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Why people compliment spam your blog

If you’ve ever run a blog, you might see people leave comments on your blog such as “I love your design, how did you do it?” or “Great site!  I have bookmarked this amazing site OMG!!!!!”.  It’s because of something called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Because website rankings in search engines depend on links pointing to that site, spammers will leave comments on blogs to generate a link to their site.  By leaving a compliment, bloggers may be suckered by the flattery and they may be less likely to delete such comments.  However, it’s a spamological arms race.  The search engines don’t want spammy search results, so they will take steps to filter out sites that rank higher than they should. So this isn’t a very effective technique nowadays if the link is to a site completely unrelated to the blog.  Also, most (though not all) blog software and content management systems will place a “nofollow” attribute onto all the links, so links submitted by spammers won’t count towards search engine results.

The truly devious spammers will create fake blog pages that look like a real blog.  (Or they may simply copy a real blog.)  And then that fake blog links to their real site.  By simply following the link to their fake site, it won’t be entirely obvious that they are compliment spamming your blog.  But not everybody is this smart and most compliment spam is easy to spot.

Shady online stores that doctor their store photos

Dietpilluniverse.com is a website that advertises on Google whenever somebody searches for “weight loss”.  The main page of the site is very similar to the fake review format found on affiliate sites (they are not an affiliate as they sell their products directly).  Its about page shows the following image:

dietpilluniverse.com's doctored about image

dietpilluniverse.com's doctored about image

However, running Google Street View on their address shows that no buildings in the area look like the image above (which is probably Photoshopped anyways).

googleStreetView-dietpilluniverse

The hidden costs of trading stocks

A lot of brokerage companies advertise commissions for trades for $10, $5, free, etc.  What they don’t tell you are all the hidden transaction costs.

The short and simple story

  1. For the biggest companies that can be traded the bid-ask spread is usually one penny.  If the bid-ask spread is a penny, your hidden transaction costs are somewhere around 29 to 50 cents per 100 shares.  So suppose you are buying 2000 shares of a major company like Microsoft.  Your brokerage’s commission is $10.  Assume that the hidden transaction cost is 29 cents per 100 shares.  So the hidden transaction costs are 29 cents/100shares * 2000 shares = $5.80.  Your total transaction costs are $15.80.  If you buy 100,000 shares of a stock with a very low share price, then your total transaction costs would be $300.
  2. If the bid-ask spread is more than a penny, your hidden transaction costs may be a lot higher.
  3. The hidden transaction costs on all-or-none orders and market orders can be extremely high.  This is a shady area where those in the financial community can make a lot of money.  Bernie Madoff used to run a market making firm that generated a lot of profit from market orders from retail customers (and these profits were considered legal).  Instead of using market orders, use a limit order at 0 to several cents past the bid/ask price.  In other words, buy at a few cents above the ask price.  Your order should execute right away, but your broker cannot gouge you for more than your limit price.
  4. For stocks that trade infrequently, you may be charged multiple commissions.

The long story

Here’s how the system works. For every stock, there is a bid price and an ask price.  Suppose the bid price is $3.00 and the ask price $3.01.  If you want to buy shares right away, you have to pay $3.01/share.  If you want to sell shares right away, you have to pay $3.00.  In theory, you can post an order at the bid price of $3.00 and wait for somebody to sell shares to you.  So, you would pay $3.00 instead of $3.01.

Your order may be routed onto an ECN (electronic clearing network), which is a computerized system where parties trade stocks with each other.  Suppose you are trying to buy 100 shares of Citigroup at $3.00.  Suppose your broker routes your order to the NASDAQ/Instinet ECN (electronic clearing network).

The various ECNs have a rebate fee structure.  For somebody to sell 100 shares to you, they have to pay $300 plus an ECN rebate.  The ECN rebate for NASDAQ is 29 cents per 100 shares.  Somebody selling to you receives $300 minus 29 cents, which is effectively $299.71.  You are paying $300 for something that somebody else is selling for $299.71.  You do not get to collect the difference as most retail brokers keep it for themselves.  Of the 29 cents, the broker is probably getting 28 cents and the exchange 1 cent.  Some brokers such as Interactive Brokers pass on these ECN rebates.  But, generally speaking, retail brokers do not pass on these ECN rebates.  So, you are usually paying at least 29 cents per 100 shares for each trade.

It gets a little worse.

The various exchanges and ECNs generate most of their money from “market makers” and/or “liquidity providers”.  Or in the case of the Directedge exchange, the exchange is owned by various market making companies (Goldman Sachs, Knight Capital Group, Citadel Derivatives Group) despite the conflicts of interest.  In return, market makers get special advantages over other market participants (why else would anybody pay exchanges lots of money?).  One of these advantages is the ability to step in front of orders at the last second and to fill it with a minor price improvement.

The website “Trading Defenders” provides a very in-depth and technical discussion on the practices of price improvement, sub-penny pricing, and broker-dealer internalization.

Price improvement

Imagine you were buying an item on eBay and you had the best bid at $300.  At the last second, somebody else steps in and bids $300.01.  The other guy wins the auction… by one penny.  You would probably be angry.  For this reason, eBay has rules against such behaviour.  You have to top other bids by a lot more than 1 penny.  Unfortunately, stock markets do not have such rules.  This is a source of profit for the market makers.

Suppose there were retail orders to buy at an effective price of $299.71 and to sell at an effective price of $301.29.  The market makers will constantly buy at slightly above $299.71 and constantly sell at slightly below $301.29.  If you are trying to buy 100 Citigroup shares at $299.71, your order may not fill for several hours even though Citigroup is usually the most frequently traded stock on all the exchanges.  If you do get filled, it is usually because the stock price is moving against you.  The market makers will sell their inventory to you and leave you holding the bag.  Some people refer to this practice as front running.  In theory there may be regulations that make such practices illegal or unethical.  Regardless, it occurs in practice.

One way you could avoid front running is to buy at the ask price and sell at the bid price.  Buy at $301.00 and sell at $300.00.  This would cost 50 cents per 100 shares (the difference is $1 spread over 2 orders, so $1 / 2 is 50 cents).  You might ask… why would the brokerage execute your order to buy at $301.00 when it could cost them $301.29 to buy your shares on NASDAQ/Instinet and they would have a 29 cent loss?  It is usually the case that you can buy shares right away at $300.98 (if not less) and sell shares at $300.02 (if not more).  There is a lot of competition between buyers and sellers.  So the broker is able to buy shares right away at $300.98, charge you $301.00, and pocket the 2 cents.  Usually there are companies that offer better pricing than what is displayed in public markets (this is broker-dealer internalization), so the broker can pocket much more than 2 cents on these types of trades.  In certain cases it can go up to 14 to 50 cents.

Multiple commissions

For stocks that don’t trade very often (e.g. very small companies such as those under 100 million in market capitalization), your order may be spread across multiple days.  Your broker may charge you a commission for every day that it takes for the order to execute.  If the order takes 3 days to execute and the commission is $10, then you will pay $30 in commissions.  They may also break orders into smaller chunks, increasing the likelihood that the order will take multiple days to finish executing.

All or none (AON) orders

You might think that an all or none order would protect you against multiple commissions.  While that may be true, the cure is probably worse than the disease.  AON orders are held on a special order book.  Suppose you place an AON order to buy 20000 shares of a stock at $6, and the bid/ask for the stock moves down to $5.00/$5.01.  Your order does not execute unless there are 20000 shares on the order book between $5.01 and $6.  So a market maker will try to accumulate 20000 shares at $5.00/$5.01, and sell those shares to you at $6.  (This is an extreme and unrealistic example but illustrates what can happen.)

It is probably for this reason that AON orders have been banned in Canada.  You may wish to avoid them.

Market Orders

Market orders can give financial companies a license to steal.  The following article describes one method that Knight Capital Group makes profits from unsuspecting retail investors: “Role as Big Nasdaq Market Maker Helps Knight/Trimark’s Portfolio“.  Note that the profitability of this strategy is much lower as retail investors are no longer speculating in the market as much.  There are other mechanisms where market makers and other companies can make surprising profits from market orders.

A simple alternative is to use limit orders.

Stop Orders

Most stop orders are usually a market order by default.  So they have the same problems as market orders.  You could potentially use limit stop orders, although this may be risky as the limit order is not guaranteed to execute.  It is possible for there to be large discontinuous jumps in stock prices, especially overnight.

Another problem with stop orders is that market makers and traders may try to manipulate the market to intentionally trigger them.  They can profit from the forced buying and selling that occurs.  They may know the exact price that triggers these stop orders.  Or they may simply be skilled in guessing, as human beings tend to have patterns in placing stop orders.

Closing remarks

These are some of the most common ways in which trading costs are higher than what you might expect.  Unfortunately, most of the financial community is not interested in making the system transparent and fair as their business models revolve around exploiting the ignorance of their customers.  On the other hand, the abuses are much lower than what they have been historically.  Compared to the past, transaction costs are much lower.

When choosing an online broker, keep in mind that not all brokers are the same.  Some brokers engage in more shenanigans than others.  Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to figure out the exact transaction costs because it is difficult to calculate.  Also, brokers typically do not release useful statistics on the quality of their execution.

As the financial landscape is constantly changing, the information you read here could be outdated.  Transaction costs may decrease or increase in the future.

What science has to say about weight loss

If you have the time and inclination, you can use Google Scholar to search academic literature on weight loss.  Here is my quick and dirty take on the literature out there.

For most people, it really is about eating less calories

Historically, a problem with diet research is that the researchers weren’t able to track what the participants are actually eating.  (Because many people lie or have unreliable memories.)  But by using something called doubly-labeled water, scientists are able to measure how many calories a person actually ate.  Those who are the most obese tend to eat significantly more than average.  They also tend to underestimate how much they actually eat (see “The validity of self-reported energy intake as determined using the doubly labelled water technique“).

A limited number of cases are due to genetics, medication, and other factors.

You can eat as much as you want and lose weight

Some studies are based on ad libitum (ad lib) diets, where the subjects are allowed to eat as much as they want as long as it follows the prescribed diet.  These diets may work because the subjects are trying to be healthier, they are trying to please their experimenters+nutritionist, or it could also be that they are eating less calories.  Some diets try to ‘trick’ people into eating less calories by making them eat less energy-dense foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables).  Or to put it differently… if you try to eat more fruits and vegetables, you will likely end up eating less calories every day.  Some studies show that ad libitum diets are slightly more effective than calorie-restricted diets, possibly because subjects find them easier to follow (and are cheating less?).

See “Provision of Foods Differing in Energy Density Affects Long-Term Weight Loss“.

Almost any diet will cause some weight loss

There are studies that look at:

  • Low-fat versus low-carb
  • High-protein versus low-protein
  • Low-fat vegetarian versus ADA diet for diabetics
  • “Paleo” diets
  • Low-energy density diets
  • Low glycemic index diets

Subjects show weight loss on all of these diets.

The bad news: subjects almost always (slowly) gain back the weight that they lost

Scientists haven’t quite figured out how to get people to keep weight off for the people who enroll in studies. This may be because subjects adhere less to their intervention.

Does that mean obese people are doomed?  I don’t think that it’s necessarily the case.  If you look at smoking, studies show that only roughly 10-33% are able to quit.  Yet surveys show that most people don’t have difficulty quitting smoking and that most do so cold turkey, without any special help.  Those who are more prone to success may be less likely to enroll in studies because they have already achieved their goals.

While researchers know that eating less calories will lead to weight loss, it may be difficult for human beings to actually follow this advice.  If we look at smoking, many smokers exhibit a desire to quit and may have tried several times to quit.  But they don’t.

Do we know for sure that overeating causes obesity?

Over the short term, there are many controlled studies that link calorie consumption to weight.  A potential flaw in the prevailing wisdom is that there are no long-term controlled studies (over several years) as far as I know.  Participants could be locked up in an institution while researchers carefully control and measure their food intake.  Such a study would require people willing to be somewhat isolated from the outside world and such a study may be very expensive to conduct (if done ethically).  As far as I know, no such study has been performed.  Scientists have performed such research to study dental health, but it was rather unethical as they tested mental health patients who were institutionalized.

What successful weight losers do

The National Weight Control Registry states that: “NWCR members [...] report continuing to maintain a low calorie, low fat diet and doing high levels of activity“.  However, this data may be affected by selection bias and does not scientifically prove that a low-calorie, low-fat diet with high levels of activity will work for everybody (studies show that it usually does not).

Low-fat versus low-carb

Surprisingly enough, low-carb diets seem to cause slightly more/faster weight loss than low fat.  However, side effects are higher in low-carb diets.  The issues of bias are tricky as most researchers have a bias against low-carb diets as it flies against the conventional wisdom.  It is in researchers’ interest to have their publications cited by others often, so there can be subtle incentives to conform.  On the other hand, when it comes to diet, some people have a religious attachment to their beliefs and may distort data to fit the desired conclusions.  So I would be careful about biases on both sides of the debate.

Studies show that those on a low-fat diet also slowly regain weight over time compared to conventional diets.  They are also largely ineffective in studies.

Weight loss pills

Amphetamines used to be prescribed for weight loss.  For very good reasons, this is no longer the case (amphetamines are considered a harmful drug).  Human ‘innovation’ will likely lead to more types of pills being proposed as a cure for weight loss.  However, I would personally be vary of trying such pills.  Historically, drugs have been prescribed and later on we discover that the cure is worse than the disease.  This has also historically been the case with artificial sweeteners and also for Olestra- almost all of these products have been pulled from the market.

There are a lot of affiliate marketing sites on the Internet that promote weight loss pills, mainly because [A] there is a lot of appeal to magical pills that solve our problems and [B] the margins on pills is incredibly high as they cost less than $1/bottle.  I would personally wait until other people try such ‘magical cures’ and wait for studies to show their effectiveness (or lack thereof).

I have not done research on Orlistat.

Surgery

Studies do show that various types of surgery result in weight loss.  These studies typically track the level of complication rates and mortality rates following surgery.  The exact mortality rate is hard to pin down because surgery is typically performed on people who are less healthy than average.  Also, the obese have higher complication rates because it is difficult to operate on obese patients.

Those publishing the papers and statistics may have biases.  It is in surgeons’ interests to promote surgery (especially one that they have worked hard to pioneer) and play down its downsides.  Some people have biases against surgery (I am in this camp).

Some (most?) types of surgery do not have randomized, controlled long-term studies tracking whether or not patients are actually healthier following surgery.  Weight loss surgery tends to cause significant reductions in weight and most patients no longer have to take medication for diabetes.  On the other hand, there is a small chance of death, a chance of complications from the surgery, and the surgery may not necessarily be that effective in the long term as patients regain significant amounts of weight for some forms of weight loss surgery.

I would encourage you to do your own research.

Wrinkle Cream Affiliate Programs

Coming back to an earlier post over a year ago I am starting a list of the wrinkle cream affiliate programs.  They will do nothing but try to sell you a product through affiliates that will say any thing to get you to their site.

Here is one:  Dermajuv

http://www.dermajuv.com/aff/

Dermajuv affiliate program.  They have many affiliate shills who talk about their products and say they are the “best” when they are nothing more than cheap creams. They populate comments as in the prior example.

They even give $20 for signing up these shill marketers!

Many real Dermajuv consumer reviews do exist. Can’t hide those ones.

Careful folks.  More coming to the list very soon.

Lifecell and other wrinkle cream ripoffs

There are many fake review sites out there that seem to provide unbiased, independent reviews of various wrinkle cream products.  Unfortunately, many of these sites are setup by affiliate marketers trying to generate commissions for the products they are shilling for (see the explanation of affiliate marketing here).

A typical format for an affiliate page would be a review site comparing 3-10 products, with one product getting the best rating (e.g. 5 star) and another product getting a mediocre or bad rating (e.g. 2-3 stars).  Making all the products 5 stars doesn’t work because people will pick up on that.  Two-sided reviews tend to be more effective.

The product that makes the affiliate marketer the most money gets the top spot, followed by the next most profitable, etc. etc.

So do these products really work?  I don’t know because I’m not a woman or a dermatologist.  But I can tell you that you need to be very careful when it comes to these products because a lot of deceptive practices are used to market them.  Here are a few of them:

Fake comments

Some sites will add fake comments from “visitors” to add an element of social proof.  We tend to be more likely to do something if everybody else is doing it too.  If this trick didn’t work, affiliate marketers wouldn’t be using it.

The following example is from wrinkleserased.com/lifecell-skin-cream/.  In this particular case, all the commenters’ websites point to http://none/.  Clearly these aren’t real comments because real people won’t post the same broken link.  This is a case where the affiliate marketer didn’t do a good job at making the comments look realistic.

wrinkleserased-fake-comment

Geo-targeting

Some websites will also personalize the landing page to its visitors so that the author of the page appears to be from the same city.  For example, Suppose I go to the site riyawrinklefree.com and I am browsing the Net from Toronto, Ontario (ON).

I see the following comment on the site:

riyawrinklefree-geo-targeti

This is performed by a Javascript on that site.  (Disabling Javascript will cause that script to not work and show blanks instead.)

What a coincidence!! I'm from <b>
                          <script src="http://j.maxmind.com/app/geoip.js"></script><script type="text/javascript"><!--
document.write(geoip_city());
// --></script>, <script type="text/javascript"><!--
document.write(geoip_region());
// --></script> </b>too! How long did it take to ship?

Sneaky bastards.

Appeal to authority

A lot of these sites will post logos of major media outlets on their site (e.g. ABC, CBS, New York Times, CBS, National Post, etc.) to give their product some credibility.  But chances are, none of these media outlets talk about the specific product being sold.

Similar appeals are made to celebrities and to TV personalities such as Oprah and Dr. Oz.  Affiliate marketers will find weak excuses to claim a connection to make the product sound more credible.

Some other products in this space

  • Lifecell
  • Dermajuv
  • Belisi RX
  • Revitol
  • Athene 7 minute facelift
  • Alphaderma CE
  • Strivectin SD
  • Freeze 24/7
  • Murad Resurgence
  • Hydroderm
  • And many more

Be careful out there!

Best Buy not honouring extended warranties

Everybody knows that extended warranties are almost always a bad deal for the consumer.

But now Best Buy has figured out a way to take things one step further.

The fan on my friend’s laptop stopped spinning and he took it into Best Buy for repair since he bought their extended warranty.  A few days later, he receives a call and Best Buy tells him that he won’t be covered because there is physical damage to the laptop and that it will cost $600 to replace the motherboard. They also wipe out the content of his hard drive.

He doesn’t want to pay $600 so he gets me to take a look at his laptop and help him talk to HP to get it repaired.  I call up HP’s tech support line and they tell me that I should try flashing/updating the BIOS before sending it in.  I do it, and it fixes the laptop.  The motherboard did not need to be replaced, there was no need to wipe the hard drive, and the repair was rather simple (an hour of a tech’s time, tops).

What Best Buy seems to be doing is to try to weasel out of the extended warranties that it has sold.  It then tries to charge the customer an inflated price for the repair.

So please, stop buying extended warranties from Best Buy and don’t let them sucker you again by getting you to pay an inflated price for the repair.

More info

Red Flag Deals has a thread on Best Buy extended warranty nightmares.

Fake "independent" web hosting review sites

When people are buying web hosting, one of the things they will look for are independent reviews comparing the many web hosts out there.  Unfortunately, there are many affiliates who capitalize on that by setting up their “review” sites while the web hosting companies pay them to shill for them via affiliate commissions (more info on affiliate marketing here).

These reviews have nothing to do with the quality of web hosting and everything to do with shilling for the hosts that pay the most.  Affiliates will tinker with their rankings to find out which order makes them the most money.  The comparison below shows two different webpages on the same domain.  In this case, the affiliate probably screwed up and did not intend for the pages to be different, as you can navigate from one page to the other.  But this clearly shows that affiliates are not very interested in providing an honest review.

web-hosting-shill-comparison

A variation on this is web hosts shilling for themselves.  One web host put up a fake review site where they listed themselves as #1 (without an affiliate link because that would be superfluous), and put affiliate links for their competitors in the rest of the slots!  If they happened to drive traffic to their competitors, they still make money.

Wordpress

Wordpress is trying to make money to support itself, so it too has jumped on the affiliate marketing bandwagon.  It has a page recommending web hosts here:

http://wordpress.org/hosting/

To some degree, Wordpress gushes about its recommended hosts and vaguely discloses its affiliate relationship.

We’ve dealt with more hosts than you can imagine; in our opinion, the hosts below represent some of the best and brightest of the hosting world. If you do decide to go with one of the hosts below and click through from this page, some will donate a portion of your fee back—so you can have a great host and support WordPress at the same time.

Personally, I’ve had a site hosted with Dreamhost (one of the hosts recommended by the people behind Wordpress) and they weren’t great.  Their hosting was down for an entire day when their data center lost both power and its backup power (granted, they weren’t entirely to blame for their data center losing power).  Support also forgot to get back to me about my domain transfer problem and it took me weeks to get it resolved.  Which brings us to…

Overselling

Overselling is the practice where web hosts absurd amounts of bandwidth and disk space. Some even go so far as to offer unlimited bandwidth and disk space. However, hidden away in the terms and conditions are clauses that allow them to kick customers off for using excessive server resourches (e.g. using up too much bandwidth, CPU, memory, etc.). The web hosts have little intention of actually delivering on their advertised claims. The reason why they can get away with overselling is because 99% of customers use very, very little bandwidth and disk space. Almost all websites use <100MB of disk space and less than 5GB of bandwidth. The typical customer will not realize that overselling is false advertising.

The other downside to overselling is that it attracts the kind of customer that does use a lot of server resources (e.g. warez sites). Before a web host kicks these customers off their service, these customers will use a disproportionate amount of a server’s resources and cause all websites hosted on a particular server to be slow. When you purchase shared hosting, your website is hosted on a server that is shared with other customers. Overselling is typically a bad practice for the customer as your web server may be shared with resource pigs. Or crazy promotions like Dreamhost’s $9.99 for the first year may cause a huge surge of customers that the web host can’t adequately handle. When looking for a web host, I would like for a web host that does NOT oversell their services.

Resources

One good resource for learning about web hosting and picking a web host is Web Hosting Talk.  WHT readers tend to be savvier at spotting and outing shills, though you still need to take what you read with a grain of salt.

Weight loss scams

There’s a lot of weight loss scams out there. Here are some of the more common ones:

Wu Yi Tea / “Easy Weight Loss Tea” / Green tea

There’s nothing very special about green tea, but some marketers will try to convince you that it’s some “ancient Chinese secret”.  Unfortunately, some people have stereotypes about Chinese people and believe things that simply aren’t true.  Some of these sites play upon those stereotypes and make ridiculous claims, saying that green tea is “the reason why Chinese people don’t get fat”.  Reality check: there are A LOT of fat Chinese people.  If there are ancient Chinese secrets, clearly they weren’t in on it.

If somebody speaks English with a Chinese accent, it does not mean that they are more authentic Chinese and know ancient Chinese secrets about health and medicine.  It’s just that English is not their first language – that’s it!

Now you might be led to believe that green tea has health benefits.  That’s what people in the green tea business would like you to believe.  Many other food industries will also promote the health “benefits” of their food.  Take alcohol.  There are reports of its positive effects on health, even though we are talking about a POISON that impairs your ability to drive and causes LIVER DAMAGE.  A lot of these health effects are overrated but intentionally overpromoted.

Acai berry

Another food whose health benefits are blown out of proportion for commercial benefit.  Other foods have more antioxidants, and having an excess of antioxidants does not seem to provide health benefits.

See the blog post deconstructing an affiliate site for acai berry pills for information on how these products are promoted.

Other products that probably don’t work

Colon cleanse / colon cleansing / detox products – Some marketers might pretend like it’s endorsed by Rachel Ray, Oprah, Katie Couric, Jesus, etc.  That’s a lie.

If you simply use your common sense, you can probably figure out the products which are likely a scam.

Fitness Clubs

These are not a scam, but only if you go to the club and actually exercise.  Most people pay upfront for a membership but don’t actually go to the health club.  This is where the clubs make most of their money (especially around New Year’s resolutions).

What does work?

Honestly, I have no idea (other than exercise).  However, do watch out for sites that tell you that X is a scam but Y is not.  Y is probably a scam too.

An affiliate page deconstructed

Note: Read the explanation of affiliate / shill marketing first to understand the motivations behind affiliate sites.

Let’s look at one affiliate site I found by searching for “weight loss”.  The URL is http://www.laurasdietsuccess.com/gca1/index.php
This site tries to sell the ThermothinPlus with Acai and Colon Cleanse products.

laura-diet-deconstruction

1- Geotargeting

The website is targeted specifically to the visitor’s location, in this case Toronto.  The affiliate marketer is hoping that visitors will relate more to somebody from their own city.

If you visit the website from a different IP address, you will actually get a totally different site.  In the alternate version of the site, the “Laura Johnson” character (probably the affiliate marketer pretending to be a fat chick) is apparently somebody who has created a weight loss system, not some fake blogger recommending a product that “worked” for her.

laura-alt-site

2- Images likely made up

Affiliate marketers usually pull images from Google Images or sxc.hu because it’s a way to quickly put something together (they are always tinkering with their webpages to figure out what will convert better).  In this case I couldn’t figure out where the images came from.  But it’s highly likely that the images are of different people.

Firstly, in the before/after comparison, anybody who loses such significant weight will likely have excess, flabby skin. When people lose a lot of weight, they don’t lose the skin.  Trying Google images on “weight loss loose skin”.

L-mebeforeandafter

Also, the page shows another set of before/after pictures.  But the “after” picture in that set does not match the earlier set- there’s no way that the cute brunette sitting on that bed is the same person as the one pictured below.  The flab does not fit the other.

L-beforeandafter2

Bottom line: it’s very likely that these are all different people.

3- The site claims that 46 pounds was lost… but the first sett of pictures shows a much more dramatic weight loss.

4- To gain credibility, the site points out that the product was endorsed by Dr. Oz on the Rachel Ray show.  Affiliate marketers will try to associate the product with authoritative or trustworthy sources in order to induce visitors into buying.  Dr. Oz probably never endorsed the weight loss products in question.

5- The site is a “blog”.

The marketer is trying to gain the visitor’s trust.  The site is masquerading as a blog where the blogger relates her own experience about a particular product in a way that appears less biased than a hard-sell (which don’t work).

It should be obvious that the site is a blog only in appearance.  There is no other content on the site.  When you try to navigate away from the page, a pop-up is thrown up that makes a last-ditch attempt at converting the visitor.

laura-exit

6- The site was updated this month.

If you look in the HTML code of the website, there is a Javascript that changes the text to the current month.

Other tricks in the text of the website:

- The author talks about her experiences in a way that the target audience would/might relate to.

I tried all the “brand-name” diets like Atkins, South Beach, cabbage (my least favorite) soup, lemon juice. I even tried weight management plans like Weight Watches – the food was horrible! I eventually gave up. I stopped going out with friends. I felt ugly. I started eating more and more because I just didn’t care. I was in a downward spiral.

There’s a lot of people out there (fat and thin, male and female) who are very insecure about their weight.  They would probably relate well to other insecure people.  They would also have the shared experience of trying diets that don’t work.

Act soon!!!

The first part of the page is designed to get the visitor interested (”this worked for me” / “this can make you thin”) and to make the visitor trust the blogger.

Halfway into the page, there is copy that makes it appear as if the visitor’s chance of getting a deal on the weight loss products is disappearing.

Please do also make sure to order those free packages right now. Because the ThermothinPlus Free Trial Offer is expiring on July 31, 2009 and the Colon Cleanse Free Trial is expiring on July 31, 2009! So make sure to get yours before they run out of stock!

The marketer is trying to get the visitor to act quickly and not carefully research the purchase.  Of course, there is a Javascript on the page that keeps updating the date to whatever the current date is.

Social Proof

At the end of the blog, there are a bunch of comments left by the blog’s “readers”.  This may be an attempt to use social proof.  People are more inclined to do something if everybody else is doing it.

Choice of weight loss products

Affiliate marketers will promote the products with the best payouts, which tends to be the products with the highest margins.  It costs less than a dollar to make a bottle full of pills.

Do the products actually work? It’s extremely unlikely.

Are people really dumb enough to fall for this stuff?

You might be asking yourself that.  Keep in mind that while most people are smart enough to be skeptical, there are people out there who are extremely insecure about their weight.  So insecure that they will try a lot of things to be skinny.  And many anorexics don’t even realize that they aren’t fat.

It’s sad that affiliate marketers prey on these people… but that is what they do.  And it works. There is also a lot of money to be made.  Some marketers make six to seven figures a year doing affiliate marketing.

No honour among thieves

Another practice among affiliate marketers is to simply copy somebody else’s campaign.  Hence, Sandra’s diet blog.  However, the copycat didn’t do a very good job as their geotargeting failed and left blanks on the blog page.  Oops.

sandras-diet-blog