Search Engine Autosubmissions Run Amok

About two months ago, I’m walking through the office supplies store Staples. I see a product that claims to submit a given site to 3,600-plus search engines. It has the ZDNet Editor’s Pick logo with four stars under it. It’s even the Pro version.

I’m an open-minded guy. I start thinking that maybe it’s time to give such autosubmission tools (as they are known in online marketing parlance) another look.

In theory, such tools seem like a good idea. There really are probably 3,600 or more search engines and directories out there. If you could somehow know the submission form each one of these sites uses and then create a tool that matches your data with that form, you should be able to automate the process. And if the tool has the engines and directories broken up into categories, you should be able to do “smart” submitting – only sending your information to relevant sites.

In practice, however, these tools never seemed to work as well as just doing it yourself manually.

But with all the amazing advancements in Internet technology over the past five years, it is not far-fetched to believe that there have been advancements as equally amazing in autosubmission technology.

So I plopped down my $69.95 and decided to give it a try. At the very least, I figured, I’d get a list of URLs to 3,600 search engines and directories that I can pick through.

What I actually got was a piece of software containing more half-truths than a Microsoft press conference.

What struck me when I first started up the software was that many of the places it submitted to had the initials “FFA” in them. And when I dug a little deeper, I noticed that even more of the places had standard names, but “FFA” in their URLs.

So what the heck does “FFA” mean?

Well, I came to learn that it stands for “free for all,” as in “free for all link sites.” And apparently the concept has been around for a while. Here’s how it works.

Pretend I’m Richard’s Discount Long-Distance Service. I sell the world long distance at $.03 a minute. Under the auspices of being a good Internet citizen, I decide I’m going to build a directory of new Internet web sites. I go get a PERL script that lets me set up a free-for-all links page that people can submit to. It’s basically a running list of links – sometimes categorized, sometimes not. There are only ever a few hundred links on my list at any one time so that my directory doesn’t get unmanageable. New links are added to the top and old links are dropped off the bottom.

But my real reason for setting up an FFA link page isn’t my desire to help my Internet brethren find new, exciting resources. My real reason is that when people send their submissions to me, I send them back a confirmation email that says, “Thanks for submitting to my FFA links page. Oh, and by the way, are you looking for cheap long distance?”

It creates a legitimate opportunity for me to email them a pitch. Such marketing techniques are misleading at best, in my opinion. But I have to admit, they are pretty darn clever.

I decided to try submitting to one of these sites, just to get the full effect. So I picked a promising one called “1 a dennis crazy dollars web index.” Within 48 hours I received about 50 emails thanking me for submitting to various FFA link sites and pitching me everything from email marketing secrets to invitations to open off-shore bank accounts. (Apparently there is a gentleman’s agreement between FFA sites re submitters.) After that, it trickled down to a couple pitches a day. And I’m still getting one every few days – two months after the fact.

Imagine if I had submitted to the whole list contained in the software. I’d still be wading through the email today.

So my next question was how could ZDNet give this product such a high rating? Well, I checked into that, too. I found a review of a product with the same name done by ZDNet in May of 1998. You can read the review here.

The name of the company that makes the product is different, but it could be the same one selling the product today. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

But I also found this review of the current product. And it is more consistent with my experience.

There are two major things that upset me about this product:

  1. While it does do what it says – submit your site information to 3,600-plus engines/directories – it’s presented in such a way as to make you think you’re getting more than you really are getting.
  2. I basically paid $70 to get spammed.

Next week I’m going to go through how the old-timers do it. It is boring, tedious, labor-intensive work, but it still seems to be the best way to tackle the problem.

Type at you then!

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