Some time ago, a friend asked me for advice on online businesses and online marketing and stuff. You know, because I started learning how to feed myself without relying on a job over 3 years ago. That’s also about the time I started writing here, which is what every Internet marketer will tell you to do, start a blog. Then I went ahead and wrote about maths and programming, which probably isn’t very lucrative. It hasn’t earned me enough to buy a cup of tea in any case. You don’t read much about my perilous journey in the online marketing/business world, because I haven’t thought it useful or interesting to write. Well, I thought maybe I should start telling you about it now.
Back to my friend. I was explaining how Google works (generally, because my friend might collapse from information overload). Out of curiosity, I asked him how he did searches. He said he types in the search term, hits the enter key, and clicks on whatever is on the screen. Galloping galaxies, he doesn’t even look?!?
I told him some of those links he clicked on probably cost some person out there 50 cents every time he clicked it. I’m more concerned with the unfiltered, unthinking, undead way he went about browsing the Internet. Perhaps Nicholas Carr was right, maybe Google is making us stupid.
My friend wasn’t technologically inclined. Then again, I know some programmers who were frightfully stupid in tech stuff… I am going to assume you know the general safety tips for browsing the Internet:
- password safety (but it’s moot if you use the same password on every online account)
- anti-virus software is set up (even supposedly impenetrable Macs and Unixes/Linuxes were compromised before)
- be careful about revealing sensitive, personal information
Now, I’m probably going to anger many Internet marketers, because in the process, I’ll expose some of the tricks they use to entice people to buy, join, sign up, and generally act on something. That’s assuming they even read my stuff. Maths and programming blog? I don’t see it happening soon.
But all that is unintentional (hey I do know the meaning of the word!). My aim is for you to browse the Internet with some awareness of what you’re doing.
The big takeaway is trust. As you probably gathered, I have a healthy amount of distrust. 3 years of studying marketing strategies and tactics, and having bought certain Internet marketing products (and felt cheated after that), and experimenting with the methods (my first significant outsourcing turned out to be a fun adventure) did that to me. This is going to be a series of articles, and I will start with the basic concept of the Internet:
Links can be open about where they lead. For example, http://polymathprogrammer.com/ is direct enough.
Links can also be disguised. For example, Get Awesome Delicious Chocolate Chip Cookies For Free! (hey don’t click that, you’ll spoil my search engine optimisations…)
This happens on a web page. What you may not know is, links can also be disguised in PDFs and emails. I understand that when you click on a link in a PDF, Adobe Reader puts a prompt before directing you to that link. Due to routine, habit, or just laziness, you might not take a look before confirming. Same thing with email, because we now have HTML emails.
The way to safeguard yourself is to hover over the link (but don’t click it yet). The actual URL will be displayed somewhere. On a web page, it might be displayed at the lower left corner of your browser. In a PDF or email, it’s probably hovering in a box close to where your mouse cursor is. It’s easy, takes just a couple of seconds to check, and can potentially save you tons of headaches.
Alright, here’s where all the Internet marketer hate will be directed. First, I want to say there’s nothing wrong with affiliate links. There’s nothing wrong with trying to earn a little bit of commission. I have affiliate links to products and services I believe in (and I can’t remember all the places where I put them, even though there aren’t many…). Usually Amazon book recommendation affiliate links. If you buy using my affiliate links, I get a small commission (which helps feed me and keep this blog running). If you buy directly, you pay the same price anyway, so I’d appreciate it if you buy using my link.
Here’s a “tip” I learnt from an Internet marketer (I’m not saying his name). You create a PDF ebook and give it for free or sell it. You write useful content, and give a recommendation on something, say web hosting. You deliberately do not name the web host. Just say something like “Here’s a good web host”, and transform that phrase into a link.
Now, the PDF is already out there in the open. What happens if you no longer want to be an affiliate of that particular web host? Ah, just change the redirection to another web hosting affiliate link. The link in the PDF remains intact, clicking the link goes to your page, which redirects to the new web host.
This is why you should try to glimpse at the destination URL first. With URL shorteners nowadays, this gets a little harder. You’ll have to trust the URL shortener service. I suggest you trust those that allow you to glimpse at the resulting URL (such as bit.ly). You still need to look at the unravelled URL though.
Which brings us to…
Uniform Resource Locators
Look for the complete domain name. http://polymathprogrammer.com/ is not the same as http://polymathprogrammer.com.sleazysite.com/ (I hope you appreciate all this search engine doubtification I’m doing…) Look for the first forward slash that’s not part of http:// or https://
Now look at the domain name. Do you trust it? If you don’t, then do you trust the source? Was it a search result? Do you trust the search engine (results can be manipulated somewhat to a certain extent)? Did it come from your friend? Do you trust your friend (it’s a weird question, I know)?
My point is for you to cultivate independent thinking. I mean, we’ve already got problems with cross-site scripting. Don’t make it easy for the bad guys by rampantly clicking on links.
Here’s a bonus. Look at the full URL link. Look for a question mark or some shortened form of the person’s name or website in URL. For example, http://somesite.com/?r=1234 (by query parameters) or http://anothersite.com/polymathprog/1234/ That’s usually an indication of an affiliate link. I would deduce that “r=1234” means 1234 (“r” probably stands for “referral”) is the ID number of the person, or a product ID.
That’s it for now. Let me know what you think in a comment, and I’ll see you soon.