If you’re a self-hosted WordPress blogger, you know the importance of a good theme. It’s the first thing your visitors see when they come to your blog, and as the old saying goes, you only get one chance at a first impression. If you don’t have a good WordPress theme, that first impression may be the only one you get. That’s why I use StudioPress.
…If sinners entice you, do not consent… If they say, “…We shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder; throw in your lot among us…” …do not walk in the way with them… for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood. …Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.
Wouldn’t it be nice to be rich? Not just a little rich… I mean so rich that you can swim around in your money like Scrooge McDuck. You would be completely free from the shackles of debt, free to do anything you want in life.
The Internet and Scams
The creation and development of the Internet has spawned a multitude of ways for the clever and industrious to make that kind of money online. Though many online entrepreneurs have been able to use this technology in legitimate ways, the medium itself aids those who want to disguise their true identities to trick, manipulate, and otherwise harm unsuspecting prey.
The perpetrators masquerade in various forms. Sometimes they are poor or in trouble and need some kind of help. If you’re reading this post, you’ve probably heard of this scam involving a Nigerian needing help with international wire transfers. Sometimes they pretend to be representatives of the lottery, congratulating you on your winnings (as soon as you pay the processing fee).
Just like effective sales copy, these scams work because they promise to satisfy a desire of the reader — specifically in these cases, a desire for money.
They fail because they are over-the-top… and because they have been publicized.
Introducing the Banner Ad Scam
Savvy netizen that you are, you may think that these scams are so obvious that you would never fall for one. I thought the same thing until I got this email:
Direct ad sales like this do come along from time to time, so I wasn’t particularly alarmed by this email. And I want to make some money from blogging, so I sent back a request to see what kind of banner ad he wanted to run. I got this email in response:
If you go to the website mentioned in the email, you will find banner-sized .gif images for Lacoste. In retrospect, they look pretty shabby compared to the sleek design of the official Lacoste website.
Not thinking clearly, I was still operating under the assumption that this might be legit, so I sent back a pricing offer. I expected some kind of negotiation, but there was none. (Some bloggers who have also been targeted by these people have reported that they sent back ridiculous offers, like $1,000, and they were also “approved.”) Martin replied with this:
I had never heard of an advertising company needing publishers (in this case bloggers) to install a special plugin to serve ads. It seemed highly suspicious that I needed to install this ADV plugin, so I started doing some research (which I should have already been doing).
Who is Behind the ADV Plugin Banner Ad Scam?
It turns out that the same person or people have been using the same modus operandi under various pseudonyms for at least a couple months. I got an email from “Martin Lefevre” from the “Rita Agency,” but other bloggers have received identical emails from:
- Killian Blanchard — Jino Agency
- Rayan Meyer — Bevesto Agency
- Martin Dumont — (agency name unknown)
- Jules Barbier — Marka Agency
- Oscar Meunier — Kervel Agency
- Noa Morin — Kara Agency
Regardless of the name used, the scammer sends out the same emails, pitching an ad deal for Lacoste and then requesting the blogger to install the ADV plugin. The scammers have a form website that they copy for each domain name, corresponding to each spurious company. The websites look like this:
What’s in it for the Scammer?
It’s unclear at this time what the end goal is for Martin Lefevre (or whatever her name is). If the scammer(s) are able to phish a blogger’s payment account details they might try to do something malicious with that information. Another possibility is some sort of exploit with the ADV plugin that they are using.
I’m not a PHP expert by any means and would not have been able to see exploits in the code even if there were any, but other bloggers reporting on this scam have shared that there doesn’t appear to be anything in the code as it is. Perhaps this was foolish on my part, but I ran the plugin on a sand-boxed WordPress site, and it seemed to do what the scammers said it would.
Of course, this is a huge security issue. Installing this third-party plugin opens a door to the scammers to potentially access the innards of your blog and do all kinds of nasty things with it.
Though social engineering and hackery are both possibilities, they are merely speculations. It is yet to be discovered for sure what these scammers are after.
Who’s at Risk?
Because their strategy requires the use of a third-party WordPress plugin, only bloggers who run a self-hosted WordPress blog are susceptible to this scam. Though if the exploit is through the plugin itself, it’s possible that the same kind of attack could be recreated for other content management systems like Joomla and Drupal.
I suspect WordPress has been targeted because of its popularity.
Of all the open source content management systems (CMS) available to bloggers, WordPress is by far the most popular. Famous WordPress developer Yoast recently released this infographic on WordPress usage, showing that as of March 2012 WordPress is used on 72.4 million sites worldwide. Compare this to Joomla’s usage on 1.6 million and Drupal usage on a mere 684,055 sites, and it becomes clear why the WordPress community is such a large target.
Do You Know Martin Lefevre?
Have you had any interaction with these scammers or other banner ad scams? Let us know your story in the comments below.
Update: My Site Was “Rejected”
A few days after Martin told me to install the plugin, I got this final email from him:
Another Update (1/26/2012):
As if any confirmation was needed, today I received an official word from LaCoste. After I was contacted by Martin Lefevre, I contacted LaCoste through the contact form on their website. Here’s what I wrote:
Dear Lacoste, I am a blogger and recently received an email from a “Martin Lefevre,” supposedly from an advertising company name “Rita Agency.” Lefevre offerd me an advertising deal displaying banner ads for Lacoste, however the situation seems illegitimate. I would like to know if you have any knowledge of Martin Lefevre or this Rita Agency. Please let me know if this is a true representative of your company. Thank you.
Nearly a month later, I finally got a response from a LaCoste representative:
Sorry for the late feedback regarding your email mid-December.
We had to investigate around the world with our digital agencies and legal team.
As you assumed, and you can read in the link below, this request was totally illegal and we thank you for letting us know.
So, there you have it.
If you’ve been blogging for a while, you’ve probably realized that it takes a LOT of time to make it work. Sure, technologically, the blog will stay there as long as you pay your hosting fees, but if you want a thriving, engaging blog that brings lots of traffic (and lots of money) you have to keep feeding it with new content.
The problem for many bloggers is that they don’t have time to frequently and consistently write quality posts. I’ve been there. Having (or building) a successful blog is a full-time job, and for bloggers who are trying to make a go of it on the side will almost certainly run into this problem.
Here’s a critical overview of why I think they suck.
Web Traffic Control
This website is based on the idea that people who have something to advertise will pay people with a blog to publish a guest blog post about the product or service they are advertising. Web Traffic Control is the “service” that brings the two parties together. The advertiser pays WTC $30 per post. WTC keeps half the money, publishes the post on your blog, and gives you, the blogger, $15.
That doesn’t sound too bad, right? So why does Web Traffic Control suck? Several reasons:
- You have to be at least a Google Page Rank 2. Realistically, if you are any good at blogging, this isn’t that hard to do, but it does take time.
- You have to have a self-hosted WordPress blog to participate. Though WordPress is one of the best blogging software options available, not every blogger uses it, and not all the bloggers who use it are self-hosting (even though they probably should be if they hope to make any serious money).
- You have to grant WTC login credentials as an editor. Though the system appears to be set up to publish blog posts automatically, that is without someone from WTC personally accessing your site, the idea of giving login credentials to an outside party certainly creates a sense of uneasiness.
- NO ONE IS USING IT! The first three issues might not be such a big deal if Web Traffic Control actually worked. The problem is that they don’t have enough advertisers participating to supply the bloggers with any content to publish. I’ve had an account set up with WTC for a few months and haven’t had any posts show up. Until more advertisers start using it, WTC is a waste of time.
Blogger Link Up
The Blogger Link Up network is low-tech in comparison to WTC. It’s essentially an email newsletter sent out to everyone on the list three times a week. Users who have guest posts to give away or blog owners who need a specific blog post written enter that information on the website, and the offers and requests get sent out to the people on the list.
Each newsletter starts off with a brief message from the webmaster (which is sometimes useful and sometimes not so useful), and then the list of offers and requests.
On the positive side, I think the BLU is a great concept for networking with other people in the blogosphere. And if you keep your eye out, you can come across some good opportunities (I had an article published on a Page Rank 7 site through a connection I made with it).
The problem is there is no quality control. Just like any other free-to-use ad site (cf. Craigslist) the offers are only as good as the person behind them. This usually means a lot of junk posts. The offer in the newsletter might seem good, but when you get the final product, more often than not it turns out to be a poorly-written, barely grammatical piece of fluff content with no substance and a link in the author byline to a site that is not related to the actual blog post at all.
I regret some of the junk that I’ve published on my sites through shady offers on Blogger Link Up.
My Blog Guest
Similar to the Blogger Link Up, My Blog Guest is a network of writers and publishers. Instead of being a newsletter, it feels more like a social networking site where there is actually the possibility of interaction between the two parties.
My Blog Guest has one up on BLU because they review the articles in the offers to make sure they are original, and for the most part they are of higher quality than BLU. The ones I’ve received are grammatical, have substance, and are usually written by someone with experience in the field they’re writing about.
The problem? The articles lack panache. They are informative but impersonal. You might get some search engine traffic from these, but dry content isn’t going to connect with your readers.
Back to the Basics
After my brief sojourn in the safari of guest blog post hunting, I’d like to think I’ve returned a wiser blogger. By and large, it’s a barren wasteland, filled with ghost towns, sickly game, and jackals.
I’m sorry to my regular readers for publishing some of the refuse that has been on my blog recently. I’ve realized the error of my ways and will be more selective in what is published from here on out.
If you are running a blog of your own, hopefully this post will help you learn from my mistakes. Don’t publish fluff content just to keep the search engines happy; your readers are more important. If your schedule doesn’t allow you to post quality content as frequently as you planned, reduce your frequency, not the quality of your posts. Don’t partner with just anyone willing to throw you a bone — publish good content by people with authority in your niche.
Do it well, or don’t do it at all.
There are two powerful ways that you too can use Twitter to drive in thousands of new readers to your blog each month and enable your blogs to go viral, getting them in front hundreds of thousands of new prospects.
The first and perhaps easiest way to reach new prospects for your blog with Twitter is by using the Twitter Badge in your blog posts. This enables readers who really love one of your blog posts to instantly re-Tweet your blog post to their Twitter followers with just one click. This gets your blog out in front of tons of new potential customers without you doing a thing.
The badge also acts as a counter and show how many times your blog posts have been re-Tweeted by others. This also boosts your credibility. People like to like things that others think are cool too. So the more times that a blog post has been re-Tweeted the more perceived value it has. Along with your blog analytics this can also act as a guide to help you create better blog posts.
Obviously common sense tells you that creating more posts like the ones that have been re-Tweeted the most will help you to boost your traffic even further and will be of most interest to those who are help in you promote your blog by re-Tweeting your content.
The second incredibly powerful way to use Twitter to promote your blog and drive in new readers is by Tweeting clips from your blog with a link back to it. In contrast to just bombarding Twitter followers with sales messages this gives you a way to offer real value and funnel your followers through to conversion.
The 140 characters per Tweet allowed by Twitter is very restricting so use URL shortening tools like bit.ly to make them smaller and get more into each message. Note that if you sign up for bit.ly instead of using the free version you will be able to use custom URLs. If you are using a WordPress blog, which is highly recommended you can use the new Publicize feature to automatically syndicate your blog posts to Twitter and Facebook.
Don’t just limit yourself to one Twitter account either. Professional Internet marketers use multiple Twitter accounts to reach different niche markets and drive in even more traffic. You should also be having all of your staff members and contractors Tweeting links to your blog posts as well in order to reach their followers and their follower’s followers.
One real estate investment education company has used this strategy to generate an average of 800 views to each of their daily blog posts and become ranked number 1 in their category by the Inc. 500. Just think about it, that’s almost 30,000 more hits on your blog each month. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out you only need a small percentage of those readers to buy from you to make a killing online.
What is blog branding? It’s very similar to product branding. It’s a way of ensuring that your readers remember the look and feel of your blog, as well as its name and purpose. Blog branding firmly entrenches your blog into the memory of the internet, thus establishing its presence. Here are 15 ways to brand your blog.
1. CLEARLY DEFINE YOUR BLOG’S PURPOSE
Clearly defining your blog’s purpose helps you stick to a topic, gives you ideas for posts and defines and narrows keyword scope for SEO. What a clear purpose also does is to set you apart as unique from other blogs in your niche area. Highlight your blog’s purpose on your About page and refer to it in your posts.
2. CREATE A MISSION STATEMENT
Create a mission statement that states what your blog represents. This lets your visitors know why they’re visiting your blog and how your blog is worth their time. Highlight your mission statement after your blog title, in emails, in your comment signature and so on. Your aim is to make people associate your mission statement with your blog and vice versa.
3. CHOOSE A UNIQUE COLOR COMBINATION
Think of any product line or company; what colors snap to mind? Or, think of a color combination; which organization or product snaps to mind? Transfer this concept to your blog. Use a unique color combination and ensure that this same combination is repeated in your posts, newsletters, personal emails, digital signature and so on. The color combo becomes synonymous with your blog.
4. CHOOSE AN ORIGINAL BLOG DESIGN
An original design can do great wonders for your blog’s branding. Find a design that distinguishes your blog from the thousands of other blogs out there. It’s a good idea to create your own design; you can customize your colors, add custom blog headers and footers and design new fonts.
5. PICK AN ORIGINAL NAME FOR YOUR BLOG
Pick an original name that reflects your blog’s content and its purpose. If possible, get a .com extension for your blog, as this is the most common one. If you are not able to do so, indicate the extension when you mention your blog name. Keep your blog’s name short, easy to remember, easy to spell and niche-relevant.
6. PUBLICIZE YOUR BLOG
Popularize your blog on sites such as Technorati and StumbleUpon, get backlinks, post comments on other blogs and send out email newsletters. Guest blogging is a great way to bring visitors in to your site. This not only raises awareness, but also earns you links. Guest blogging is also a great way to showcase those writing skills!
7. POST IDENTIFIABLE COMMENTS
When you post comments on other blogs, make sure you mention your name, followed by your blog’s name in the Name field. Be consistent about this. Soon your comments will be easily identified by your name and your blog’s name. You get more search engine credit this way.
8. STICK TO A CONSISTENT WRITING STYLE
The way you write is one of the main parameters that visitors use to determine the overall quality of your blog. A consistent writing style will help you strength your blog’s brand. Decide on a style and stick to it so that people know what to expect when they see a post from you. The writing style fits in with the blog’s branding just as much as other elements do.
9. DON’T CHANGE YOUR TAGLINE
A tagline is not mandatory but helps to stick your blog in people’s memories. Create a descriptive, short, catchy and easy to remember tagline. Start using it consistently with your posts. Don’t experiment with a bunch of taglines on your posts before you finalize on one; you’ll only lose out on branding mileage if you do so. Add the tagline to your website’s tag, so that the tagline is displayed prominently whenever your blog is displayed on search engine results.
10. DESIGN A GREAT BLOG LOGO
A great logo represents your blog visually, just as a country is represented by its flag. Your logo might require a certain amount of investment; even if you have to scrimp on other investments, make the logo your priority. Your logo will be the first thing that people see and the image they’ll recall later.
11. DESIGN A UNIQUE FAVICON
Design a favicon using your logo and the initials of your blog’s name. Your favicon appears on your user’s bookmark, which makes them recognize your blog site immediately.
12. LET YOUR BLOG’S DESIGN FLOW WITH ITS CONTENT
Match your blog’s content with its design and vice versa. It’s incongruous to blog on race cars on a background of flowers or landscape scenes. If you’re providing serious news, opt for a traditional design. If you are blogging about celebrities, use interesting celebrity collages on your borders.
13. POPULARIZE YOUR BLOG’S NAME ON SOCIAL MEDIA SITES
Create accounts for your blog on various social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and FriendFeed and so on. Getting your brand within social networks is like advertising in the front page of all dailies in the world. Even if you are a well known figure, create social networking accounts on your blog’s name.
14. SPLURGE A LITTLE ON ADVERTISING YOUR BLOG
A paid promotional effort, added to all the above efforts, can put your blog on the map more quickly and effectively. Evaluate your budget constraints and decide how much advertising you can afford. By using paid advertising, you can deliver tailored messages to specific audiences.
15. SPREAD THE WORD
Use your blog’s name and your logo in as many places as you possibly can. This has the same psychological impact as product advertising has. Advertisers barrage the public with a repeated image and message for months, to get people to instantly recognize the product. Input your logo, your mission statement, your blog’s name and URL into your email signatures, guest post bylines, online forums, Ad banners and so on.
|This has been a guest post by David. David works for conversion rate optimization Company and helps businesses in landing page optimization, conversion optimizations and affiliate marketing.
If you are interested in contributing a guest post, please contact us.
Top image by Acradenia