My grandmother had a poster on the wall of her bedroom that said, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you."
Well, I'm paranoid that people are gaming the Internets.
And I don't just mean the "SEO experts," who fool their clients more than anyone else.
And not just the people or social media shazbots who make those weird comments on blogs—"many thanks for a terrific post; it's exactly what I was searching for"—fishing for random trackbacks to their site.
I'm talking about real creeps. Creeps with names. Names like Sarah.
Last Thursday I got an email from a Sarah Miller, proposing in the subject line "Suggestion for writingboots.typepad.com."
Always open to suggestion, I opened the email:
Dear Writing Boots,
My name is Sarah from Article Writing Services. We have a client who would like to pay you for the opportunity to sponsor a blog post that you have recently written. We know that blogs can be expensive to run and our client would like the opportunity to support you in that endeavor.
In return our client is asking for one link that they specify placed into the body of the blog post (no porn or gambling). Feel free to contact me with any concerns or clarifications you may have.
If you would have any questions or would like to start the process, please email me ….
Outreach Manager – Article Writing Services
Out of curiosity, I outreached her back to ask her what exactly they wanted me to link to and what they pay. Say they wanted to give me $1,000 for a link to an old Writing Boots post on education to an education foundation that I admire. Why not?
I’m glad you’re interested. Here are the details. My client, an education company, would like to sponsor 2 posts on your blog. What this means is that they would pay you $10 via PayPal for you to link back to them within 2 posts that are currently on your site ($5 per post). The text that we would give you to correspond with the links (one sentence per link) would be uniquely tailored to relate in a relevant manner to the topics of your blog posts.
Please let me know if this is of interest to you and we can move forward with specific links and posts. You will have the opportunity to see what the links and posts will be before you give your final agreement to post them.
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you!
I replied, "Sarah, please tell me the links and sentences and posts. I'd also need to know who the education company is, of course." Then I kidded her, "Instead of $10 via PayPal, could you just throw a pack of smokes in the mail?"
She specified which posts, and she actually wrote the sentences she wanted me to build into them. Here was one of them:
"Fascinated by how people communicate? Learn about earning a degree at [link goes to some cockamamie online college thingamajob].
"The URLs and anchor text of the links need to stay the same," Sarah continued, "but you can edit the text around them to fit your blog style and voice, if you like. Please email me with the links when they are posted and also include a PayPal email address so I can check the links and send payment of $10 ($5 per post). From the point you let me know that you have posted them and I check to make sure that they look correct, you can expect payment via PayPal within 3-5 business days following that point from Jordan at Article Writing Services. Let me know if you need anything else from me."
"Okay, Sarah," I persisted. "But who is your client?"
"They are an education company that produces many websites about colleges and universities."
"I am a journalist, Sarah," I replied. "Enough of a journalist to be interested in getting $10. And enough of one to need to know who the company is that's sponsoring my posts."
And that was the last I heard from Sarah. I'll e-mail her the link to this post, of course, in case she'd like to respond.
But I hope she responds by resigning from "Article Writing Services" and finding a job in legitimate snake-oil sales.