January 18 2015

What’s Wrong With Internet Marketing



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:

[content_container max_width=’500′ align=’center’]


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.

About the author 

Ben Hunt

My job is to look at the world and wonder... "How should we live?"

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  1. Thank you Ben for this great thought piece. I look forward to more as you care to share. I can tell that you have given this a lot of thought and have distilled the ideas from “How to Be Rich Today” and the whole new Ben that we have seen lately. I love this. I’m going to keep it bookmarked and read it from time to time when I get another “You Gotta Get This Today” email.

    I have become pretty much immune to all the huckster sphincters who spew there latest gospel of making money as the key to happiness. But always great to get a little booster shot of sensibility from Ben.

    I’ve been following and buying your books and products for some time now. Since “Save the Pixel” first edition. You have never steered me wrong and helped my business grow – thank you for that.

    Love the new web site. Great feel and readability. I really like the mobile first layout.
    Charles O

    1. Great to hear, thank you so much Charles. My next book should be out in the next few days, so look out for that. It’ll probably be donationware.

  2. Wow Ben! Great article! Gave me goosebumps.
    You have articulated what I have felt but just didn’t know what it was. So much of the marketing hype has seemed wrong for me that I’ve ‘felt bad’ that I didn’t learn or do it.

    I too want to build and help my clients build a business following in open, honest, and authentic ways. But I don’t know where to being to sort it out.

    Looking forward to your next book.

  3. Letting people behind the curtain changes your relationship with them. They’ll feel a bond with you and see you as a genuine human being instead of a manipulative internet marketer. They’ll see the sweat equity and effort that goes into how you help people honestly. They’ll develop a deeper level of understanding and appreciation for what you do.
    Be helpful in a open and transparent way and surprising things will happen in your life and if your lucky they will gladly pay to hire you along the way.
    All the best,
    Brian Mcfarlane

  4. Hi Ben,

    The marketing truth is so less seductive than the magic bean solutions… all that hard work, persistence and careful execution of a rather boring strategy.

    I admit that some years back I very much wanted to believe there was an easier way as well, and tossed out quite a few bags of slow growing beans in favor of brighter, shinier ones backed by wilder promises.

    Over the past few years, I have searched for reputable teachers who tell it to me straight, and guide me in fine tuning processes that are already producing some results. They admit that they’re constantly learning as well, so not everything they discuss is the hard, cold gospel. I believe that the internet is maturing, and there are more of us out there every day. I’ve been reading your material for a few years and your emails are among the few that have survived the many “unsubscribe” purges. I look forward to the release of you upcoming book.



  5. Best article on Internet marketing (or any marketing) I have ever read.Congratulations Ben on putting clearly into words what I have felt now for ten years. I will pass this on … because I have a heart!

  6. I have always had an issue with marketing “buzz” words – I cant actually believe any really thinks that it is not a big discount, a]exclusive or ends in 2 secs – surely people cant be that stupid??

    I do however use some words – I use imagine, you and because quite a bit.

    I run a birth company. women are desperate to have normal births and the brain is a powerful tool when birthing. mindset is everything, so I start off with getting them to “imagine a calm relaxed birth” (ie for heavens sake STOP watching rubbish like one born) have trust, then comes “you” its personal, my service is personal – to rid the women of fear placed there by the media she has to trust herself. Next Is “because” whats wrong with being sliced open to “save” the babies life? why do I need to know this – because birth is life changing, the way you birth can protect your baby from things like cancer – that’s why. Only thing is I cant actually say that but women still need a reason to investigate why learning about birth is vital.

    I get a large amount of traffic to the website and my fb ads have a ctr of about 38% trouble is it doesn’t convert to bookings. The because side of things needs strengthening I think.

    1. Great points Liz. I think the reality is, words can have power (particularly “You” and “Because” and “Imagine”)! The difference is how we choose to use that power.

      You use it to help women to have peaceful, natural births, which is an amazing, life-affirming thing, and you’re a true entrepreneur hero in my book.

      Others use it to manipulate people into spending their hard-earned money on stuff they don’t need.

  7. Namaste Maharaj!

    Great wise words.

    I’m a victim of manipulative marketers like everybody trying to step in IM. Thousands of dollars wasted to finally realize I don’t like IM.

    I’m following you since you launched “Save The Pixel”. A great book, made from comon sense, it’s been really helpfull in my web design career.

    I can tell you that if you continue this “New Marketing Way”, I will follow you “like crazy” because you’re “killing it”!
    I don’t know if you’ll get “billions” with your Open Source Marketing but now you’re creating such a good karma than “ever”.

    If Frank and Ryan want to crucify you, then send us an email and we’ll be at your side and we “always look on the bright side of life”…please whistle 5 or 6 times to finish properly!


  8. Pretty damn gutsy, Mr. Hunt! Thanks for speakin’ truth & giving this fledgling entrepreneur another dose of encouragement. Best wishes to you, and all your motivated readers as well.

  9. Ben,

    This is a fantastic read! I have to admit that I am at a crossroads in my online career. I am a web designer who has been replaced by impressive low-cost themes on Themeforest and DIY sites like Wix and Squarespace. I’m even in the middle of “customizing” a site for a client that purchased an all-in-one theme on Themeforest. Sure, I’m annoyed at doing it, but the theme is a great idea, and the company selling it has made over $8 Million in sales. I can’t compete with that. I found my self getting upset, thinking “Why did I get into this business and work my tail off the last 6 years only to be replaced like this?”

    Then I realized, the reason this project is important to me is to finally get me to realize I need to make a shift. I’m currently reading your book “Web Design is Dead” and you confirmed how I am feeling. Although I’m not sure what my next step is, at least I know I need to open my eyes and mind to new ways of providing ethical products or services that provide real value to people.

    Someone had to say the things you said on your book and in this blog post. I am glad you did. Keep up the great work and thank you for instilling confidence in us that we can still provide value to clients while doing it ethically.



    1. Thanks Nathan. WDID kind of sets out your options: which are basically… A) To move into a high-end custom / in-house role; B) To become an asset designer, not a website designer, or C) To focus on marketing strategy and delivery, not design. Whichever option is right for you depends on your situation.

  10. Wow, such true words. So I’m not the only person in the IM/Ecommerce sector who also takes this view.

    If I mention “Internet Marketing” to a person who is just an ordinary member of the public, they assume it means I spend my time designing annoying “pop ups” or trying to game Google.

    It’s a pity its got like this, but its due to the behaviour of certain people in the sector. I’ve come across so many sharp operators and sharp practices, I myself now tend to cringe whenever I hear the words “Internet Marketing”, I’ve come to realize there is so much BS put about by the operators you mentioned and others in the online business world that I try not to even use the term “Internet Marketing” to describe what I do. I’m a content marketer, an ecommerce specialist, a copywriter, a digital marketer… Anything but “Internet Marketer”!

  11. Hi Ben, I just got introduced to you by Owen from http://www.marketingforartists.com , another really truthful guy.

    Marketing has become almost synonymous with lies, unfortunately. But I do see and feel the ring of truth and simplicity in your words. They are making me stop and consider once more – what am I trying to do and say and how can I help people with my painting and writing?

    It may seem difficult to “find yourself” among the onslaught of slick, sophisticated and endless grabs for your attention and credit card and, indeed, I feel often like a lost sheep on a cliff. But there’s that narrow road to truth that one must find and follow. Do what’s in your heart and believe in it.

    What always comes back to me is to help others. That’s all that really matters. If we truly take the time and effort to find out what people need and want and then provide it to the best of our ability, we would be a lot less unhappy, lonely and empty. We would be fulfilled.

    Best to you.

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