Sleazy marketing destroys your own brand

When you descend into unethical and annoying marketing tactics, your desperation shows. You destroy your reputation in pursuit of questionable gains. And it’s permanent.

Today, I’ll share two marketing messages that are object lessons in how marketing can backfire. Each was an automated message directed at me in a personal communications channel, but in this age, every message you send is public. These are not mistakes, which are forgivable, or borderline cases. They’re the marketing equivalent of robocalls. Judge for yourself.

SEO gone rogue at Selectra

I got this alarming message in my inbox yesterday (last name has been changed).

URGENT: Amendment needed to page on your website

From: Ella Bxxx <>
Oct 10, 2019, 8:21 AM

Good Afternoon,
I hope this email finds you well.
It has come to our attention that your website contains a broken PDF on the stepping down of Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, the website no longer exists meaning the relevant information is no longer apparent as it was before. We have seen insight data and we are now aware that your website was included in the list of referrers.

As a matter of urgency, I would like to request that you update this link as soon as possible.
The link is located on –

under the anchor text – 
press release
The link that should replace this is:
Please let me know when this has been completed. A member of our team will be making a follow-up call to ensure this is handled effectively and efficiently.
Thank you for your collaboration, and have a great day.
Kind Regards

Ella Bxxx
Communications officer
UK | Selectra

44 (0) 203286 2193

I did indeed publish a post on the press release about Dick Costolo’s stepping down in 2015, and the press release link is indeed no longer working. But who is Selectra and why are they messaging me about it?

Selectra is a company that offers deals on energy, broadband, and telecoms in the UK. It has nothing to do with Twitter. Here’s what they did:

They noticed the Twitter press release had moved.

They found it and reposted it on their own site.

Then they found all the backlinks (including mine) and sent us automated threatening emails. It’s all in the name of SEO — more inbound links to their page means a higher page rank. Although why they’d want to rank for a press release on Twitter’s CEO from 2015, I don’t know.

Ella, who is listed on LinkedIn as a Link Builder, not a “Communications officer,” almost got her wish to have me link to her site, but I’ve deactivated the links in her email. But she’s got free publicity for her email address, at least. And perhaps this post will rank for “Selectra unethical,” “Selectra loser,” and “Selectra sleazy,” and Ella’s name (at least before I removed it from the post).

What Selectra has proven is that they’re willing to engage in pointless and questionable tactics. That reputation will be harder to escape than any tiny SEO advantage this stupidity would generate.

Auto-messaging followers

I received this direct message from Marylee MacDonald on Twitter.

Here’s what’s going on here: if you follow MacDonald, you get an automated DM in response. I sent my response to her DM in April after I received it; she responded in October.

I know nothing about Booktasters; it’s apparently a service for authors to get their books reviewed. A tiny link at the bottom of its site and some digging revealed that they’ll promise you 50 reviews for $500 — over a 12-month period.

That might be worth it, but I consider automatically sending a direct message to Twitter followers to be so annoying as to be out of bounds. “I do not have the time to research everyone on my followers list?” If you have time to set up a message to automatically spam me but not to research or respond to me for six months, then you’re doing it wrong. MacDonald is the Booktasters “brand ambassador.” How do you think she’s doing?

Act like everyone sees what you’re doing

Decades ago, I had a marketing idea that was a little over the boundary of propriety. I don’t even remember what it was. What I do remember is what my boss at the time said to me: “How would you feel if everyone knew you did this? How would you feel if your mom knew?”

I thank that boss for helping me decide not to go forward.

I think his principle is the best. When you are planning a marketing tactic, imagine that everyone knew exactly what you were doing. Would you still do it? Because today, everyone will know what you did.

SEO sleaze tactics: No.

Auto-DMs: No.

Robocalls: No.

What’s on your list of sleazy marketing tactics? Who’s doing it? And do you think their moms would approve?

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  1. “Because today, every will know what you did.”
    …and every editor will be called on editing lapses – lol

  2. It’s called linkbuilding dipshit? Get a life.. putting a person’s real name and number on your website for ridicule… you should be ashamed of yourself.

      1. And what gives you the right to ridicule someone on your website? Who are you to ‘not be a fan of something’ so you bully them like at school. It’s likely that the woman in that example has been tasked with this and therefore shouldn’t be at the brunt of the joke, blame the company, not the humans that’s job it is to follow direction given by their managers.

        1. There is no ridicule of people here, only analysis of the impact of questionable marketing tactics, which is one of the topics of this blog.

          Only one of us has called someone a “dipshit.”

          1. #thatescalatedquickly …

            It doesn’t take long to run your finger over a few articles to determine anecdotally the importance of back-linking now. Here is an extract that I thought summarises it quite well – plus they are Australian 😉

            “Is link building still relevant?

            While link building is not the major cog in the Algorithm’s wheel, it is still important. What can be said now with clarity and conviction is that less is more. The small amount of links that you are awarded to your site need to come from relevant and credible sites. If this is the case then your links will be quality and your site will be treated to better SERPS.”

            I highlight: “…less is more.” and “…relevant and credible sites.”


            Your point, as always, Josh, is reasonable and well-articulated. As to you, Mr Aldroyd, you have the freedom to unfollow, or unlink from this site.

  3. I get these almost every day . . . they want to make a correction . . . they want to fix a broken link . . . they want this . . . they want that.

    Then a few days later you get another one. . . . “Did you get my email? what did you think? will you make the important change?”

    And on and on.

    For those wanting me to change a link to their link, i offer the service for $50. They’re never heard from again.

    It’s all part of the “New” internet where just about anything goes. It’s open season on the internet user.

    I’d like to see Josh take on “Dark Patterns” . . . that’s the most destructive internet trend yet.

  4. Yeah, not sure why you’re publicly calling out someone just doing their job. Call out the company if you have an issue with it. All I can say is you must be really desperate for content ideas if a link building email and an automated message produced this short-form content. For myself, I’m generally far too busy writing quality content to stoop to publishing misguided emails and picking on women doing their jobs and calling for them to be harassed. Funny that.

  5. That email was written with the assumption that the recipient is easy to manipulate. The company wanted to profit financially from Without Bullshit’s ‘link juice.” They hid their true purpose instead of making a straightforward request or proposing a trade of something valuable in return.

    For this email to “work,” it requires that the recipient not understand what’s really going on and to simply do as he is told. (The same tactic is used in phishing emails. )

    Let’s be clear here: There’s zero respect for the recipient. Instead, there’s condescension. When others are not considered worthy of respect, there’s a term for that: “contempt.”

    Note: WB’s ‘link juice’ is part of WB’s property. It’s an outcome of many factors including the site owner’s financial investment. What is the common term used when someone tries to profit financially off of another via deception?

    I found the “commands” to be repulsive (e.g. “urgent,” “matter of urgency,” “should.”) Then there’s the directive to report back “when this has been completed” and the bossy “A member of our team will be making a follow-up call to ensure this is handled effectively and efficiently.”)

    It’s getting harder than ever for marketers to cut through the noise and succeed with link-building requests. There are 2 options: the “phishy” approach or undertaking massive work to brainstorm, create, provide (in a classy way), a smart “trade” that’s a win-win for both parties. This week I had a conversation with someone doing the latter. He’s doing incredibly well.

    PS – If Selectra peeps wanted an inbound link from WB, I wonder why they didn’t just post a thoughtful comment and leave their website URL . . .

  6. Someone commented that if they take down your account they somehow insinuate that you ve gone out of business. But what the heck? No one comes looking for me on Houzz anyway, so why would I care?!! I ll go in and delete all my projects tomorrow and then ask them to take down my account. And be done with them.

  7. The above is true , NOW. Back in 2002 I did SEO work for clients and backlinks from any source got results. Of course these days the Google is alot smarter and will PENALISE you for creating too many spammy links or receiving backlinks from the dark parts of the web. I do wonder on the other hand if Google penalises domains who receives an unusual boost of backlinks from legitimate sources , probably not but in any event it’d be best to increase your domain’s SEO efforts over a long period and not all at once.

  8. The whole backlinking thing is a mess , if we’re being honest. The big name brands will naturally receive all of the backlinks , or the shit stirrers. They do claim (they being Matt Cutts) that a domain which creates great content will receive backlinks and rank well in Google – I do not believe this to be the case , it should be!