Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.
You know that feeling when you are fooled into clicking on something on a website that you didn’t intend to click on? Maybe it was an order screen that fooled you into paying for extra shipping, an installation wizard that tricked you into installing some adware browser toolbar, or a “free” download that turned out not to be quite so free after all. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all been disappointed by the tenacity of marketers that are overly aggressive and forget that in the end, the impression you make on people in your quest for “conversions” can really have a very negative impact on your brand.
This isn’t only limited to small, no-name companies or fly-by-night web designer that’s trying to get you to click on an ad on his website. No, we’re talking online marketing scams by big names – companies that everyone knows and brands that people have come to expect positive things from. When you discover that companies like that are playing games and trying to fool website visitors – well, that says a whole lot about the culture of the company and the quality of the brand itself.
Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against companies trying to make money online. I mean, only advertising and marketing is what provides motivation and incentive for many people to publish or sell on the Internet at all. That’s a good thing. It’s called a free market, and if people are driven by the promise of advertising money or sales to offer the public high quality content or products – well then that just adds the to competition and makes everyone push harder to be better.
Unfortunately, there are a few companies out there that – in their quest to be “better” – end up being much worse. They play games, and hurt the quality of the brand and the reputation of the company itself by making use of such marketing scams. The following are a few of the biggest marketing blunders that I’ve discovered were conducted by some of the better-known companies and brands out there.
Sneaky Tricks You Probably Noticed
Have you ever gone to click on a specific link on a web page, and suddenly the page shifts up slightly, causing you to “accidentally” click on an ad? Have you ever clicked on a search field inside of the web page only to have a big pop-up ad fill the screen?
You’re not alone. According to a 2012 Internet Advertising Revenue Report from the Interactive Advertising Bureau, advertising revenues had climbed to a record high of $17 billion. This was an increase of just over $2 billion from the previous year. This is driven by the fact that advertisers recognize that a majority of people today get their news and entertainment from the Internet. That’s a given. And with the advent of more elaborate and feature-rich mobile devices, that number is going to continue to climb.
A downside of this is that some marketing folks are attempting to manipulate visitor behavior in ways that are not always entirely honest.
Amazon’s “Free” Shipping
Let me state right up front that I love Amazon. I shop there for birthdays. I shop there for Christmas. Heck, I shop there when I want nearly anything for myself. However, I have to say that I caved and purchased the prime account, in large part because of the games that Amazon plays when it comes to advertising so-called “free” shipping.
New visitors that are shopping on Amazon will see that some product they want has free shipping. How cool! That’s a huge bonus when you’re buying online, because shipping costs will always factor into the price.
Unfortunately, when you add that item to your cart and start going through the process of paying, you’ll find that “free” shipping is actually a ploy to get people to sign up for Amazon Prime. You see, once you sign up for Amazon Prime, you some perks like free (selected) movie streaming and things like free two-day shipping. However, there’s a cost associated with that membership, so technically the shipping isn’t really “free”.
Worst of all, the Amazon checkout process doesn’t really make this clear. In fact, it doesn’t make the breakdown of the order clear at all (it doesn’t even display the breakdown) until you’ve entered in your credit card and moved on to the next step.
This seems quite backwards. You would think that first-time visitors may be a bit wary about just plugging in their credit card credentials without seeing exactly what the breakdown of charges is going to be. However, that’s exactly what Amazon does. It may or may not be to hide the fact for as long as possible that there will be a shipping charge on the final invoice, but the tactic is a bit underhanded anyway.
When a Free Download Becomes a Free Trial
There are a lot of people reading this that are very familiar with the tactic that software companies use to lure users into purchasing a full licensed version of some software. The thing to do is to encourage users to download a free trial so that they can see just how amazing the software is, and choose to purchase the full version.
This is a very legitimate and reasonable way for software companies to give potential customers a chance to give the software a test run and see whether or not they really like it. However, there are a number of well-known companies out there that are trying to transition from a product that has always been completely free, into a revenue-generating business. For example, AVG Antivirus is well known for its high-quality free antivirus software. When you go to the main AVG site, you’ll see the big icon for the free download.
However, at the top of the download page, where most people would immediately go to click for the download, you’ll see this interesting button for “AVG Internet Security” that says in smaller, fine print, “Download Free Trial”.
It is innocent-looking, but what visitors don’t realize is that by clicking on that button at the top, they are not getting the free version of AVG. Instead, they’re getting a “trial” version of the full software. This will include a sort of timeout period where you’re expected to upgrade to the paid version or stop using the software.
However, if you scroll waaaaay down to the bottom of the download screen, you’ll see an orange “download” button for the AVG AntiVirus Free software.
There are a number of tricks here – the coloring of the free trial buttons as green, and the use of the word “Free” are both ways to encourage visitors to click on those buttons, thinking that they are downloading the free version of AVG.
Download Link Or Google Ad??
This little tactic is probably one of the most common and well-known for software download sites. Just do a Google search for “free downloads” and you’ll find tons of these little sites all over the place, camouflaged as a legitimate download site for software, movies, free books, and more. However, the site is nothing more than a minefield of ads featuring “download” links or buttons throughout.
A legitimate download site that you’d think would be beyond this kind of tactic is Softpedia. At Softpedia, you can find articles about, and download links to direct downloads for free software and freeware.
The interesting thing about the tactic used at Softpedia is that it’s sort of an attempt to “train” users to perform a behavior. The first download link on most software download pages are actually legitimate. It’s a blue download button that takes you right to a download page.
When you get to the download page, there’s another download button that is sized and formatted almost exactly like the one on the first page. Most people, without thinking, would just click that same download button, only to discover that they’ve just accidentally clicked a Google Ad.
The only way to avoid falling for this one is to stop and take the time to carefully examine the page. Usually “mirror” links are a good bet. Keep an eye open for those little Google ad icons in the upper right hand corner of Google Ads. That’s a dead giveaway that the button or link nearby is nothing more than an ad.
Embedded Adware In Installation Wizards
I recently mentioned this next sneaky tactic in my review of the 4K Video Downloader software. This is where a company will provide you with a perfectly free installation package for their software, but then part of the installation process includes these underhanded little attempts to also install some adware toolbar into your web browser.
If you don’t stop and read each step of the installation wizard carefully enough, you could fall victim to this, and suddenly discover an odd new toolbar in your web browser. In the case of the 4K Video Downloader, you can click on custom installation and remove all of the extra “junk” software settings.
Unfortunately, with other software installs out there, you may not even have the option to do that. So, you really have to be careful when you’re downloading free software to read each step of the installation wizard very carefully, and use caution at each step of the process. Make sure you understand exactly what’s getting installed on your computer, and where it’s getting installed.
Sorta Free Online Service – But Not Really
There are a whole lot of websites out there that will let you hunt the Internet for background information on people. Free “people finder” services are a dime a dozen. And one of the most common features of these services is that there are multiple layers of membership that people don’t realize. The trick these sites use is to almost force users to cough up more money for yet one more layer of service.
The site itself markets “free” searches for anyone at all you may know or may want to get information about.
These sites attempt to make that look like an authentic offer by actually giving basic background information on a person, including the last few places they’ve lived, current estimated age, and even the names of a few family members. Usually the listing will include a status that phone, address and other information is “available”, but won’t be listed.
Lo and behold, when you click on “Get more details“, you’re introduced to the wonderful membership levels available on the “free” site. If you want the information about the person that the service found for you, you’ve got to cough up the cash.
Of course, maybe the skeleton details that the service offered is enough, but usually it’s not. And guess what, even after you sign up for a membership on many of these sites, you end up still having to pay for full background reports on people. This kind of thing is never free.
So, as you can see, it isn’t just the small time companies or brands that attempt to pull off these kinds of marketing tricks to get people to part with their money. The temptation to play games with you – the visitor – seems overwhelming for even some of the largest and most well-respected companies. However, if you know what to watch for, you can avoid those tricks and keep your money in your wallet, where it belongs.
Have you ever fallen for any of these online marketing scams and tricks? Do you know of any other sneaky tactics that sites use? Share your insights and feedback in the comments section below!