Virtual Invasions: What do crickets and affiliate marketers have in common?

UPDATED 05/26/14

2013 Cricket Invasion in Oklahoma. Photo by @MartinezML on Instagram
2013 Cricket Invasion in Oklahoma. Photo by @MartinezML on Instagram

The wall of this McDonald’s was a common site in Oklahoma last September as a plague of crickets invaded the state.  That’s right – crickets. Like Jiminy.  Cute little bugs that make chirping sounds by rubbing their legs together.  Fantastic (free) fish bait.

But in numbers like this – all over your car, the sidewalks, the outside of your home – they’re not cute.  They’re not fascinating.  Their chirping is not romantic.  It’s terrifying. And gross.  And after a while, it’s just plain annoying.

Ron Paul Revolution
Image from the Victory Store

It reminded me of a virtual invasion we experienced in the couple of years leading up to the 2008 elections (I was in political blogging back then). Does anyone remember seeing the “Ron Paul Revolution” (with “Love” spelled backwards) logo plastered all over the web? If not, maybe you remember seeing stickers and signs used as graffiti all over your town on overpasses and street signs and gas pumps and building walls. On an individual basis, a lot of these Ron Paul supporters were the nicest people you would ever want to meet – just trying to get their candidate elected. But in a swarm they could be more like a plague. Online they would swarm to any website that mentioned their candidate and depending on whether the article was positive or negative about Ron Paul, they would either promote the webstie through social media and back-linking, or wreak havoc by leaving angry comments. Either way, they caused a lot of DoS attacks and server outages.

What to do? Well, when the crickets invaded, we did what we could to protect ourselves from them. We were careful not to leave doors open, and some people tried using pesticides in their yards. Mostly, we just waited it out. Some people got some good fishing in during that time. The RonBots (as they were fondly called) were handled much the same way. As bloggers, we girded our loins as much as possible, and then hunkered down and waited until the election was over. Some of us learned that we could get really good surges of traffic (which back in those days seemed to help with Google page rank) by posting any poll containing the name of Ron Paul on our site – as long as we didn’t post a poll containing a question that was likely to anger the hoards and bring down our servers.

Now that my primary focus is content writing, I’m encountering a whole different type of invasion. This one isn’t new, but it’s the first time I’ve had to deal with it in these numbers. On a daily basis, I’m approached by online affiliate marketers – the newest legal version of the pyramid schemes of the days of yore.  Basically, the plan is that you sign up for a program, then you get paid to convince other people to sign up for that program.  Then you get paid when those people convince more people to sign up for the program, and so on.  I remember trying something like that by mail in the 90s.  I lost a few hundred dollars.  Lesson learned.

Affiliate Program Illustration
Image from Curt Bizelli, affiliate marketer

Anyway, individually, most of these affiliate marketers are delightful.  They’re ambitious, energetic, and eager to make a good living for themselves and their families.  For some of them it actually works, and they make some money.  Good for them.  Normally I could ignore all of this, but unfortunately one of the things that happens is that when these folks are trained to set up their websites, they are told that they can hire a content writer to write their web content.  This is true, and I think the content writers and the web hosting companies are probably making more money on affiliate marketing than most of the affiliate marketers.

There is a process to hiring a writer to write content for your site, however. First, you need to have a plan for your business and your website and have some idea what you want on your website, and what you would like to say.  THEN you hire a content writer. The vast majority of people who contact me have no idea what they want to put on their website.  They just want me to give them an about page, and a few services pages, and some blog posts – as if I’m supposed to make this stuff up out of thin air.  Several of them have sent me links to their competitors, and asked me to just give them sites like that. What?!

No. Can. Do.

I don’t scrape material from websites, and I’m not qualified to help anyone design a business plan.  I’ve set up a few small businesses myself over the years and…well, we’re not even going to talk about how that turned out.

My main point is that if you’re going to hire a content writer, and especially if you’re going to hire one over on Fiverr for $5, for the love of all that the Interwebs stand for, please figure out what you want that content writer to write before you place your order.  And don’t just ask them to copy someone else’s site.  That is just wrong. Whether you’re going to do affiliate marketing or if you’re going to do something else to earn a living, do it honorably.

Have any of you content writers out there had encounters with affiliate marketers?  How do you handle it? Do you write for them, and how do you handle the communications?

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