Today I downloaded an e-copy of someone’s book. It wasn’t a difficult thing to do – click on a link, save a file – but there was one step which struck me. I had to fill in a box telling the site my email address. It wasn’t until after I’d done it that it occurred to me to wonder what purpose it served.
And of course it didn’t serve any purpose at all. The .mobi file wasn’t emailed to me – it downloaded straight to my desktop. There really only was one reason to have me fill it in.
Over the past few years, I’ve had more contact than I really ever wanted with the world of internet marketing, and I have an extremely sour opinion of it and the people who purport to be able to help you to make millions out of it. There is, however, one thing which all e-marketing ‘gurus’ have in common. Every single one will tell you that it’s important to ‘build a list’. For some of them, in fact, that’s their only secret.
When someone tells you about the importance of building a list, what they mean is a mailing list, and these days what that means is a list of email addresses. And the purpose of this list is to enable you to spam people.
It works like this.
You find a product you want to market. Let’s say it’s a self-help book published in e-format. The writing standard for these works is woefully low, but the product itself is not the most important thing. You spend about ten quid registering an internet domain name. A lot of firms which let you do this will also help you bolt together a website. The website doesn’t have to be subtle; it just needs to lead the eye of the visitor to what is known as a ‘call to action.’ You’ve all seen a call to action. It’s the button that says ‘Want To Know More? Click Here!’
And you click the button and you’re taken to a page to sign up for an email newsletter, or to give your email address so further details can be sent to you.
Let’s say you do hand over your email address. What happens then?
Internet marketing is what we used to call ‘direct marketing’. Direct marketing was what used to come through our letterboxes in bewildering leaflets and flyers and junk mail. Back then, the list of addresses people used to compile was a list of house addresses. These grew so huge and important that they took on a value of their own, and they would be sold on from one company to another. That’s why you used to get junk mail from a sports leisure clothing company when the only firm you ever gave your address to was Barclaycard. Mailing lists got sold on. I’m presuming – although I have no evidence of this myself – that it still goes on with email address lists.
Email is cheap. It costs as much to send a million emails as it costs to send a hundred. It can be automated and scheduled. There are courses purporting to give you the secret of the perfect email campaign – usually it boils down to sending one sales email to every four or five ‘newsy’ ones. This is where the marketing takes place, not on your website.
But wait, you say. People are not stupid. Spam is obvious and annoying and people will unsubscribe. Well, yes. But suppose you got an ebook about tropical fish – something that turned out to be copy-and-pasted and cobbled together from all over the internet, but it was free and all you had to do to get it was fill in your email address when you pushed the ‘What To Know More?’ button. Ever since, you’ve been getting an email every month. They’re friendly and chatty and they each have one or two tips on keeping tropical fish which somehow didn’t make it into the free book. Every fourth email, though, is advertising some kind of product related to tropical fish, or maybe just another ebook. You can unsubscribe, sure, but when you click the unsubscribe link a page comes up that you have to fill in, maybe giving your reasons and so on. It’s a lot more effort to unsubscribe than to subscribe, and the sheer weight of numbers is on the marketers’ side. Say you have a list of a hundred thousand email addresses and fully half of them ubsubscribe in the first couple of years. That still leaves you with fifty thousand people. If only five percent of them respond to your sales email – which cost you next to nothing to send – that’s two and a half thousand people. If they each pay, say, two pounds for the product you’re pushing, that’s five grand you’ve made. And all it’s cost you is a tenner for the domain name, a few more quid for the email scheduling service, a few hours’ work.
And that’s for just one website. One ‘marketing guru’ I encountered said you shouldn’t expect to start making any money until you had at least fifty websites up and running for various products. Fifty websites, at a tenner per domain name… Well. As part of the ‘marketing guru’s’ service, he also hosted your websites – for a small consideration.
Why should this stuff bother me, apart from the obvious affront that people and things like this exist in the first place? Well, I recently also had cause to have contact with the DWP’s Universal Jobmatch, quite possibly the most inaptly-named thing ever hosted online.
Universal Jobmatch is a website for looking for jobs. It’s not a requirement to register, but as of 2013, JobCentres can require applicants for Jobseeker’s Allowance to use it, on threat of sanctions. Partly, I guess, because it enables the DWP to monitor a claimant’s jobsearch directly. Again, this isn’t mandatory, but if you refuse to give the DWP access to your job search you can be sanctioned. In my experience, many of the vacancies advertised on Universal Jobmatch either don’t exist, have already been filled, or never respond to applications, but you have to use it in order to prove you’re looking for work.
The majority of the vacancies, again in my experience, are advertised by job agencies. And to apply for any of these jobs, you have to register with the agency – a simple matter of giving your email address. And then the spam starts arriving. Your name is on a list. Then two lists. Then three. And so on. It’ll be for courses, retraining, books on how to write CVs. The government is, effectively, empowering spammers and making it a condition of claiming benefits.
I’m not involved with Universal Jobmatch any more, but I still get spam email from the firms I signed up with when I was. Occasionally, I get spam email from other firms which I don’t recall signing up with, which is what makes me think email lists get sold on.
There isn’t really any great revelation to all this. Internet marketing is a con; the only people making any significant money out of it are the people ‘teaching’ others how to do it. Universal Jobmatch is a work of cynical evil which enables firms to spam the jobless and it might be scrapped in 2016 anyway. The only way to avoid this stuff is not to click the ‘Want To Learn More?’ button. Ever.
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