Old Scams Come In New Disguises. Link-Ponzi Web 2.0

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A fellow affiliate marketer and blogger with the name Andrew Wee from WhoIsAndrewWee.com was writing an interesting post while I was heading to Affiliate Summit East in Miami two weeks ago.

I liked the post, because it had two nice paragraphs about what I am doing as well as a link to my site. I would never complain about that. It looked funny. The article shows ten site reviews with a link to each of the ten sites also included. On top of them are the rules explained and illustrated on an example. Andrew removed the 10th review at the end added the review of Cumbrowski.com on top of it to make it ten reviews again. His site was reviewed by somebody else before, that review was right below the one he did for me.

Then I saw the sentence “I’m sure he’ll propagate this carnival once he gets a chance.” … Wait a second. What will I do? Now I started reading the whole thing and it sounded nice at first glance, but turned fishy a few seconds later. I commented today and apologized that I don’t’ think that it is right and will not propagate it at ReveNews.com or here at SeachEngineJournal.com. Andrew emailed me and said that he meant me propagating it at Cumbrowski.com.


I started a response explaining that Cumbrowski.com is a resources site and not the place for a tag-me game or link carnival and that this seems to be some sort of pyramid scheme anyway. While I was pointing to things in his article and the concept, did I realize that this is a bit more than a pyramid scheme and much smarter. Somebody changed it to hide the pyramid scheme concept.

The pyramid scheme was hidden by this rule that states:

Remove the Bottom Review and At the Top add your own review with a link to a site reviewed, at least 2 sentences about the site and a note – Reviewed by: Your Anchor Text. Link your anchor text to your site. Here is an example: ….

It looks much more like a rotation, like a steamroller that moves through cyberspace. It is always ten reviews, so there cannot be a pyramid, right. Wrong, there is one, only a small one, but enough of a reward for somebody who helps the creator of this scheme to get the thing moving.
The scheme has two players that work together. Both will benefit from it while the creator will benefit the most, if things go “very well”.
The creator of the scheme is Alex Sysoef from Howtospoter.com who started Howtospoter.com just recently. The first post made was on April 19, 2007. Jack Humphrey is Alex friend who helps to get the thing going.

Look at the Reviews at Andrews Blog.

10= Me reviewed by Andrew
9= Andrew reviewed by Michelle MacPherson
8= Michelle MacPherson not reviewed, jumped in for Peter / Peter Lenkefi reviewed by Jack Humphrey /
7= Andy Coates reviewed by Howtospoter.com (“WordPress Web 2.0 Guide”* link)
6 – 1= (and two already removed) were lucky but uninvolved bystanders. All of these sites were reviewed by “Alex”, no link provided.

It started out like this at Jacks blog two “steps” earlier:

10 Helper Jack Humphrey
9 Scammer Alex Sysoef
8-1 Dummies

If everything goes well and eight to nine people fall for the trick, nine links will be earned by Alex Sysoef (Jack links also to him) and nine by Jack, who is on top of the list.

*Not too bad, keep in mind that the links are targeted (the eight pre-done reviews are written to support Alex main key phrase “WordPress Web 2.0 Guide”) and have the right anchor text in the link.

Now Alex thought that there is more to get out of it. Did you notice the little example that is mentioned in the rules? Did you also notice that the example has two (now three**) links?

WordPress Web 2.0 Guide” and “WordPress Web 2.0 Spot-er”, both pointing to Howtospoter.com, Alex intended to ride the cut down “pyramid” to wherever end it will take him. That greed was also breaking its neck. I was only the small pyramid.

The first reviews were right on the target for the content of the to be promoted site, but the scam was send off into a different direction, internet marketers with little SEO knowledge, but enough knowledge to buy into the promising looking idea, which is also so Web 2.0.

What Alex not realized is that the bloggers (so far) were always nice giving credits to the person who had the idea and were writing and linking to Alex site outside the “carnival” scheme in their surrounding post. Okay, it would not be the right anchor text, but hey, ten good anchor texts where you also know that some of the content will be relevant to what you promote, is enough and more than you could hope for. He should have taken it and hope for the bloggers to do what they do, reference the source and leave it at that.

**The targeted anchor text idea broke already apart with the first blogger who was not involved in this scheme, Michelle MacPherson who broke the one link “WordPress Web 2.0 Guide” that was pointing to Howtospoter.com in the example (hey, she did at least noticed the links) down into two links. “WordPress” was now linking to Howtospoter.com, “Web 2.0” to Michelle’s site, and “Guide” ended up being bolder but not linked anymore. Damn you Michelle. Michelle seem also not to be so “white hat” in his ideals. My friend Andrew was also not so innocent and decided to make the word “blogging” at the “official” introduction a link to one of his properties.

Note that Jack originally reviewed Peter who didn’t do anything on his blog. That made Michelle jump in for unknown reasons and pick it up, without her site being reviewed and in that list. That would exlain her sneaky link additions though.

I had a very good laugh.

It did not get very far how it seems. Only two people who decided to change the rules of the game a little bit too.

Alex got links from three other sites, Jack from two, Michelle none (because she jumped in for Peter who got the link from Jack) from one and Andrew from none, okay one from this one (actually three links from this post). I hope that it will help to heal the damaged pride.

Five uninvolved sites got three relevant links out of it, one site two and another site one. They seem to be the real winners in this. The blog tagging frenzy and this viral marketing hype makes some people forget about the basic principles of Ponzi-Schemes and pyramid scams. Social web is nice and good, having hundreds of friends at MySpace or Facebook also, but keep in mind that not everybody who pretends to be your friend is always interested in your well being but his own.


Carsten Cumbrowski
Internet marketing resources at Cumbrowski.com, including social networks, forums, organizations and blogs. Have a nice weekend everybody!

Carsten Cumbrowski
Carsten Cumbrowski has years of experience in Affiliate Marketing and knows both sides of the business as the Affiliate and Affiliate Manager. Carsten has over... Read Full Bio
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  • Andrew Wee

    Great analysis.

    The one thing about these link carnivals is that there is a level of social reciprocity/obligation built into them.

    While the trading/backlinking of links is nothing new (eg like the 8 things about me meme), it’s probably more important to go through the chain and make sure you’re not pointing at MFA sites or explicit landing pages.

    How do you feel about memes?

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Hi Andrew,

    What I think of a meme in general depends a lot on the WHAT, WHERE and WHO. The thing is, that this is not a meme, but advertising for the guys product disguised as Meme.

    If it would be a Meme, then you would write a review of at least two sites and they have to do the same.

    There are only connections from one point in the Meme to the next and no “master connection” that links each point in the meme to a single point elsewhere, unless the meme has that point as subject.

    You need to more than one possible point of continuation, to
    a) make the meme spread as fast as memes usually do (exponentially)
    b) ensure that it does not die, because of one dieing end.

    Me refusing to continue kills the so called meme unless somebody like Michelle jumps in and makes the thing her own.

    A meme usually only “dies” if virtually all possible touch points were touched (virtually everybody was “tagged” already) or if it reaches the borders of its relevance on even multiple points of continuation die faster than they are able to recover.

    The Affiliate Summit meme for example die quickly, if people can not find untagged people who attended the event. I can tag other people, but they would not be able or interested in to continue the meme.

  • Andrew Wee

    Hi Carsten,
    I think the thread I tagged you with is clearly labelled a “link carnival”.

    Your analysis of the master link outside of the rotating links is insightful.

    I don’t believe they attempted to pass it off as a meme, I was curious to hear your position on memes.

  • CarstenCumbrowski

    Andrew, I consider blogging a personal affair. A meme that helps you to improve the connection with other bloggers and/or your audience on a personal or professional level is a good thing.

    It also allows you test the performance and accuracy of your Web 2.0 monitoring tools and services πŸ™‚

    As with everything, too much of a good thing is also bad. Personal does not mean family or close friend so you have to be careful with how personal the meme is and if it is appropriate for the environment you are blogging in.

    As I said before, important is the WHAT, WHERE and WHO. If all three things are okay, the meme is okay. I hope this makes sense.

  • Jack

    I don’t think it was meant to be taken this seriously by anyone and it certainly wasn’t meant (by me) to be some kind of scam to get a bunch of people linking to me.

    If I did these every day, every post, it would be different. But the commenter above has it right in saying relationships are formed with things like this, and it’s really a choice to be made.

    Ponzi schemes TOTALLY refer to money schemes – there was no money exchanged here and it was a fun blog/community experiment.

    You’re right that it didn’t go that far and that’s why you haven’t seen anything like it since on my site.

    Knowing the people involved, this was done in nothing but an atmosphere of fun, experimentation, and good will towards all who participated.

    But I guess it made for a great post idea for you – good job on that!

  • Carsten Cumbrowski

    Hi Jack,

    I am glad to hear that the intent was noble, but I hope you understand the principles that you applied intentionally or not to your little fun experiment. That was the whole reason for me to post about it.

    I referred to it primarily as “pyramid scheme”. You are right about Ponzi Schemes, which are a specific type of pyramid scheme.

    Pyramid schemes come in all shapes and sizes and are not always obvious at first glance. The intention by the creator are in most cases not so noble. He is also often fully aware of the fact that it is a pyramid scheme.

    This does not exclude the possibility that a pyramid scheme is created by accident without having anything bad in mind at all.

    Just FYI. I did not pick this up by choice. It was brought to my door steps. I stated that at the very beginning of the post. I post whenever I feel like it and if I think that it is interesting and hopefully educating as well. I don’t have a blog about the professional subjects I deal with for this simple reason. I don’t have to blog every day or even every week and pressured to look for “new post ideas”.

    I hope that clears things up. Thanks for your time to comment on this matter. I don’t know you, but the fact that you did respond makes me believe that you honestly did not intend it to be a pyramid scheme and that it was an accident.


  • Carsten Cumbrowski

    One a side note: Did you see the parts about what some of the other people did who actually played the game? That by itself is already very interesting. πŸ™‚

  • Alex


    Interesting review although it was never intended to scam anyone … yes, it was a linking strategy and clearly stated as such. You are wrong that Jack Humphrey helped me to launch it – Jack was invited by me personally about a week after it was already rolling and while his big readership did contribute greatly – in no way he was invited to “scam” anyone …

    I actually find it quite interesting how a good intentions can be twisted by someone πŸ™‚ Great writing on your part.

    I have no intention to deny that I have benefited from that Reciprocal review but so did tons of other people, which you could have easily learned if you did some research but hey … who cares, right? especially if it makes for a nice and controversial blog post.

  • Carsten Cumbrowski

    Hi Alex, thanks for your comment.

    Quote: “good intentions can be twisted by someone ”

    Could you please elaborate on that one?

    Quote: ” I have benefited from that Reciprocal review but so did tons of other people, which you could have easily learned if you did some research but hey … who cares, right?”

    Did you read my post? …and I do care. Do you think I could have written what I wrote without prior research? Interesting.

    Quote: “especially if it makes for a nice and controversial blog post.”

    Please see my comment in response to Jack’s comment. You obviously did not read the comments first before you responded. Talking about due diligence.

    I don’t want to start a bs conflict here, but I could not leave your comments about my integrity, the quality of my research as well as my intentions unanswered.

  • SEO Web Design

    Pryamid linking? It does not matter how you really build your links because at the end of the day permanent results are built by constantly following the guidelines set.

  • Internet Marketing

    Permanent links are what webmasters should be looking at. it is not worth getting penalized for linking.