Last Friday, poking around, I came across an article that had been submitted to Sphinn at the beginning of the week entitled “1:1 Interview With Search Marketing Authority and Visionary Hamlet Batista”. In the description it is billed as “a great interview where Hamlet discusses his introduction to SEO/SEM, touching on his immensely successful projects”, so I click through to see what he has to say. There I am greeted, no doubt whatsoever, with…
… an infomercial. That’s right, this “great interview” was actually nothing more than a thinly veiled commercial for Hamlet’s product called RankSense. I mean, ok, fine… someone at SEOmoz decided to allow an entire full page advertisement on their main blog. Whatever, it’s their site, if they want some cheesy script that looks like it could very well have been written by the same guys who do Don Lapre’s material cluttering up their pages, that is their call. “Tiny Little Ads”, anyone? It’s not like I expect better of them (as most of you probably already know).
Thing is, this “interview” was not only submitted to Sphinn, it actually went hot. We’re not talking here about something that could be even remotely described as “cleverly disguised”, either. I mean, sure, it started out ok… but right after the intro and the small sampling of the only bit that could actually pass as a real interview, you get this incredibly strained segue from out of left field:
“After some extensive discussion on Hamlet’s experiences and successes in PPC and Affiliate marketing, our conversation focused squarely on the hot and somewhat controverisal topic of SEO Automation.”
Wtf? “Hot and somewhat controversial”? Are you kidding me?
Let’s put this in perspective now. “Somewhat controversial” can of course be anything anyone has an opinion on, and to be fair I did once see an article on Newsweek about people debating seo automation back in October (which, btw, Hamlet happened to have been one of the commenters on). However, for a topic to be “hot” people actually have to be talking about it, right? Doing a blog search on [“seo automation”], however, returns a grand total of 39 unfiltered results going all the way back to 2004. Of those, 7 were dupes on an article about RankSense or discussing that article, 4 were the SEOmoz article, 5 were about the Newsweek article, 1 was a blog post by Hamlet, and none of the rest had even a hint of “controversy” in them whatsoever (most only mentioned the phrase in a list of other phrases).
Of course, without this fake premise for the parts that followed there would have been no way to logically include the intro or to bill the ad as an “interview”, so they had to come up with something. I have seen ones that were worse executed than that (although of course those were geared to the 3am insomniac crowd, to whom almost anything seems plausible). From that point on the article is nothing but product, complete with screenshots and couple of pictures of their offices tossed in.
What got me, however, that this was allowed to get promoted on Sphinn with no questions asked. This is hot on the heels of the Sphamm attack that I had in part blogged about recently, so I knew that the awareness of ads was relatively up at that time. Also, this was not too long after the huge controversy over a Sphinn admin labeling one of Andy Beard’s posts as spam, where he only discussed that he was going to be selling some of his content down the road. In that article he didn’t even know what format the stuff he was going to release would take, yet still an admin decided to post his opinion that it was spam, and after a couple of people agreed with him (and agreeing with is of course no where near the same thing as coming to the same conclusion on their own) he pulled the story. This was after Andy’s story went hot, and that one was much less of an advertisement than this one was.
So, I decided to write the admins, and ask why it was something that was such a blatant ad was allowed in with no questions asked:
Name: Michael VanDeMar
Issue Reported: other
Comment: Quick question… why is it that you
guys are so vocal about wanting to kill spam, yet something that is
nothing more that a full page staged infomercial is never
I mean, I’m not saying it won’t be a good product, but it even has a
disclaimer at the end that it was written by the firm that does
Hamlet’s marketing for him. It’s a long copy product ad written in
infomercial dialog style… tell me I’m wrong.
Also, I may blog about the answer, just so you know, unless you ask
me not to. Thanks.
PS – case sensitive captchas suck.
As it turns out, Rob Kerry (aka evilgreenmonkey) is the one who answers my concerns, and he comes back with this:
As this post does not qualify as spam, it is up to the community to decide whether it should go hot or not.
I see. Which of course doesn’t even come close to answering my question of why it isn’t considered to be spam in the first place. I clarified what I was asking (full transcript of the back and forth can be found here), and got this back:
It’s my personal opinion that the article is not spam, users can disagree by Desphinning it and moderators can flag the post. Neither has happened and the article has been well received by the community. The article does promote a service, although I could not find an affiliate link and did not view the article as purely an advert. Removing content is a judgement call within a broad set of guidelines, the community and Sphinn judged this content as worthy for inclusion.
Now, don’t worry folks… Rob isn’t really a moron. He’s just pretending. He knows what is going on. See, this is the same admin who decided, all on his own, to raise doubts about whether Andy’s article was appropriate, and he did so after the Sphinn community had already voted it to go hot, pulling the submission from the front page. So, obviously his reply was bullshit. Of course, back then he used the excuse that in his opinion the story wouldn’t have gone hot had it not been submitted by DoshDosh… which would have perhaps been more believable if Maki actually had better than a 50% success rate with stories going hot (which he doesn’t, it’s actually more like 46%).
Some would venture to guess that the reason one was questioned and the other was not might have something to do with the fact that the owner of the site where this “interview” was hosted was an exhibitor at SMX West and an advertiser on Sphinn itself (whereas Andy was neither of those), and therefore Sphinn had a financial obligation to keep up appearances with them (for even though Moz staff did not write the article itself, they did decide to put it on the main blog for whatever reason). Not me, however… I’m sure it probably had much more to do with the fact that the Sphinn team is probably composed of insomniacs much like myself, and the nostalgic echo of It Slices! It Dices! It Julienne Fries! they heard when reading the article softened them just enough to allow it through.
I did ask Rob about how much ad versus fake content was an allowable mixture, but unfortunately did not get an answer back on that. I would like to point out that I personally have never tried Hamlet’s software, and for all I know it could kick some serious ass. Especially if it can both SEO a site and double as the only kitchen tool I will ever need. 😀