, continual development, you can make a case to take it open-source.

Can We Open-Source Marketing?

I spent the second half of 2014 trying to reverse-engineer what an expert online marketing consultant does, so that that set of skills could be spread to more people.

When I, or one of my experienced colleagues, looked at a website or spoke with a client, how did we know whether the project was promising, or if it had fundamental flaws that would waste money if taken to market? And, if it did need work, how did we know if it needed to focus on traffic, or on conversion, or if it had a branding problem?

Those were the questions that consumed me. I started to deconstruct the whole marketing model. Over the period of a few months, I developed a system, which I called “Ultimate Web Design” because it represents what the best web designers have always done — not just published pretty-looking websites, but created marketing campaigns that could cause real change.

“Ultimate Web Design” grew into a model and a step-by-step method that could help anyone analyse any marketing campaign and discover…

  • Whether the overall concept was fit for market.
  • Whether any elements of the proposition were missing, incomplete, or misaligned.
  • What changes could be made  to make the campaign more successful.
  • Which marketing channels or tactics would me most effective, and why.
  • And how to craft truly strategic campaigns that would take the message to market in the most cost-effective way.

I ran a private beta of the programme with a handful of paying students, and worked through several real-world case studies. It worked very well. In fact, I quickly realised it was the most powerful system I had ever used.

Of course, the great thing about a system is that it can be recorded. And if it can be recorded, it can be shared, and improved upon.

At the same time, I was working on a new book, “Web Design Is Dead”, which examines the development of web publishing technology over the past twenty years, then looks at the impact of recent advances on the web design community, and on the client sector.

I realised a few truths, which did not make me happy. One was that the world of business had been wasting an enormous amount of time and money for a long time, chasing after innovation in marketing technology that was expanding too fast to keep up with.

My second realisation was that the young web design and marketing sector was not equipped to provide its clients with the strategic quality of service it really needed.

Then it hit me…


My logo for Open-Source Marketing, inspired by the Open Source Initiative’s branding

I realised the world needed “Ultimate Web Design”, but I could see that the proprietary model was not a vehicle that could spread that “technology” far enough or fast enough. As I was reading Steele’s book I wondered, “Why can’t we make this model open-source?”

After all, my model is a technology. It has a “code base” of sorts, in that it has a process to follow, which can be written down, shared, and applied in a range of situations.

What if I invited the world to use that technology freely, to test it, to help build on it, and to find ways to improve it?

Why Go Open-Source?

I accept that giving our knowledge away is not a popular idea in the Internet Marketing sector. I have a number of friends and colleagues who argue that giving content away for free devalues it in people’s eyes, and that it’s morally right to be compensated for developing learning resources.

I’m not saying they’re wrong on either of those points. However, I’m generally disgusted with the practices of the Internet Marketing sector (more here), which tends to use knowledge to manipulate, and will only tell you enough to persuade you to purchase the rest of the course. I don’t want to manipulate, even if it means I lose money. Some things are more important than profits. Here are a few reasons why I’m willing to take this step…

#1 The Greater Good

My first priority is always to create the maximum good. The idea of charging people to be able to access this information, which could radically help businesses to survive or to grow, does not sit well with me.

From each according to his ability, to each according to his need

Louis Blanc, 1851

Is it right that the only people who should have access to the best marketing methods be the ones who can already afford it — either because their businesses are already profitable, or because they’re willing to risk borrowing?

Or is it right that everyone gets the same opportunities, regardless of their situation?

Open-source marketing would be like paying forward, trusting that the long-term effects will benefit all.

#2 It’s Natural

I’m inspired by Nature, and the idea of biomimicry, which invites us to look to the natural world for inspiration on how to solve problems, because natural systems have been developing for thousands or millions of years.

When I look at Nature, I see that it gives without counting the cost, and in doing so creates life. It is naturally abundant, so it is natural to be abundant, not stingy. (I write more about this in my article: “Marketing Magic Beans“.)

#3 We’re Stronger Together

Going open-source is also the best way to improve the product faster. The more people use the systems and models we create, the more eyeballs they have on them, the more case studies they’re tested on, the more enhancements we’ll notice.

An open system supports interoperability, which brings multiple advantages.

Imagine if we had a world full of consultants, freelancers, or agencies, who were familiar with the “Open-Source Marketing” system. Using a standardised “language” of marketing would let us far more easily take over projects, move between projects or between teams, or share expert advice. This could make the whole marketing world run far more efficiently, and more smoothly.

#4 Transparency

Open-Source Marketing would increase transparency within projects, by making both the models and also the methods openly available.

That should allow everyone working on a project to understand what’s happening more easily. It would also make it much harder for service providers to confuse their clients with a smoke screen of technical jargon, and instead promote accountability.

How Open-Source Marketing Will Work

For a project to go open-source, we need…

  1. To make all the intellectual property freely available. (I am doing this now, by putting my new “Ultimate Web Design” course materials online for free. old “Pro Web Design Course” will follow soon.)
  2. Any designer, consultant, agency, or organisation can then pick up the materials and apply them in their own projects.
  3. If they find ways to extend or to improve the system, they need to be able to submit change requests.
  4. Requests can be considered and, if successful, will be incorporated into the next iteration of the code base.
  5. The legal framework will be provided by one of many standard licences.
  6. In due course, it may make sense to create a formal qualification in being an OSM practitioner, and to run conferences.
  7. My hope is that people will take this technology and build on it, creating new applications that I cannot even imagine today.

What’s In It For Me?

My reasons for making my research into an open-source project are altruistic, but (to apply full transparency) there are selfish motives too. I am hoping to build a good business out of this.

But, whether I do that or not, if I can help you along the way, to have a better business and a better life, that’s good enough for me.

There is no catch and no deal.

I invite you to take this info and apply it in your business or organisation.

If you find it helpful, let me know. If you find a case in which it doesn’t work, please let me know, so that we can make it better.

If you need assistance or support, either I, or one of my team, would love to help you, for a fee.

Whatever you do, please put it to use.

I’m not saying it’s super-quick or super-simple… To get sustainable results in marketing takes something significant. But I can tell you it works.

I have faith in human nature – in you! Maybe you’ll never tip me, buy an hour of my time, or become a client of my agency. And that’s 100% fine. Maybe you don’t have the need, or the budget. But I want you to have the best guidance I can offer, because hopefully that may help your business to survive, grow, thrive. And maybe one day you’ll have the need to call me or my team.