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Next guru please?
Everyone has suddenly learnt how to write a compelling sales email and they are all targeting your internet mailbox. I know. They are also targeting mine and my clients', giving me a good few extra hours of work on the internet every week as I check and report on the merits of each.

Hence this article. Me, you ... we all have enough to do without spending forever on spam as well. Even just sifting through it all and deleting without taking the time to read still wastes loads of time that could be better used. If I have one thing to be thankful for in all of this it is that my internet clients actually do check with me before going off and spending their hard-earned cash on what is so often no more than a clever sales splurb with no substance.

For all of you who do not have someone to ask ... this is for you.

Test them by their own measure
One of the best spams I have yet received was forwarded to me by a client. It was from an organisation claiming that they could market his business on both the internet and hard copy in a way that nobody else could. As is always the case, the email was geared to convince with compelling argument and even went so far as to give some insight into how the internet market works. Part of this was warning about what other "bad" internet marketers could do to hurt their business. They raised valid points, but what was one of the major things they warned against? - SPAMMING! - The very thing that they themselves were doing.

Another one that runs a very close second is the email another client forwarded to me that had come from a web designer. His email was truly impressive. Graphics, professional layout and saying all the things that any web site owner would want to hear. The fact that his prices were exorbitant was beside the point - the market in web design seems to range from the sublime to the ridiculous anyway. What got me though was the regular reference to his own website, fully hyperlinked from the email .... and at the bottom of the mail a note to say that his site was unfortunately currently under construction.

That in itself is still perhaps not the end of the world. - I'm so busy with my clients' interests that I don't even remember what my own site looks like anymore. I would never remove my site before I had the new one ready, nor have dead links showing, but I can still relate to some extent. However, he also wrote at length about customised sites, carefully tailored to meet individual needs. Unique. - This appeared to have been a major part of what his clients would be paying him such high fees for. Unfortunately he gave examples of his past projects and I (naturally) had a look. Each one was a beautiful carbon copy of the last.

Finally, a third wonderful example of shooting yourself in the foot was an email that had been sent to over 200 businesses. The company that had sent it was supposedly (yet again) a professional internet marketing company, specialising in the specific industry of the email recipients. At the top of the email was the name of all 200+ businesses that they had emailed, en-masse, without even taking the time to hide all the recipient addresses. - What a way to make a prospective client believe that they will get personalised service!

When you get spam, ask yourself:

Is it a product that you want or need? - not as stupid as it sounds. If what you are currently using is working, this is not the time to change. No matter what they tell you, the chances are that you can survive without their great new service. Think too whether they are that great in the first place if they have been around for a while yet have to resort to spam.

Having said this, let's still not be too quick to judge, but test further ...

The Pressure Test
A lot of legitimate businesses, both on and off the internet, offer periodic specials that are time sensitive. If you don't act by a certain date, the special ends or the event has passed. It's logical, it's a real opportunity and it's good marketing. However, there is a distinct difference between a time sensitive offer and pure panic-inducing strategy.

A good rule of thumb is, ironically, that if it makes you feel highly pressured to act, it warrants taking extra time to think about. Move beyond the sense of panic and think logically for a moment.

Is what they are offering really something that you cannot live without or is this just what their approach is designed to make you feel?

Is what they are offering really not available anywhere else? (quality as well as the actual offering itself)

Will it really be gone tomorrow or will someone else, somewhere else still have it on offer?

A seminar, for example ... is that information really only available to one person out of all the millions? - Do you really have to sign right now? (this is the internet, remember?)

In terms of internet marketing opportunities, ask yourself ...

Is the company that is emailing you displaying the level of professionalism that you would want your business to project or have they just mastered the art of writing an internet sales letter? - Good copy is only one part of good marketing. At the end of the day that copy has to be seen by the right people, in the right way, at the right time.

Are they a good example of what they are trying to sell?

Is the mail personalised in any way or is it very clearly just a shotgun aimed in your direction?

Would you want to be marketed in the same vein or with the same underlying attitude?

Are they legitimate in their claims?

Are they legitimate, period? - In other words, do they use strategies and techniques which are considered ethical and sound?

This deals with an entirely different, but important issue. In itself it may not be a deciding factor for you because perhaps you are happy to get your business out there at all costs - that's up to you ... but you should know if risks are being taken using your good name and the decision to go ahead in this manner should be an informed one on your part.

In case you are wondering, I am talking about using internet marketing techniques that the search engines are strongly opposed to. If you are going to be marketed on the internet using methods that could get you banned from the search engines, this is something that you should know and decide, not something that you find out after you've been banned.

The Value of Testimonials Check the claims that they make and the testimonials and references that they give. Some give them and some don't. Not giving them doesn't mean the company is bad. Similarly, showing testimonials doesn't guarantee that they are good. Often this is no more than a sales ploy because they know that most people will not even try to check, but hopefully get caught up in the hype and sign up anyway.

Some testimonials have value and some don't. The issue here is not to take for granted that, because they have quoted them, they are real. Call the bluff and check. Visit their websites. If it is a company who want to market you on the internet through their own website, the website in question should be professional and marketable. Appealing. Look at the content. If they claim to be the biggest, check their current client base. Are they really big or are they just hoping that one day they will be if they can get enough people like you to sign up and make them big? Don't be scared to contact some of the clients that they have listed and ask.

If it is a company wanting to do your website for you, look at other sites they have done. Is there versatility? Are they professional? Do they measure up to the search engines?

The internet marketing website that I mentioned earlier had this inherent "wannabe" flaw as well. In fact, they had numerous (in my opinion, fatal) flaws. They claimed to be the biggest of their kind, yet all that they had was a very limited number of basic entries - clearly lifted off someone else's database. There was not one full entry from a paid advertiser. Now this in itself is not a problem. - Everyone starts somewhere. What is a problem is the fact that they were making claims on which they fell far short.

Secondly, they boasted about a piece of technology on the site and claimed that this was part of their marketing edge (for you, the advertiser). When I went in to check, this particular feature was not actually functional. It was merely set up to look as if it was and it was only because I really paid attention that I realised it wasn't.

Third flaw: a very powerful aspect of their sales pitch was that they had done so well in marketing themselves on the internet that there was now a huge demand for them to market the industry (hence the reason for them spamming my client in the first place - it was actually a favour according to them). As I already said, they had no paid advertisers on their site. If the demand had been so huge, the businesses who had allegedly clamoured for the service would surely have been the first in the door? The more glaring point however was that, when I checked them on all the search engines, they did not come up within 15 pages (or thereafter) for their main keywords. Google did not even know of their existence and nor did Alexa. - So where exactly have they achieved this huge success with marketing themselves on the internet? The fact is that none of their claims have any validity ..... but they do write a great sales letter!

This brings me to the next test ...

Run them through Google
Why? - Google is one of the few search engines that still work on a free listing system. Also, it uses DMOZ, a free directory, so there is no reason not to be there. It also buys you free credibility. Anyone worth their salt knows that one of the first things to do with any website is get it listed on DMOZ and to get Google to recognise (visit and rank) the site as fast as possible, even if your main marketing focus is not going to be Google in the long run.

One of the quickest ways to check if a site has been indexed by Google is to go into the Google site and type the website's address into the search bar. If Google shows no results, the site is not listed.

To make sure there is perspective on this, I must add that it can take a new site a couple of months to get listed on Google (it shouldn't if you know what you're doing, but it can). If a site doesn't come up in the specific search result, it could therefore be because they are too new. However, if a business claims that the internet is their business and that they already have a strong web presence, then they absolutely should be on Google!

If they aren't, two possible reasons are:

They have not made the effort
They have been banned.

Test for a site entry at the google website.

They should also be listed in DMOZ. This is a directory that is edited by humans and the process can therefore take time, so do take into account the age of the site. I have also personally experienced glitches with them sometimes. If the site has been around for more than 3 months, there is however little reason for it not to be there. If it isn't, it could be because of a glitch (in which case you should find it there in the near future), but normally it either has not been submitted or it has been submitted and rejected. Neither scenario bodes well if you are considering advertising on them. You can run this check at the DMOZ website.

A second Google test is to see what page rank the particular site has. This tells you whether Google considers the site to have value. If the site has a ranking of zero or 1 or the ranking bar is grey, something is wrong (unless, as I said, the site is brand new, in which case it will rank zero until Google visits and ranks it). Every time a new page is added to a site, that page will have a zero ranking until the next major Google visit - 2 months at most. A zero ranking can however indicate that the site has been banned, while a grey bar almost guarantees it. - All in all there are numerous things that influence a Google page ranking, newness being but one.

To see a Google page ranking you need to download the Google toolbar and I'm not suggesting everyone rushes out to install it, but at least be aware of it and, if necessary, ask the company what their rankings are, especially on the pages that you will be advertising on.

A word of caution here: it is easy to get caught up in witch-hunts and this is not what I am proposing at all. Everything has to be taken in context and this is why I apply a number of tests to any site I check. Going with just one set of parameters is foolish in my opinion and can lead to a very skewed picture, which could be unfair on a perfectly legitimate business with legitimate reasons for particular rankings.

If you want to test it properly and get the full picture, you need to apply as many of the tests as possible and then look at the overall picture presented.

Run them through Alexa
Like Google, Alexa has a toolbar that can be downloaded to check on the Alexa ranking for any site. Once again, listing on Alexa is free and therefore available to all sites.

What Alexa does is give you an indication of how popular a site is in the internet. It is not absolute, but provides a good rule of thumb overview.

One of the ways that it differs completely from Google is that with Google zero is the worst ranking and 10 is the highest. Sites are essentially measured against themselves. - In other words, a million different sites can all have the same ranking.

With Alexa on the other hand, number 1 is the best and all sites are ranked against each other. In other words, a site that is really low on the list of websites in terms of internet popularity could have a ranking of over 5 million.

A site that has an Alexa Ranking within 250 000 is a serious site and worth advertising on. One that is within the top 100 000 has probably been around on the internet for a while and is doing very well. If it is in the top 50 000, they are getting serious internet traffic!

So ... in an ideal world, if you are going to advertise on a site, choose one that matches your target market, with a combination of a low Alexa number and high Google number.

But what do you do if part of this picture is missing? Let's say you find a site that has a good Alexa ranking but isn't doing too well in Google. What then? - It still doesn't mean they are not a good portal for advertising. They may have flaws that hurt them with Google, but still be really popular with human visitors. At the end of the day, it is people who make a site viable, not search engines and we need to be careful not to confuse the means with the end.

The good Alexa ranking says that they are being taken seriously despite a less than great ranking with Google. On the other hand, a good advertising site could have a lower Alexa ranking purely because it is highly specialised and targeted. - Rather 100 visitors who buy than 10 000 who dont. So what now?

Run them through search engines and directories
While the Alexa ranking tells you whether they are getting good amounts of traffic or not, the search engines and directories will indicate whether the traffic has any value.

Getting loads of traffic does not mean it is a good site. You can buy traffic at the click of a button and this often has no value at all. The high number of visitor shown could be because the site is using pop-ups and pop-unders (or even automated clicking programmes!) to create an impression of high traffic.

At the end of the day people must be visiting the site because they want to and, once there, they must be looking and ultimately "buying", not just clicking straight off again.

This is the "why" behind doing search engine checks. Now back to the "how".

Very simply, pick search engines that you believe the site should appear on in order to reach its internet market, then do a search on the main keywords that should apply to that site.

For example, if the site is about used cars in South Africa, do a search in Ananzi for used cars or second-hand cars. If they do not come up in the first three pages of results, they are not being found. If they don't come up at all, there's a major problem.

On the other hand, let's say this same site specialises in used cars being exported to America. Their Ananzi position is irrelevant because their market is not in South Africa. In this case they should be featuring on the American search engines and directories and this is where the results count.

Just because the site does not come up high in the search results for the biggest search engines (eg; Google) or the search engine that you personally prefer, this does not mean that they do not feature on search engines in general or that they have not done their job. There are hundreds of search engines and the company could have deliberately chosen alternatives to the big ones for good reason. - If in doubt, ask them.

Sidenote: To do this test effectively, you need to understand the market that the site is aiming at. - If you are even vaguely considering advertising on them, you should already have this insight. If you don't, then perhaps it is time for you to relook at your own basic marketing strategies.

Remember, the key to this testing is the big picture.

In an extreme example: if you have a site that has an Alexa ranking of over 2 million, a Google ranking of 2 AND it doesn't feature in any search results, I think it may be safe to say that you have either a fledgeling or a lemon.

If this website is the core site of the person or business who wants to market you on it, save your cash. - At least for now. If you are still concerned that you may lose out by not advertising on them, monitor it for a month. If their rankings improve, they are actively working at it and could well be a good bet for the future and worth getting in with during their early days.

Finally, a quick look at one of the other spam offerings that keep flooding everyones mailboxes: web designers. If someone wants to create or manage your website for you and the websites that they show as examples have this same combo of bad results, once again, save your money and at least monitor the performance first.

A website is not just about a clever or "cool" design. It has to be designed to give you the best possible opportunity to get business from it and this involves a host of factors.

Perhaps next time we'll have a closer look at some of these. Right now, I've just realised that yet another few hours of my life have been given up to spammers, but perhaps I should be thankful. At least they gave me my material for this article.

Until next time, remember:

- Cheap can be nasty, but expensive doesn't guarantee better results.

- Look beyond the clever sales talk, hype and glitz to where the rubber hits the road.

- Ask the hard questions before you start parting with hard cash.

(Don't you just love clichés!)

New articles and a list of related internet resources will be added to this section on a regular basis, compliments of The Webmaster.

If you would like to comment on the above article or suggest any internet or web-related topics of interest for inclusion in this section, please email us


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