Internet Marketing For Asshats

Ian Lurie
Evil is easier!
Evil is easier!

Evil is easier!

There are internet marketers. Then there are 100% pure internet marketing asshats. They stomp their moral compass to bits in the interest of earning more dollars (or pounds, or drachmas, or whatever). These are a few examples of their tactics:

Commit libel

Asshats write headlines that imply horrific things/inappropriate or reputation-destroying behavior, like ‘Is This Model Snorting Coke?’ then explain why it’s very unlikely. That way, you get tons of pageviews. All you had to do was destroy someone’s reputation. And yes, that’s marketing. It’s sure as hell not journalism.

Ask an open question. Destroy someone's reputation. Nice.

Ask an open question. Destroy someone's reputation. Nice.

I understand the need to write crap like this: You get paid by the page view and you have to make a living. I blame the publishers who, of course, run pageview-based compensation structures. The fact remains: You’re still doing a pretty awful thing, smearing someone’s reputation for a buck.

If you want to do it right and create great headlines that don’t tear someone’s reputation to shreds, check out Quicksprout’s guide

Create artificial scarcity for a lousy product

Asshats create offers like this: “We’re only selling 100 of The Spectacular Guide To Ranking Number One Overnight!!!” They seem to think it’s a brilliant sales tactic.

If you’re a believer in artificial scarcity, bad news for you: Your product isn’t a limited-edition collector’s plate depicting Elvis. It’s a crappy 10,000-word PDF. You can peddle as many copies as you want.

By the way: If you have any soul at all, you’ll need to sell a lot of e-books, because Ambien is expensive and if you keep pulling this crap, you won’t be able to sleep at night.

This isn’t a limited beta test. You’re not going to maintain your brand through scarcity. That’s what Ferrari does. You’re not Ferrari. You’re using artificial scarcity to boost demand for a low-quality product.

Instead, do what David Ogilvy did: Make the product the hero. If you don’t believe in it enough to do that, stop selling it.


Never mind writing your own copy. Just steal it, like this guy (apparently, he took down the page – nothing like public humiliation to boost your ethical standards), who stole all of the writing from a landing page I wrote years ago.

Show off your idiocy by leaving my company name in the stolen copy:

Stealing! It's easier than writing!

Stealing! It's easier than writing!

And top it off with some really awful edits in an effort to trick the search engines:

Nice. Note the redundant repeat redundancy.
Nice. Note the redundant repeat redundancy.

Nice. Note the redundant repeat redundancy.

By the way, you know search engines? They make it awfully easy to find classless hacks like you,dude. I shake my head, puzzled as to why you keep demonstrating what a moron you are.

Go tragedy surfing

I’ve talked about this one before. When a talented, troubled person dies, asshats jump on it and write things like this Huffington Post article:

Tragedy surfing. Very classy.

Tragedy surfing. Very classy.

Hopefully, I don’t have to explain. Again, I understand: You write headlines so tasteless they make 1970s wallpaper look like a Picasso because you get paid by the page view. Still, you have to decide when you’ve crossed the line from edgy and thought-provoking to cheap and tasteless. I’d move that line back a bit if I were you.

Go black hat, but don’t tell anyone

I have no problem with ‘black hat’ tactics in channels like SEO. Violating a search engine’s terms of service isn’t unethical, unless you’re using those tactics to do something unethical (see above).

However, practicing black hat tactics for a client or organization and not telling them is. You put that client or organization at risk of a penalty and loss of traffic/revenue. You must disclose that risk and let them decide whether it’s worth it. Part of your job as an internet marketer is trustworthy risk management. Do your job.

The dark side

There are sooo many other ways to be an internet marketing asshat. But they all have one thing in common: They screw someone else to line your pockets. And while this rant may seem funny, I’m dead serious.

In moments of sheer frustration, I’ve drifted into the asshat zone. But I get embarrassed about it. True internet marketing asshats are completely shameless. They say “hey, it works” and keep going.

Don’t say ‘I didn’t know this was bad. No one told me.’ I bet no one told you randomly slapping people was bad, either, but you know better.

Marketing is powerful. Every time we abuse it, we lower the level of discourse..

Think about it.

I’ve got a new, free video series out: The Fat-Free Marketing Tip of the Day. If you want to hear me rant in my actual voice, that’s the place to go.

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  1. You are absolutely right..
    I hate those pageview hunting headlines.
    Maybe you generated 2x more pageviews, but 3x more people are going to never visit your site again.
    Greetings from germany.

  2. “practicing black hat tactics for a client or organization and not telling them is [unethical.]” That is one of my biggest problems with the industry. We get so many clients who have no idea of what was done by their previous SEO company or whether or not it was risky.

  3. Had to read your headline a couple times in my RSS reader. Was sure I misread it! Harsh, but fair.

  4. Ian,
    Nothing worse than being ripped off.
    Some people just don’t have a creative bone in their body and they ride along through life on the coattails of others for as long as possible. Might take a while, in some cases even years but they are eventually always found out.
    Just picked up a copy of your book on Amazon btw.
    Looking forward to reading it.

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