Wow, this was starting off to be a really painful Friday for one unfortunate REALTOR.
I get a phone call this morning from the same woman who already left me (4) voice mails spaced about 20 minutes apart.
The first voice mail sounded important. The second sounded a bit more desparate. The fourth voice mail was nothing but sobbing. Her voice cracked and she apologized profusely for the number of calls.
9:07 am Denver time, I call her back.
It picks up on the first ring. You could hear the relief in her voice as we spoke.
She immediately told me her website was gone off Google's page one. To protect the REALTOR's name, let's call her Sarah.
Sarah explains she followed the advice of a few SEO consultants and one of them recommended she buy 5,000 + likes for her website from Fiverr free lancers. She buys 800 EDU backinks (pictured left) and several more from different Fiverr freelancers in Israel, China, Canada and the Philippines.
So in total, Sarah spends $25 dollars on 5 differnt Fiverr people who claim to get her Google-friendly text-link anchors with pointers to her website.
Sounds too good to be true. Because Sarah was told by Bruce Clay her SEO and Internet marketing would be about $3,800 a month for 6 months. An investment of over $22,800.
So Sarah thinks she can short cut this to just $25 for Fiverr links, and another $300 she paid to an SEO professional (with an Active Blog on ActiveRain)
The tragedy in this story is that Sarah was TOLD by Bruce Clay NOT to buy the back links on Fiverr because Google was about to tweak the PANDA algorithm again and it was being widely told that days of the "link farms," and the "Pay Per Post" bloggers days were numbered.
Sarah didn't listen to the sound advice from Bruce Clay and the lure of $400 dollar investment for a quick fix was just too compelling for her to resist.
Ironically, she finds her $400 paid off. Or so, it seemed.
You have to understand that Sarah did all of this BEFORE Google's PENGUIN update which made the practice of buying links a "death sentence" for your website.
Over a tiny period of just 3 months, she saw her stealth website climb up from page 43, then leap up to page 17, then a week later to page 11, then a few weeks lager UP to page 3 and then five weeks ago... to page one.
For one month, two weeks and five days... she was page one #3 when you entered in any one of several key word search terms.
But on the morning of Friday December 7th, she discovers in horror that Google pulled the plug on her site.
Citing the reasons were because of the 5,374 SPAMMY back links she had her website liked to.
Okay, this is a truly sad story. But I need facts to work on so I put my "journalism hat on" and I asked her the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHY, WHERE questions.
WHO did the work for your backlinks: I get the list of (5) Fiverr freelancers.
WHAT did they do: They gave me back links
WHEN: Sometime in March, April.
WHY: Bruce Clay told me my SEO job would be 6 months and a little $22,000. It was nothing I could remotely afford. I paid an SEO (individual) $400 and she told me to hire a few Fiverr freelancers and I'd get the same if not better results.
WHERE did these back links come from: Some educational site I was told and I wasnt told about the rest.
Once I made these notes above, I told Sarah I'd run a Majestic SEO report on her back links and get back to her in two hours.
A Majestic SEO report revealed that 1,096 links were from Pakistani, Indian, Russian and Chinese websites.
2,033 links were to websites and blogs containing the key word: mesothelioma"
717 were linked to pornography websites
The rest of her links were coming from websites that were listed as ERROR 404 (page not found).
Do the math. 5,000 plus back links in two weeks from Fiverr freelancers is what set off the alarms with Google.
There remains a large number of REALTORs that still think there's nothing wrong with buying back-links or asking Fiverr freelancers to lie on video posing as happy home buyers.
In my real estate coaching and countless client discussions, I still see this one come up time after time again.
Sarah's RUSSIAN ROULETTE
This is what Sarah was doing. Like playing with a revolver, she puts one bullet into the gun and spins the chamber. Do you feel lucky? CLICK. Okay, I'm still alive. Next bullet.
Bullet #1 was the SEO advice she first received from an inept, SEO Bozo.
The 2nd bullet was buying 5,000 back links. Sarah catapults her Website visibility up to page 11 in less than 40 days. CLICK, okay, her website is still alive.
The 3rd bullet was the 400+ fake likes on YouTube. Google and Bing push her up to page 3 now. Click. Hmm. Pretty darn lucky. Here website was still alive. Now Sarah insert's the 4th bullet. The odds are not in her favor here.
CLICK - BOOM! The 4th bullet killed her website but she had (temporarily) page one #3 ranking on Google.
TIPPING POINT: Was the 3 false and misleading "satisfied buyer" videos she had. Apparently, another REALTOR knew the face seemed too familiar in the video, and sent an email to Google to report her. A second email from the same whistle blower went to the state's REALTOR Commission.
It didn't take long for Google to repond. And they pulled the plug on Sarah. Google informs her that the website no longer complies with Google's Webmaster guidelines.
Google's end of the email, instructs Sarah on what to do, and how to resubmit her Website for reconsideration.
As for the consequences of her putting so-called videos on her site that were from 3 Fiverr freelancers -- the jury's still out on this one. She only knows she received a letter from the REALTOR Commission citing she was accused of some "unethical business practice," and that further investigation was on-going.
So much for a Merry Christmas for Sarah. Her website was dropped from Google. The state REALTOR Commission is looking into her unethical video testimonials.
She asks me if she should sue the person who recommended her to use Fiverr for back links and the video testimonials. Ouch. A loaded gun question because I'm not an attorney. So I told her to please contact one. I was not about to give one piece of advice that would land me into the same hot water her so-called SEO advisor is about to face.
But this is interesting. Sarah paid for advice from an SEO / Internet marketing person. The recommendations to Sarah were to buy back links and get three people to say things that the SEO marketer wrote for her.
In the eyes of the law, that SEO person simply gave unethical advice to Sarah and to top it off, she suggested she perform an illegal act.
FACT: The FTC as of December 2009, passed into law that no business shall engage in or attempt to deceive the general public with facts or videos that are blatently false.
The consequences for Sarah so far have been a permanent ban from Google's coveted first page rank for her business website. The second death blow is still yet to come for her. That being what the State REALTOR Commission is going to do about this. Sarah's concern is her license to sell real estate will be revoked.
So who's responsible here? The SEO marketing person who simply sold Sarah bad advice? I'm thinking two people are to blame here;
1.) The SEO person who was hired and gave Sarah advice to commit an illegal act condoned by the FTC
2.) Sarah for being so naive to follow through on hiring people to lie on video who were never home buyers
Sarah is obviously intelligent. She has a masters degree in business and she's been to all of the Ethics courses. She maintinad her 30 CE's well before the deadline. I'm not sure she can feign temporary insanity, diminished capacity or her SEO person did the work. Sarah paid for bad advice, to be sure. But Sarah is the one who put the bullets into the chamber and pulled the trigger.
What about Fiverr? Should they police the kind of services their Freelancers provide?
Do you think it's kosher to let people sell FAKE Like's on Facebook just to artificially boost your rankings? Do you think Fiverr should be punished for allowing people to record videos that the FTC says are illegal for businesses to use?
Don't get me wrong. I'm not here to bash Fiverr. I actually Love them.
But some Fiverr gigs are not policed very well. Anything goes on Fiverr to some extent. Buying custom sex videos can be had if you're careful and know what to look for. Women even sell their clothing on Fiverr for money. These services are in the Bizarre section of Fiverr.com
I'll be Your Girlfriend for a Week on Facebook
Let's assume you want to get Bob's wife to be jealous. Bob is a Top Producer at Amazing Realty. You work for Sotheby's. Both of your firms are selected by the listing for the dreaded "listing interview" Bob wins the listing. You are pretty bitter about that.
Fiver makes it easy for you to get revenge pretty anonymously. You know Bob's wife, Tara is a bit on the "jelous side," and you know that Bob and Tara use the same Facebook account.
You go to Fiverr, spend $5 bucks and tell this cute blonde cutie to post sexy comments on Bob's Facebook page. You think it's a riot. Until you read in the newspaper Tara shot and killed Bob for cheating on her with some blonde tart posting (lies) on Facebook. Only one problem, you never told Tara it was a prank.
Lies disguised as Pranks can sometimes go too far.
Like the disc jockey's in the U.K. that pulled the prank on the hospital where she posed as the Queen asking questions of the nurse as to Katies condition. The embarassment was too much for the nurse to take, so she committed suicide.
Fake Reviews + Lies on Product / Service Videos
Everyody wants a short cut. This seems to be engrained in our human DNA. I call this, the "need it now gene," is what gave birth to FedEx, ATM Machines, Instant Rice and thank GOD for the "last minute." Because if there were no such thing as "the last minute," then 90% of anything we do, buy or love will never get done. Right?
Jokes aside, breaking the law isn't very damned funny. And Sarah lacked a certain candor in her accepting any form of responsibility. Sue her SEO advisor she paid. Okay, sure I might buy that for a minute. But when you cross examine Sarah's intelligent factor here, being a REALTOR for over 10 years, having been to the ethics classes more than a few times... one would start to wonder how she can possibly blame all of her pain on her SEO advisor or Fiverr.
Personal restraint, or common sense seemed to be lacking in this case, and Sarah... if you're reading this; I'm sorry for not sugar coating any of this. You screwed up royally and while I appreciate your phone calls, I'm not going to be very sympathetic on this one. You knew better. Shame on you.
I hope the REALTOR commission doesn't take away your license. If that doesn't happen, then God has intervened on this one. Because if it were up to me... I'd have the REALTOR Commission make an example out of you so every other agent wakes up and sees what NOT to do by hiring Fiverr people to lie, cheat or steal their way to the top of a Google natural one page rank.
It's cheating and it's wrong. Period.
REALTOR SEE --- REALTOR DO?
You watch TV, right? Ever see the TV commercial for Extenze? The magic pill for men that makes their "private part," get bigger? It's pure bunk. I bought 5 boxes. One for me, 4 for friends. We all took them for a week? After the box was empty I challenged anyone of us "man-ly men" to ask each of their wives to measure the size during their intimate moments.
The results? Nobody grew an inch. Not even one centimeter. Our survey says: FALSE / DECEPTIVE ADVERTISING.
Another TV commercial called LIPOZENE claims a pill that removes fat and makes you thinner. Another lie.
Who the hell is going to believe any of this crap? Apparently a lot of people do, and these companies hide under the claims of "this statement has not been endorsed or evaluated by the FDA."
Because we see so much blatant mis-leading ads on TV, this might be one of the factors that lead us all to believe that doing what Sarah did wasn't so bad. If you see it on TV, it can't be against the law.
Hiring Actors vs. Deceptive Advertising and Marketing Practices
Hiring an actor on Fiverr to tell people about your product is one thing. TV commercials hire actors all the time. But the fine line you cross over is when you ask that Fiverr freelancer to state they made money by working with you, or sold their house through your brokerage, helped them find/buy a home from you or your brokerage.
When you do that, it might seem innocent. But when you do that, you are breaking the 2009 FTC law by misleading people with false statements disguised as testimonials.
This is what can land you with a stiff $30,000 fine, jail time or more if someone discovers you did this, and turns you into the FTC.
My Public Apology and Withdraw
While I reported earlier that Fiverr can provide you with Facebook "Likes," I have to confess it's probably not a good idea to toy with that idea because it can lead to other things. The temptation to hire freelancers for $5 bucks to lie for you.
Creating testimonials that are fake, are only going to hurt you sooner or later. And if you carry it too far, there's a good chance you could be facing stiff fines or jailtime if you mislead a buyer or seller and you get nailed for it.
The FTC does in fact, encourage "whistle blowers," to call them and report websites or advertising that sounds "too good to be true." And they offer rewards now for people to turn you in.
For a few agents with a crappy GCI this year... that idea alone can be pretty tempting to turn in a few of your colleagues that are know are doing a little more than just "puffing."
It's a jungle out there, people. Be safe. Be cool. Do the right things.
Nuff said on this topic. Now go out there and sell some homes.