People often ask about my background with internet marketing, and I’m always reluctant to share it.
I first got into the whole ‘IM’ world back in 2009. I was 16 years old, and determined to make a lot of money.
The reason I’ve never shared the story before is because the money was all made from spam.
The focus was never “how can I create value in my marketplace”. It was “what can I do to make money asap”.
I’m not going to lie, it was fun. And lucrative. One single campaign brought in over $22,000 profit in a day.
But it was unethical and short term.
Today, I want to share the story with you.
This is my honest account of how it happened…
Back in 2009 I was part of an affiliate network named CPALead.
CPALead had a fairly revolutionary content monetisation tool.
Rather than selling information, you could have visitors complete an offer (usually referred to as “survey”) to unlock it. For example they would sign up for a website to access it, and each time someone did, you would get paid.
This was called “content locking”.
Here is an example of how a “content locker” looked:
(For anyone that has come across these before, you no doubt have a deep hate for them. If you haven’t, you’ll understand why later.)
What drew me to this was the numbers.
These guys were sharing their stats in a chat room.
One guy under the alias “Originator” did $14,000 in a month.
Another guy was doing $40,000+ per month.
At the time, that was unimaginable.
“Imagine all the Xbox games I could get with that! I could just sit and play Xbox all day and do nothing else”
That was my sad, but real dream at the time.
So I did what everyone said to do.
1. Pick a niche
2. Give something away that people want
I heard “Farmville” was taking off, and decided to build something around it.
I’d never played it before, but it seemed worth a try.
I setup a website named GameCheatPrograms.com, where I gave away cheats for FarmVille, and some other Facebook games, in exchange for people completing an offer (aka the CPALead content locker).
My promotion strategy was based on an eBook I read earlier on spamming YouTube.
Create a video which consists of a still image, long enough to have it shown in the thumbnail, then include text pointing them to your website.
I created multiple of these videos daily, almost all identical. And uploaded them across several YouTube accounts.
It seemed I picked a good niche because there was no competition at the time. My videos were coming up top when you searched “FarmVille Cheats” in YouTube. And I had more and more of them going live daily.
From there it was a matter of scaling..
Uploading more videos. Creating more websites. Targeting more games.
(My 16 year old selves horrible attempt at copy. Though I think I stole some of it from an info product on how to become a Farmville millionaire. Oh, and it was a total lie too, I’d never played Farmville.)
I ended up creating a new website specific to Farmville, named FreeFarmvilleCheats.com.
As well as websites targeting YoVille, Cafeville, and some other games I can’t recall the name of.
I’d never played any of these games before, but it was easy money. This business scaled to $100/day fast.
My next business idea was even more spammy and dodgy than the last.
I noticed there was huge demand for watching sports matches online.
At first I tried the YouTube strategy to promote this, but it failed miserably. YouTube kept deleting the videos.
Then I came across JustinTV.
For every big sports game, there was thousands of people on JustinTV looking for a stream to watch it on.
I started spamming my link in the chats of relevant streams.
It made a little bit of money, but it was never much. I think the most was around $50 from one game. Not bad for posting a link a few times, but nothing special.
I shared the strategy with a friend of mine, and the weekend after, he showed me his earnings.
Over $1,000 in less than 4 hours.
He let me in on his secret…
Rather than spamming other peoples live stream chats. Setup your own live stream and control the chat.
Here is where it got clever.
We obviously were not streaming sports games, that would be illegal.
But if you “pretended” you were about to stream it, and streamed a fixed image of what looked like the game, so people saw that on the thumbnails, you would get thousands of people on your stream.
We did this every week for NFL.
Every Sunday, over 1,000 people at one time would tune into our streams.
The thumbnail trick and pretend intention of streaming was the “bait”.
The “switch” came next.
“JustinTV won’t let us stream it here, go to this website instead.”
And then point them to an affiliate link where they can watch it.
Suddenly I had a strategy to make $1,000+ every Sunday, from about 3 hours of work.
We also repeated it for UFC matches.
(To this day, I still haven’t watched NFL or UFC before)
And then the NFL season finished.
I was searching for my next big idea, and I came across a script for sale on DigitalPoint forums.
It was one of those “I hate my ex-girlfriend” website scripts.
Where you showed pictures of your “ex-girlfriend”, and the more people someone referred to the website, the more pictures they would unlock.
As an avid Xbox gamer, my first thoughts came to the idea of using this for Microsoft points.
The more friends you share the website with, the more Microsoft points you can get.
I got the script and setup a website named “MSPointsGenerator.com”.
What happened next was crazy.
Slowly though, my YouTube videos began picking up, and my website went viral.
Even now in 2015, a quick Google search for the domain “mspointsgenerator.com” brings up 4,140 results.
Another Google search for “mspointsgenerators.com” brings up an additional 4,560 results.
(That’s because of the massive downtime issue we experience. A whole other story, but the basics are we setup a brand new domain at a different host, then redirected it, to get the site live again asap.)
And YouTube brings up 249 videos in total matching both those domains. The top ones having over 25,000 views.
The website really did give away Microsoft points. But it had a few misleading attributes, namely…
1. It made people think they would get the points just for referring people, which was a lie. They needed to also complete some affiliate offers.
2. It mislead people into thinking they were seeing part of the code, to get them to complete the CPALead content locker. They had to do this 4 times. Then they were given an offers page where they had to complete even more offers to actually get the points.
With that said, we did send out a bunch of codes.
But it was far from ethical. And it was far from my intention at the time to help out my fellow gamers. I just wanted to get as much money as I could into my bank account.
And that’s exactly what this website did.
A search for the website and you can see there are a lot of links like:
Well, the “/?i=2271597” part is a referral number. Every time someone visited the website, they got a unique user number that incremented by one. This number was used in their referral link (example shown above), to track how many referrals people got.
As you can see from that link, within a few short weeks, the website had over 2,000,000 unique visitors. Hence the hosting issues, this was on a cheap HostGator account at the time.
And the money was rolling in. The best day brought in over $22,000 profit. And the best week was a little over $92,000.
It dropped off as quick as it gained though. And within a short period of time it was down to $1,000 per day. Then a few hundred dollars per day.
My business partner and I capitalised on how well the script worked and started making new websites with it.
Oh yeah, I forgot to mention the business partner…
A mentor of mine at the time, who first introduced me to affiliate marketing, offered to put £20,000 into my business and help me start an affiliate network of my own (something I was fascinated with at the time), to partner with him 50/50.
This was in January 2010. At the time I was earning around $100/day from the cheat sites, and the NFL season had ended.
I accepted his offer.
Back to where we were with the spam…
We started another website for PSN points.
The name, again, copying our previous success, PSNCodeGenerator.com.
This one received a few hundred thousand unique visitors. The best day brought in a little over $10,000.
We also tried an iTunes one, and a few more Xbox ones, they didn’t seem to work out.
My business partner, who I’ve deliberately not named, you’ll see why later, wanted to try some other types of free gifts.
We setup a website for free Dooleys, which is a liqueur. It got over 10,000 unique visitors, but made very little money.
Another one about Doritos. That didn’t get traffic, or make money.
Then we created TryFreeCandySample.com, a website promoting free Skittles.
(We deliberately avoided putting Skittles in the name, to avoid trademark violations, and potentially losing it in the future. And 422,517 samples were not sent – that was the sign up count – more misleading strategies)
This website took off and had over 400,000 people sign up. We changed our process slightly and got their email address first, then we could market to them afterwards.
In terms of earnings though, it wasn’t much. The site in total made around $1,000 after all of that traffic. Most of it was from Latvia.
We also got a cease and desist letter from Wrigleys, who own the Skittles brand.
After that the site was re-branded to be a generic free candy website, which the screenshot above shows. It didn’t matter anyway, the traffic was slowing down and the website wasn’t making money.
What did matter was how we grew the website.
Rather than YouTube as before, the magic this time was Facebook.
We had a Facebook page about Justin Bieber with over 1,000,000 fans. We bought the page for $7,000.
The page actually got shut down not long after. But it showed the potential of Facebook.
Not to mention there was this guy under the name of Thomas that earned over $4,000 in a day, and said it was all from Facebook.
Suffice to say, I started studying how we could use Facebook to get traffic.
It was good at first.
You would create a fan page offering something fun, like a funny picture.
Then you would ask people to become a fan to access the page. Then they would complete your content locker to access the funny picture.
I remember trying to buy a page with 700,000 fans and growing fast. It was named “I bet you can’t stare at this for 23 seconds without crying”.
The page got shut down in the middle of negotiations with the owner, so I setup my own identical one. It reached 400,000 fans one day, and was increasing every second. By time I woke up again the next day, the page was shut down. Though there was over $1,000 extra in my affiliate account as a result of it.
But as more and more marketers got onto Facebook, and realised the traffic and earnings potential, it became much more spammy.
And I was a big part of it.
The 2 step process of…
1. Become a fan
2. Complete offer
Soon became 3 step process..
1. Become a fan
2. Share with friends
3. Complete offer
And then we discovered “likejacking”.
You could iframe the like button, make it invisible, and have it follow the visitors cursor around. All they had to do was click, and they instantly liked the page.
You no longer asked them to like the page, you told them to click some where or something, and they automatically did.
One campaign which brought in a few thousand dollars while it lasted, was one where we setup several pages all with the exact same name. Rather than using the “likejacking” technique once, we got them to click in multiple different boxes, therefore liking all of our different pages.
From memory, I believe it was this campaign, featured on the NakedSecurity blog by Sophos:
The reason I said “from memory”, is that it looks exactly like one I remember doing, but many people were doing the same thing, and I created that many – it’s difficult to remember them all.
Our job, was to come up with ridiculous headlines that would get people to click. Or clickbait, for short.
Here are a few I can remember running:
- I lost all respect for Emma Watson when I seen this video
- I lost all respect for Miley Cyrus when I watched this video
- OMG! This one year old is pregnant with twins
- Free Toms Shoes (received another cease and desist letter for this)
- See who viewed your profile
- Free iPhone 4 application
- Find out who blocked you on FB
I continued coming up with tricks to get people sharing things with their friends on Facebook, whether they wanted to or not.
We created a code that you pasted in the address bar to automatically invite your friends.
We created applications that automatically posted on your behalf when you joined.
When you could no longer use likejacking on a fan page, we started doing it on websites instead.
There was never any thought into adding value. It was all about the money, and it was paying off. Not as well as the Microsoft Points site, but it wasn’t bad.
The free iPhone 4 applications, also featured on NakedSecurity blog, made over $10,000 in a single day on the front end. And then we promoted FreebieJeebies on the backend, which brought in a further £4,300 (approx. $6,500 today).
And the Miley Cyrus websites had several millions of visitors on the websites.
I say websites because we figured out a system to keep making money out of them. Every so often, we would change the website people were sharing (without them realising they were sharing it), and redirect all the traffic to a new website. Thus moving it all before Facebook could shut it down.
You can see that with all the different duplicates here and a lot of fans:
In terms of earnings, those websites brought in around $11,000 within a couple weeks for me personally. The most viral day brought in over $4,000 each, for myself and my JV partner at the time.
Shortly after, I made the conscious decision to quit.
I had a new business idea that was legit and could make a lot of money. It never ended up coming to fruition, but when I thought about doing it, it made me realise how unethical it was what I was doing, and how much I’d enjoy doing something that actually helped people.
While the money was good, I was not getting enjoyment from the work. It was all about the money.
And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Facebook cracking down on the spam didn’t help my reasoning. It was becoming more and more difficult.
So, after the last campaign got shut down, I finally quit that business.
If you are wondering how much we made in total, in 2010 our revenue was over $800,000.
That sounds better than it is because we also had an affiliate network side of the business that my partner was working on, that accounted for about $500,000 of it, and that part of the business wasn’t profitable after an issue getting paid.
The money was fun though, I’m not denying that. I started travelling the world, and loved it.
But a few months before I made the decision to quit, I lost everything.
At the end of 2010, my business partner and mentor at the time, decided to steal everything after a disagreement. With my naivety with the company setup, this left me with few options to get it back.
And my carelessness of money, left me with less than a dollar to my name.
I started again, by myself, and managed to earn a little bit of money, but it was around this time that I decided to quit.
In total, I came out of the spamming business with around $15,000, and a new-found passion for travel.
So, why am I telling you this story?
I’ve never shared this story before because it shows how dodgy the strategies used to make that money were.
It’s not something I’m proud of, nor something I could do today.
But it’s the truth of how it really happened, and has some great lessons I hope you can learn from.
These days my business revolves around creating value. And I believe that is the only way to truly become rich.
My clients hire me for SEO, and I use my SEO expertise to increase their sales and revenue.
I eventually got back into affiliate marketing too, but not content locker stuff. I now actually help people by referring them to legit companies, and get paid for doing so.
If I started a business like an SEO agency back in 2009, who knows where I’d be now. I expect much further than I am now.
But hey, I’m happy how things have turned out, and still have big goals for the future.
I’m currently travelling Asia, while running a six figure business with virtual assistants doing most of the work.
If I could only give you only one lesson based on what I learnt from this, it is to focus on creating value.
It sounds like one of those generic guru statements, but it really is true. When you start focusing on creating value, people want you to make money, and they want to give you money.
When you don’t care about value and just want money, you may make some fast money, but people will resent you for it, and want to bring you down. I spent over a year fighting against Facebook by coming up with new ideas to spread my spam.
When you create value, there is no fighting, people try to help you instead.
With that said, I hope you learned something from my story. This is my background and how I got started with internet marketing.
I don’t expect you to like or agree with it. I just want to share it with you.
If you’re one of the many people that I wasted the time of in the past, please feel free to leave insulting comments.