Author: Nola Young
Last month, I discussed some of the on-line promotion techniques used by virtual businesses to help increase sales. I addressed the common, above-board practices that are used to draw positive attention to a business Web site. Unfortunately, there is another side to the on-line advertising game. One where unethical tactics are used to mislead browsers and to hold visitors to sites where they don’t wish to be.
It’s important to adopt ethical practices for all aspects of your business. And that includes your virtual business. Keep yourself aware of the unethical tactics being used. Take time to discuss them with your Web developer so that you won’t find yourself in a compromising position.
What unethical on-line promotion practices are being used to capture visitors and why are they being used?
According to a study by Cyveillance, a Virginia-based Internet intelligence firm, over 25 per cent of the top U.S. Internet destination sites are now using in-your-face tactics (first developed on pornography sites) to divert and hold visitors. The purpose of these tactics is twofold. Users are purposely misled by the nature of a site’s content and they are kept on the site for as long as possible. Then, whether a visitor is at a site of their own free will, or not, they are subjected to a stream of in-your-face ads that never seem to end.
These tactics cause visitors to become very frustrated and skeptical about using the Web.
The Cyveillance study indicates that there are 10 different sneaky tactics currently being used online. These tactics include what Cyveillance refers to as: spawning, mouse-trapping, invisible seeding, visible seeding, unauthorized software downloads, spoof pages, typo- piracy or cyber-squatting, changing home pages or bookmarks, mislabeling links and illicit framing.
Spawning, a tactic whereby browser windows are opened up without the Web user’s permission, is estimated to be used by 12.6 per cent of the world’s Web sites. Mouse-trapping is also an annoying and popular tactic. True to its name, mouse-trapping makes it all but impossible for a visitor to leave a site. Visitors can be “trapped” several ways. One way is to deactivate a browser’s “back” button so that a customer or visitor can’t leave the site.
Another method of mouse-trapping is the spawning of pop-unders. The only way visitors can exit this trap is to click on the ad or download the software. Mouse-trapping is also achieved by placing a redirect page into the browser’s history. This practice ensures that whenever people click on the “back” button, they go to the redirect page, which returns them to the location they wanted to leave in the first place.
A process referred to as seeding is used to ensure that a site will be picked up by search engines. Through this practice, words and phrases (often celebrity names) that have nothing to do with the site’s true content are “planted” in the site. For example, the word “Olympics” would have recently been planted on sites to ensure being picked up by search engines. For 17 days, the world was captivated by the Winter Olympic Games and people browsed the Web looking for whatever information they could find about the Winter Games. Simply including the word “Olympics” on a site ensured that a search engine would pick up the site and rank it among other Olympic sites, even though the site had nothing to do with the Olympics. Browsers would have become frustrated by this dishonest and luring tactic.
Seeding can be both visible and invisible. Visible seeding is where the phrase or name can be seen by visitors. When the seeding is invisible, the words are picked up by the search engine but are not visible to the eye.
Unauthorized software downloading is extremely risky. An opportunity for identity theft and fraud can occur when a Web site downloads software onto a consumer’s computer without their permission and quite often without their awareness. The software can
load up unwanted pages that will continue popping up after the user has left the site.
Spoof pages, also referred to as doorway pages, are actually dummy pages that are seeded with specific search terms. They are created for only one reason – to increase traffic to a site through search engines.
A form of cyber-squatting known as typo-piracy is also common. This happens when a site registers a Web address based on a well-known brand. However, the actual name registered will be off by a letter or two. It may also be the case that a Web address has a name that’s suggestive of an established site.
Unwanted Web sites have a way of sneaking onto a browser’s computer with the simple change of a bookmark/favourite or a designated home page. In effect, users are taken to a given page, regardless of their desire to go there, or not, anytime they open their browsers.
Hyperlinks can also be purposely mislabeled sending browsers to Web sites that are different than those they intend to visit. And some sites are involved in a practice called framing. Framing takes place when the user attempts to leave one site to go to another. The user realizes that he/she is only seeing the new site through a frame and has never actually left the original site.
You may have experienced some of these unethical tactics, as I have. As mentioned in a previous column, when I visited Bell Canada at www.bell.ca, I had to reboot my browser just to go back to a previous page. This occurred because of mechanisms set up to lock me into a page. It’s very frustrating and far too many sites use these techniques. Be sure to cover your bases so that you won’t leave yourself open to using these practices. Adopt ethical practices for your business Web site and watch it legitimately rise above the rest.
Nola Young is the president of KW Digital Solutions. Send your comments or questions by email or call 519-741-7641.