Shopping Online = Caveat Emptor (Latin for Let the Buyer Beware)

(Ed’s Note: I originally wrote this post in 2006, 6 years ago. What I share with you about shopping online today is even more true today, only the prices are higher. Some people will lay down thousands of dollars for an offer online. I was only a newbie when I attacked “Traffic Swarm” like a honey badger on a bee hive. I would not surf Traffic Swarm today, I’m a little wiser, and you can be too.) 

Any newcomers to Internet Marketing who would like to gather a little field intelligence on the landscape and competition need only to surf “Traffic Swarm,” which bills itself as “the fastest and easiest way to instantly increase traffic, visitors and sales to any website, product or service.”

Well, that claim is certainly debatable as there are more than a hundred offers on the Internet today that make the same claim with a straight face. Be that as it may, Traffic Swarm also lets you know instantly that its service is automated, targeted, cheat-proof, proven and “viral marketing” (a heady term that makes one think that he might now indeed be in possession of cyberspace), all five of these claims are Internet Marketing buzz words more common than a thousand bees making small talk at the entrance to their hive.

The uninitiated would learn that you can join Traffic Swarm free, post an advertisement of your own, and then surf (look at) other marketer’s ads to earn credits, which you can in turn spend to draw traffic and visitors to your own offer. It is a very nice little package for beginners which, even if it does not bring you sales of your product or service, does give your website or offer page exposure and presence on the Internet.

Traffic Swarm is where I surf to find out what is going on in the world of Internet Marketing offers. There are dozens of other sites that could provide me with the same fodder, but Traffic Swarm has, in my experience, proven to be as good as any other at what it does.

My message has nothing directly to do with Traffic Swarm; it has to do with the users of Traffic Swarm, who hawk their goods like any merchant in a loud, noisy marketplace with vicious, unrelenting competition for your hard-earned dollar.

All of which brings us to the Latin phrase “caveat emptor,” which means let the buyer beware. The New Oxford American Dictionary (we bow to the King’s English) says this about caveat emptor: the principle that the buyer alone is responsible for checking the quality and suitability of goods before a purchase is made. Herein lies the problem with online purchasing: we cannot examine the goods before we commit to buying whatever it is a person may be selling.

This fact of purchasing works in the seller’s interest, and the seller, not the buyer, will do anything to keep it that way, including, but not limited to, exaggerating claims, playing upon your emotions, using psychological ploys to move you to the action they want you to take, pressuring you into making buying decisions with no opportunity to see what it is you are purchasing, and being disingenuous in an attempt to relieve you of your money.

I have begun to examine Internet Marketing ads online very closely, not to determine the legitimacy of any particular offer, but rather to determine the quality of language used in supporting the legitimacy of the claims made in any particular offer.

An e-mail that came to me this morning offers an example. It uses this opening sentence to hook you into linking to their sales page: “As incredible as it may sound you’re about to discover a system how you can drive 1000s of potential customers to any website or affiliate website at $0 cost to you!”

(The hoped for reader reaction might be: My God, this is an answer to prayer, a system that can finally drive traffic and business to my website so I can make my first sale in 24 months as an Internet Marketer after indiscriminately spending hundreds of dollars on useless offers.)

As I analyze this opening sentence, remember the use of the words “incredible” (as in I am so lucky to find this offer, today, on the Internet), “discover” (my god, this is totally new and I could be the first one in and make a killing) and “$0 cost to you” (and to think, all of this without any expense to me).

As a newcomer to Internet Marketing I hit the link to the promised land, and the sales page greets me with this: “I’m Revealing My Secrets I Personally Use To Drive Thousands Of Potential Customers To My Websites!” This is coupled with the reassuring phrase “you can drive 1000s of potential customers to any website or affiliate website and $0 cost you!” Again, remember the reference to “$0 cost to you.”

The most powerful word in this opening is “secret” (as in only this very successful person and I are going to learn the secret). The word “secret” and “guru” in Internet Marketing go together like matching bookends.

There is, really, no big secret; there really is just one-upmanship in thinking there is. Literally hundreds of other marketers are successfully using the same secret. The inexperienced buyer simply has not yet apparently acquired the knowledge, applied the knowledge and profited from the experience. The reader is then reassured that “This works for any product, website or affiliate website” (as in it can work for you too).

Then there is an invitation to “Join my Marketing Tips Newsletter and I will show you free marketing tips – worth $500″ (wow, what I deal for me). Once signed up, you will in most cases be immediately put into an autoresponder, which bombards you with e-mail messages on a timed basis (like every other day for the next 400 days). You can opt-out of these messages at any point in most cases, but most newcomers do not figure this out until they become very annoyed with the process.

This entire sales page takes a sharp left turn here, the idea being to get the person on a mailing list in case they are not buying into the for real paid offer that follows (remember, we started with “discover a system how you can drive 1000s of potential customers to any website or affiliate website at $0 cost to you!” (as in free).

Prior to learning the actual price point that is coming (as sure as there is handwriting on the wall) is this claim: “I absolutely guarantee that if you use these tactics, you will get substantially higher rankings” (in search engines).

This, of course, is an asinine statement to make as the author of the statement controls neither the search engines or their ranking of websites. At best, the author could only guarantee to return the buyer’s purchase price should he or she feel dissatisfied with their particular results in using the tactics offered.

The bottom line is if you really want the advertised information the discounted price ends up at $49.97, with the admonition that it will be raised to $79.97 on December 1 (so it is a Limited Time Offer and you better act now or be left out). These ads invariably pressure for immediate action.

One could argue that the statement “discover a system how you can drive 1000s of potential customers to any website or affiliate website at $0 cost to you!” is literally true, what is not being said up front, however, is that it is going to cost you $49.97 to get the “secret information package” that would allow you to do so.

Given a more than cursory view of the offer, you must now decide how credible the offer is, and whether you will act immediately in your own best interest, because there is no doubt that the author of this ad is acting in his own best interest.

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