What is Cloaking? and a Product Warning.

Cloaking is one of the “dark arts” in affiliate marketing. It’s quite powerful if a little dangerous.

Tonight I was talking to my friend Nick tonight who is successful on Facebook and hadn’t heard of it, and realized others probably aren’t that familiar and wanted to know.

Nick wondered if Cloaking was a superpower :).  For affiliates it actually is!, and can be very lucrative if used strategically and you’re willing to brave the risks associated with it.

Cloaking

I wonder what she is covering up?

What is Cloaking?

Cloaking is covering yourself to play both sides:   angel or devil depending on who’s watching.  If you drive a car you know the drill.  If a cop is following right behind you drive squeaky clean obeying all rules, if no one is paying attention, you probably talk on the phone while driving, roll through stop signs, or speeding to get where you want to go faster, at least that’s how it works in California.

Just like most driving regulation, most traffic sources (e.g. Facebook, Google PPC/SEO) have rules of the road, to create what they believe is the highest quality end user experience.      Rules like no lying, no adult/porn related, no promoting offers that lie, cheat or steal.  Just like police, these communities have various moderator teams to enforce these rules and police content and users.

Well sometimes these rules and moderators get in the way of what people actually want.  Sex/dating, drugs, biz ops, and alcohol , weight loss, are big money makers but not something you want in the community mall, nevertheless people selling them make good money and there is demand for them, when they can actually connect.

This creates a constant tension between marketers and moderators, and escalation of arms of sorts of the war of each trying to get  what they want.  Cloaking is a weapon used primarily by marketers  to sidestep the rules to get a competitive advantage.

Like undercover agents vs street cops. Cloaking can be used by moderators to infiltrate, but this is less common.

Page Cloaking

Cloaking means a script that sits between that shows moderator/reviewers what they page content want to see to get approved or ranked for a particular phrase, and end users a different page that is likely to convert to a sale. It actieves this magic this typically by looking at where the person came from. eg. if the user comes from an address known to be from inside facebooks review staff, it uses the safe url. If it comes from a random page inside facebook it’s likely to be a user so show them the sales page.

When setting up an advertisement you point the ad to the tracking/cloaking script eg.

yoursite.com/track.php?campaignID=123

that track.php scirpt internally has multiple urls, one for the safe page the other for the page you are interested in promoting, and some wizardry to sniff who is reviewer from consumer.

A key concern is if the the admin can find the hidden page.  Part of the solution is the cloaking is setup to store the ID or IP of the user , every time anybody goes through your tracking/cloaking script they always sure they always see the same page.

Another way is just not cloaking at all in the first setup of a campaign. Then switching on cloaking once approved. Safer as once approved you don’t have as many audits if your still complying, but still a period at the front you’re not making money.

Now it is possible that when they do come back or the reviewers change their footprint and the cloaking script is not kept up to date, that you could get caught.  Penalties might be just having your ads stopped (which could mean loss of revenue), or having your account banned. It depends on the network. Some don’t care, some are restrictive some are militant.

Cloaking for SEO

A variation on this deals with making Pages rank well in Google.  When Google bots drive by to inspect your page, The cloaking script shows them a wholesome complete page with all the right keywords the Google bots so love to see.  When it sees a normal user it will show them something else, like the NewYork times might require user to subscribe to see the whole article, or even a completely different page optimized on making sales.

Link Rotation

A variation on cloaking  is the ability to also redirect to multiple offer pages, like rotating competing product 1, product2, product 3 for the most clicks, that is very useful for Affiliate marketers.

This sidesteps the problem setting up a campaign you are limited to the original url you submit the ad to, and it’s against the rules to switch that later, even though they don’t always check.

Say you decide to enter the guitar chord training market, you know of 3 guitar training courses on clickbank, they each have very different feel.  You want to know which one is best, but don’t know initiallly.

You set up a campaign on Facebook for people who like guitars, plus a a headline of “Learn Guitar”, with a pic of a guitar  and a link that goes over to your site learnchords.com/getlink.php?id=123 instead of the real product pages, or 3 different ads.

getlink.php is a rotation and cloak script. that contains urls for the 3 offers we are promoting that get equal amounts of traffic.

  • first user gets sent to clickbank product 1,
  • second user gets sent  to clickbank product2
  • 3rd gets sent to clickbank product3

say you run it for 600 clicks, so that each offer gets about 200 clicks. So we have some certainty on what is actually working.  Given many good campains will only get 2 to 5 clicks out of 100 impressions, You need at least 100 clicks in most cases to know if it’s good or not. 200 clicks is better.

At the end you see that breakdown

  • product1 got  40%
  • product2 got 55%
  • product 3 got 5%,

So now you know which to pursue. Typically stopping product 3 which is getting much lower clickthrough.

If you were super advanced, you’d try to create a hybrid of all the most successful elements with a tool like visualwebsiteoptimizer

e.g. take all the sales bullets, pictures from each rotate them too, see what produces the most sales
create a frankenstein get et a page that outperforms both
.

The Product Warning: Auto Traffic Avalanche == Bait and Switch

Part of what spawned this was an Clickbank product that was being promoted in my email box by Frank Kern and others, I ran across this morning that is centered around cloaking.

It’s called “Auto Traffic Avalanche”  Frank usually promotes good stuff so that got me to click over.

The marketing page was a good study, it had many of the hot buttons for the get rich quick niche:

  • use of video and text, down to earth.
  • hometown boy makes good,rags to riches story line
  • newbie with no prior experience and hates computers makes millions
  • discovers  exploitable glitch makes millions with a 13 clicks in just a few hours.
  • this is only available to next ~23 people (if you see this on clickbank you should know this is most often a lie)
  • do it for you script makes this all easy and does the work for you
  • risk reversal double your money back if it doesn’t work
  • big screen shots of proof (I guess they are in the UK so don’t have to be compliant to FTC)

The front door price was an impulse buy price for curiosity alone  $39 and supposedly amazingly included this magic do it for you software.

Given the front door price was low, and Frank was promoting it, I expected to see some major upsells. I was right and got one of the longest upsell grids I’ve experienced on clickbank.  Guessing 3 deep x2 wide.  Claiming one time offers (not true actually) and really vague on what exactly some of them did.

From it claiming to have “copy and paste” profits with an enhanced program with 10x the power I got the second upsell, despite it being very vague as to what it was, partly trusting clickbank knowing I could return it.

From all the hype, I was like most pretty excited to see what was in the inside.    Then I felt like I had hit a different world the friendly face man was gone and there was a geeky looking guy with a occasionally hard to understand british accent and slightly fuzzy screencapture movies.

The course was about 2hr long and after getting through it I felt like a bait and switch. I was so pissed I asked for a refund immediately.

It wasn’t that course was crap.  But it had almost NO resemblance to the pitch.  There is nothing Auto about it, it’s straight up affiliate marketing cloaked as a auto traffic machine when it’s not.

The secret glitch is actually a basic script for cloaking, not a do it for you as was implied.   I don’t even know how good it is as I didn’t test it, and of the cloaking it doesn’t directly do rotation.  If you are okay with the risks, it might be better than nothing.

The traffic education part was ok, core education: setting up ads, demographics ( this did have a gem ), tweaking them a few tips to scale them.

For traffic sources it used Facebook and PlentyOfFish.

  • Facebook should need no introduction, it’s a highly targeteable traffic source and the largest social network with more people than many countries using it, often hours a day.  However it’s finicky.
  • PlentyOfFish claims to be the worlds largest dating website, very high traffic according to Alexa with very deep demographic targeting and relatively not much affiliate competition on it relative to other sources.

With right offers, combined they do have enough potential traffic to compete with saturated or complicated Google PPC/SEO.

If you are curious about  Facebook, or PlentyOfFish and/or need a Facebook cloaking script, it’s ok value for $39 guide I’d just ignore the hype, and skip the upsells. Here is my link if you are so inclined.  if you are not interested in Facebook or PlentyOfFish primer please skip it completely on principal alone.

Do you use cloaking?   also If you know of a good cloaking script for other non-facebook purposes, sound out!

Keeping the Attention of Google

Everybody who wants to rank on the first page, has mastered the art of getting and more importantly keeping Google’s eyes on them.

When I say attention getting, if your website/blog was a bubble,  would it be like the mesmerizing  ones in the video, growing over time, people can’t just help interact with? or say a lonely beach ball half-flat sitting in the sand?

What does Google look for these days?

I’ve been studying several 5+Million a year SEO gurus (reading 3+ courses at the same time is good way to become an “instant expert” on a subject as people cover different ground!).  While all have the same goals:

  • get ranked,
  • get traffic,
  • get money

and many have identical mantras:

more links, more content, more links, more links… more links!

As you may know that Google has changed recently and some of what worked 6 months ago is no longer working quite as well. The kicker is that somethings still appear to work initially, then 2 months in your site has dropped off.

One of the newest factors is what I call “proof of life” in particular that google can see.  The good news is you may already be doing some of this already, but maybe not for the exact reason you think you should be doing it, or the reason Google wants you too.

What is proof of life?  basically your website is a building of sorts -like your home , you can consider it’s rooms are your pages, it’s halls and doorways are links between them.   But what good is a building without people inside it?  Google is wondering since they aren’t allowed typically to go in, is anybody home?  So they listen for the sound of foot traffic, the raised voices, the sites of lights going on and off, the doors opening and closing, with people coming and going.  This evidence are what Google considers “proof of life”, and makes a home a home!

As omniscient as Google is marketed to be, Google can’t see very much really. Since they don’t own your site, they aren’t allowed to go inside unless you invite them (rightfully so).

Parked out in front of the house,  they can see people going in the front door..or sneaking in a side window, often they can’t see them leave through the back be it in disgust or full and happy.    They can’t see the party going on in the living room.   Even though on the floor plan the master closet is bigger than the bathroom, they can’t tell the later is way more important (regardless of what women say…).

Worse when driving down the street looking at one house after another,  they can’t tell the guy who’s on permanent vacation with the home automation  that turns the lights and stereo on/off, sprinklers to keep the plants alive, from the couch potato who is actually home but comatosed on the couch.   From the street they can only go with what they see on the surface.

Google wants to asses each site right,  as they want to see proof that you take care of the traffic they send you, it costs them a lot to get those eyeballs and in the right hands it is worth a lot of money.  There are also many thousands of others wanting to get the precious few 10 spots.  It’s no longer good enough to just get content and some links as that’s what most everybody else is doing.

Show Google you know how to abide by their rules, know how to throw a continual party, demonstrate to take care of people and keep them coming back for more, they give you a good quality score.  Contrarily if they see a big empty lifeless vacated building you get a low quality score no matter how impressive it looks, how much marble and gold and how much you attempt to pay them.   In paid traffic this is you may have heard of the “Quality Score” same thing now matters for SEO as the PPC world and SEO have ALREADY merged.

Let’s take an example.

Two people searches for the latest Harry Potter book, Google shows them a bunch of pages which have been out for awhile, they hope are what the user wants one of these is Amazon.com, the other is HarryPotterBooks.com

First user clicks through Amazon.com and see the paperback at this point google can no longer see what’s going on, the user is in the private proprietary world of Amazon.com’s store.   The end user decides like many others to get the brand new limited edition hardback version instead, which ideally they would have liked found first. Google and we would love to have that happen but it can’t see that, as it’s not allowed inside.

Second user clicks through HarryPotterBooks.com which has Google Analytics on it’s pages, and finds the same paperback and the same ad for the hardback. So clicks through to that second page. This time Google sees that and the hundreds of other people that day who did the exact same thing and starts boosting that hidden hardback book in the search engines.  Eventually because it has the HarryPotter in the domain name it eventually beats Amazon.com for that search term, despite Amazons awesome brand power and bazillions of backlinks, primarily as Google can see that the inner “hidden” page has value to real people by evidence of the repeat traffic to it.

NOTE: you shouldn’t put trademarked terms in domain names unless you get permission or like cease+desist letters from lawyers.

In order to see this Google has to see this traffic via it’s “eyes and ears”

I think most people think of Google like a giant brain.  Did you know Google had eyes and ears too?

You may already use these sources for your own purposes, then if so, congratulations you are ahead of the game!    What you may not have known is Google is watching those too to keep an eye on you! (whether you want them too or not).  This is to be able to find the people creating crap sites with no value, from the ones creating real value.

These poweful tools have cost millions to develop, the best part is that these are all free to use as theyare subsidized by google, as both you and Google need the same data to make heads or tails of your site doing well or not.
Google Analytics is direct sensing the viewers entering each room.  The javascript based, cookies can see people coming back multiple times, see if people are spending lots of time.  Spending time or not, they can even track what parts of a video are watched most often.
Feedburner is basically it helps keep google in touch with what’s going on in your world.  Be instantly notified when things changed on your site as they change, rather then them having to go door to door.

By signing up for feedburner, wordpress automatically notifices it when things (new content, changed content, comments etc)happen. This entrices the google search bot back to revist your site other wise it might not get back for weeks or months.

Unlike other rss aggragators, google can see the number of subscribers and the changes to subscribers this is another form of relevance..are people listening talking about or even stalking you?
Alexa is a 3rd party that they can hear the sound of footsteps across the internet. Alexa looks at the ISP traffic to get a first hand feel of the pulse going across the wire, to know say that AOL has more people than a small college ISP and that people on AOL like walmart, and college kids like facebook etc.  Like analytics they want you to claim your site is yours with a special

UPDATE this correction from Jonathan Van Clute, thanks Jonathan!

JONATHAN: Alexa as far as I know, only knows about
traffic that has the Alexa toolbar installed.  That’s why its data is
always so damn screwy and skewed towards internet marketing stuff,
because it’s mostly IMers who install the toolbar.

TROY:  You’re right!   I did a check and none of the various Alexa/compete have direct access to the traffic, thus use browser plugins to sample this data hoping to generalize and extrapolate to the whole web. This has limits.   All the Alexa/Compete/ are far from the actual pulse of data that say mobile networks and ISP’s see, which I’m sure google will eventually find a way to have anonymous access to.  Can’t help but wonder if that’s why they are also part interested in OS Android/etc.

Alexa is also owned by Amazon not Google doh!

How to keep Google’s Attention?

  • The fundamentals are more important than ever. Links are still important, content is still important.
    • with millions of pages, you need more links, higher quality keyword rich links and relevant links from relevant pages to relevant targets.
    • you still need a base of original valuable content that is well structured to catch keyword traffic. It’s not enough to write about whatever you want as that’s what 100,000 are doing the exact same thing.
  • Google needs proof of life on your website. This is a new one. Websites are living breathing creatures, Google wants to see proof of life with their own eyes and ears (google analytics, alexa, feedburner).  So signup for those services and get it integrated on your sites (you shouldn’t have anything to hide right?) When you start dipping in rankings, or just starting out get traffic anyway BUY your way or BRIBE your way, paid or not, until google is convinced you are still living and have value.
  • Constant content of value, again websites are living growing creatures, they should grow and change.  This isn’t too hard – 2-8 new articles/posts a month or more just enough keywords, outsource this if you have to. The better you do at this, the less you need to rely on tricks or hacks that stop working to get all you want.
  • Be human!, casual conversational even controversial as at the end of the day the net is all about people talking, thinking, linking and clicking! websites are a conversation just captured on the web, keep the conversation going!

Why Proof of Life became necessary and is way of the future.

As you know understanding what makes search engines tick can be worth millions or even billions and in this economy the difference between food on the table and rent paid, from no job. For shrewd/smart people it also means the difference from living the “internet” lifestyle with no job to working in some oppressive 9-5 work environment, with crappy commutes, bastard bosses, lame coworkers.

The web is largely machines trying to sort filter the mess of people scribbling whatever pops into mind at any given moment, that the web is.

Since it’s a machine, it can be fooled, so what has also happened is shrewed people have gamed and/or spammed every loophole they could so that Google would be “tricked” into getting better rankings to get big paychecks, with no real care for sustainability.

This unfortunately created a lot of disposable crap sites, that people like us hated. Google had to evolve defenses and grow more sophisticated to defend itself.

In the beginning backlinks were all that mattered (that’s what Google’s PageRank patent is about), Now links can be manufactured or gotten by the 10 of thousands via numerous legitimate or spammy ways. Obviously Google spends a massive amount of time walking over those links one by one so wants as few of them and as high quality of them as possible, but how do you tell if it’s a good link or not?

Links with relevant keywords in the anchor text were better than no words but still not much information there to know if the millions of people linking with the keyword “dog training” are good links or bad links.

Looking at the contents of the page would help, which took quite a bit of brainpower as that meant Google had to start reading the webpage much as you do, looking for “good”, “relevance”, “value” which can’t easily be measured objectively as Google being a machine doesn’t get. With the endless stream of pages this also is very expensive to process.

Really at the end it’s really about content right? we spend most time reading rather than clicking. Google figured this unlike links is also harder to fake, as it cost money and time to create good content. So they changed algorithms to focus on content.

But google isn’t a human, it can’t really understand much.  So content too was gamed and automated by smart people. By techniques of spinning content and ripping from others via data feeds and searches, it’s easy to create thousands of sites without any original content (aka autoblogs).  While this isn’t 100% bad, as some sites (e.g. newspapers) also use datafeeds (e.g. associated press)

This also gave rise to hundreds of thousands of crap sites, just enough structure to clumsily rank for a term, almost no content to qualify for adsense ads.  Basically a adsense classified ads.   However this is largely google’s fault as they incentivized this entire industry, and probably aren’t too put out as they have made billions off of it.   But still it’s gotten out of hand.

Even without the spam sites, with 100,000+ to millions of pages, having good content isn’t good enough to stand out.  So Google upgraded their content requirements again: now to be considered a serious player you need to also have a matching keyword rich domain name, and various other organization that makes it easy for Google to digest and understand your whole site.   Thankfully these things that are built into WordPress like tags and categorization..you again get for free and a little effort while posting.

Basically domain names are a part of content gauntlet. Getting new or aged is expensive and only a finite number of them exist.   You should think of the domain name as a part of your paid strategy and most probably should be looking into having more than one domain/site to reach all the keywords that are relevant, as the farther away from the main domainkeyword the harder it is to rank well. This tactic is are called by others feeder sites and is a more intermediate to advanced SEO trick.

This is basically where we are this year.

So where can Google go from here? what’s left.

We all generally want a smarter web, so we all find what exactly we want faster, as the problems get exponentially harder as you get up there. it’s easy to add to 10 with fingers, easy to multiple triple digits on a calculator, apparently next to impossible to balance the national debt.

For links you may have heard of the famous Travelling Salesman problem?  Wiki describes it as

Given a list of cities and their pairwise distances, the task is to find a shortest possible tour that visits each city exactly once.

Google has to deal with problems that are massively more complex every second of every day. As unlike the travelling salesman, google ‘s map grows massively everyday

Part of Google’s job is to travel every link it can across every webpage it can, grading and keeping score add up in a popularity contest who has the most legitimate links.   This is hard work! the more links that are added just finding your way around becomes…impossible.  The more chance for endless loops or no right answer to be found or at least at a affordable cost as there are bazillions of pages and links constantly coming in and being removed every second.

Even with Google’s massive resources, the web is much bigger than they are and growing exponentially. We are actually just at the dawn of the web.   Google already spends huge amounts on electrical power beyond many cities ability to supply, bazillions of computers to process all this data and PC’s are only so fast. There is only so much sense google can afford to make out of this never ending tangle of links so it takes shortcuts when it can.

Content-wise same difficult issues.   Google is at the core a machine, and while that machine is created by some of the brightest on the planet, Google bots still don’t get knock knock jokes, they can’t get the emotional truth of a song lyric and aren’t likely to anytime soon.  Even if google were perfect, there are limits to what google or *any of us* can do without more “real” data, take 1000 YouTube comments on Lady’s Gaga’s latest video saying “I love this song!” .  How do you tell if they are real or faked as they look the same!

Solving these are hard to potentially impossible problems with current hardware, and there is no likely breakthroughs for decades as they are that hard, some have been around for almost 100 years!

But as the web grows we still need a way to sort the 10 best out of the millions of possible contenders. You need to explore this proof of life to compete..it’s one of the few methods left and most aren’t using it strategically!

If you are aiming to get results SEO or PPC ask yourself if an how Google can see ALL your content activity and that of your viewers as it happens, to keep Google coming back for more. Show them your site is bustling with life. They will reward you for it.

So what do you think about this “proof of life”?

I know some feel that being transparent is evil, and in someways it is, it can in some cases allow your competitors to spot you in the crowd, and in any competitive niche, being #1 is like having a target painted on the back of your head to take you down.

UPDATE: I’ve had one SEO Guru tell me privately that so far he has 0 proof that this “proof of life” is a ranking factor, and has some sites that rank #1 by quality links alone with no measurable activity from google.

I think it’s inevitable though that the web heads this direction.    With content and links being gamed and limits in there’s basically nowhere for Google to go by purely content and link approaches in deciding what is good and what is not. It has to measure activity, see proof of real human life.

Going to use it? if not why not? Sound off in the comments.

http://www.google.com/analytics/

Use 4 key learning styles in writing news to get your message across to 100 percent of people

If you want to reach 100% of your audience in a reviewer style content you can still use the 4 different learning styles, just in a different order.

I was recently asked how to create content based on the 4 different learning styles but for celebrity news, by a user who just didn’t know how to apply the rules

The basics are the same, the order is different as the news reader intent is different.  You are writing looking backward “What just happened and what does it mean” vs looking forward “why and how to do something” when educating.

In particular for news I’d model the Associated Press they are everywhere, and for celebrity news I’d mirror Yahoo OMG http://omg.yahoo.com/)

they roughly switch to the order of the 4 different learning styles to:

  1. What
  2. How
  3. Why
  4. What If (optional for objective reporting, great for controversial)

Let’s take a look at this news article http://omg.yahoo.com/news/teri-hatcher-sued-by-former-business-associate/45435

  1. What: Teri Hatcher sued by former business associate  (Headline)
  2. How Months after former “Desperate Housewives” co-star Nicollette Sheridan sued ABC Studios and creator Marc Cherry for assault and discrimination, now co-star Teri Hatcher, ABC and the Walt Disney Co. have been targeted by a woman who helped run Hatcher’s production company and claims that she was pushed aside and denied a promised 50% cut of revenue from the venture. Jennifer Glassman, an industry marketing vet who has worked for the Paradigm talent agency, New Line Cinema and her own branding/PR shingle, alleges in the lawsuit that she went into business with Hatcher in 2006 to run her shingle, ISBE Prods., in exchange for 50% of the profits generated. But after pouring her heart into the venture, Hatcher and ABC have worked to “intentionally exclude and eliminate (her) from the picture in terms of revenue sharing just prior to the successful launch of a prominent website supported by Disney,” according to the lawsuit.The nine-count complaint for unspecified damages was filed Tuesday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
  3. Why Glassman says she played a big role at Hatcher’s ABC-based company, selling projects like “Burned Toast” to Lifetime and two scripts, “Fried” and “Mercury Rising,” to ABC. Disney also recently launched a Hatcher-branded site called gethatched.com through its family.com website. During the run-up to the launch of the site, Glassman says Hatcher abruptly soured on her and sent a mass email in February alerting business contacts that Glassman was no longer working with her. Disney-owned Touchstone TV then allegedly followed up and terminated her.Glassman “never knew or had reason to know that (Hatcher and Disney) were concealing the fact that they intended to try and treat (Glassman’s) business and employment relationship with them as an ‘at will employee’ relationship, and ultimately ‘terminate’ her without cause while trying to eliminate (Glassman) from the picture, business-wise,” the complaint states.”This lawsuit is based upon ridiculous fabrications and is completely without merit,” Hatcher’s rep countered. “It is unfortunate that the many opportunities Ms. Hatcher afforded the former employee are now being so implausibly twisted and contorted. The suit will be vigorously defended by the Walt Disney Co. and by Ms. Hatcher’s attorneys, who also intend to file substantial counterclaims against the former employee for her reckless and premeditated misconduct on her departure.”Glassman attaches to her complaint emails from Hatcher promising partnership, although there is no formal agreement alleged. The only employment contract alleged is a 2007 form deal that Glassman calls a “mere formality” because it doesn’t include terms of employment, compensation, job duties or title. She has sued for breach of an implied-in-fact contract.

    She also claims she handled duties above and beyond the usual, including running errands and handling Hatcher’s “mood swings and unusual requests.”

  4. What If (insert your own controversial conjecture,) what if Hatcher was bipolar or an pregnant? sound off in the comments!