I couldn't ignore them anymore, solo ads had been mentioned too many times by influencers that I know and trust.
- "I got hundreds of leads for less than 50 cents each!"
- "This is the FASTEST way to grow your email list!"
- "Solo ads are my NUMBER #1 source of new email sign ups."
I was seeing this weekly in Facebook forums and YouTube videos.
Although it sounded too good to be true, as a marketer, I couldn't at least give solo ads a try.
The concept is perfectly sound. My biggest reservation was the quality of the traffic I'd get.
I left my reservations aside and placed my first order.
I even signed up for the $19.99/month Udimi premium plan that promised better tracking and some other stuff. I was sold at better tracking. I'm a metrics nerd.
I wasn't expecting massive results. It was an experiment to satisfy my own curiosity and if I got big results, that was just a bonus.
NOTE: This is NOT another Udimi affiliate post where I use a clickbait headline and end up actually promoting Udimi in the end OR an affiliated competitor. Although my experience was with one solo ad seller, it led me to uncover some of Udimi's own shady practices. For that reason, I do NOT recommend Udimi. If you're considering them, please read this entire article first! I am not trying to sell you anything like the 95% of other Udimi blog posts are. I am trying to save you money AND prevent you from permanently damaging your future email deliverability rates.
What Is a Solo Ad?
Solo ads are paid promotions, purchased by people looking to drive traffic to a sales or landing page and sold by people who have audiences (typically email lists) that would be interested in visiting the ad buyer's page.
Customers buying solo ads will typically pay a flat rate for a certain number of visitors to the website of their choosing. There are other types of solo ads, but these are the most common. There are multiple 3rd party networks that connect people selling ads with people who are buying them.
There is nothing illegal or sinister about the process on the surface. Unfortunately, there are a lot of scammers in the space. That was to be expected. It was the corruption inside the Udimi network that facilitates many of these scammers and covers up their shadiness for their own financial gain that concerned me the most.
Here is the first purchase I made.
The opt-in leads to it's own email sequence (how could it not?) I know how much money a legitimate subscriber should net me once they are added to the email sequence automation. Paying $0.44/lead would be a money press for me IF the leads we legitimate and interested in what I offer.
Note: If this seller had any sense, he would have rejected my buy request when he saw I was at least claiming to be an email marketing expert. It's highly unlikely he even visited the 2 step opt-in funnel before he started sending traffic to it.
The purchase started off really well!
The seller, let's call him Adrian Costan, sent me (allegedly) 45 visitors.
Of those 45 visits, "16" filled out the form to download the free email sequence workbook.
45 visitors with 16 conversions is pretty solid. 35% conversion rates is definitely in line with what I had expected.
I opened up Clickfunnels to see how the traffic was converting.
This is what I saw.
**Cue the red flags**
A number of things concerned me here.
- There were only 12 page views (not 45). Also, there were more uniques than total... it should always be the other way around.
- There were 16 opt-ins of the 12 total page views. Someone opted in 2x, which does actually happen from time to time).
- Only 5 people saw the thank you page. This number should have been 16 since it's the next step after opt-in always. And yes, the funnel works if you're wondering 🙂
As sketchy as this seemed, I didn't rush to conclusions right away.
I did prioritize getting to the bottom of this though because I knew the lasting impact emailing people without their actual consent has on deliverability rates (more on that in a minute).
So, I opened up ConvertKit to see if the new subscribers were opening the confirmation email they received when they opted-in.
Note: I use ConvertKit to actually send emails to my subscribers. I have it integrated it with Clickfunnels since I love the sales page functionality of Clickfunnels but hate their email system.
Here is what I saw...
Not a single one of the opt-ins had confirmed their download!
**Cue the alarms**
At this point, I reached out to ConvertKit customer support to make sure that I wasn't crazy. I needed to know this before I actually did go crazy on this guy.
**Cue the bell to start the boxing match **
The evidence was in, it was time to confront this dude.
Here is our conversation (this was all done via the Udimi messaging portal).
This was priceless.
He wanted me to message all these users again, even though my automation has just done that and none of them confirmed.
His suggestion was to FURTHER increase my chances of them reporting me as SPAM.
It got better...
How nice of him... "there isn't anything in it for him.'
Mother f*cker, I'm going to get you booted from this site forever. You're days are numbered. You've NEVER had a better reason to care than right now.
But wouldn't you know it, as I tried to answer his question about why he was hiding, he pulls the ultimate admission of guilt and blocks me.
**Cue seeing red due to rage**
Why Fraudulent Solo Ads Are So Dangerous
Now, this wasn't about the $88. I spend hundreds of dollars a week on advertising for various businesses.
This was about my IP reputation.
Email inbox providers like Yahoo, Gmail and Hotmail use what's called an IP reputation to determine whether or not your email should be delivered to an inbox.
One of the big reasons IP reputation can be damaged is spam complaints. Fortunately, I haven't received any yet from the opt-ins I emailed.
"Spam complaints are a big part of reducing your sender score. Each complaint you get is like sending a message directly to the ISPs that their users do not trust your company. If you get too many spam complaints with a specific ISP, they can choose to just push all of your emails directly to the spam folder. Imagine if all your YAHOO recipients never see your message from an email blast because Yahoo has decided to put you in the spam folder." - Via SendinBlue.com
Email marketing is my biggest source of sales and conversions. The slightest change in deliverability rates can cost me $1,000s of dollars a month.
"How would a bad solo ad negatively impact deliverability? Why would they report you as spam?" You may be wondering.
Here's what's happening here.
This person has legitimate emails BUT he obtained them in illegitimate ways.
Have you ever gotten a "confirm your email address," email for something you didn't opt-in to?
I get them all the time. I got one this weekend in fact.
I've never heard of Dicord, but Killing Dragons is a bad ass username I must admit.
My first reaction is to mark these sorts of emails as SPAM, but I don't. I know that it was unlikely that the person sending the email is spamming me on purpose.
They are likely only guilty by association (in the eyes of the law) just like I was with the 15-ish people who got my confirmation email.
Adrian (the seller) did his best to cover his tracks but he messed with the wrong person this time.
I am savey enough in this business to sniff out a scammer and petty enough to devote a few hours to blogging about it 🙂
The Cover Up
Now, I’m not one to throw the baby out with the dishwater. I’m not at all saying solo ads aren’t a viable method for list building when done right, with the right people.
However, I will never use Udimi again. I will never recommend them and I will warn my fellow internet marketing affiliates to avoid promoting them as well.
Note: They have a terrific affiliate program in terms of earning potential. That is why you see so many videos and posts singing their praises.
It isn’t because of this one person that I'm turning my back on Udimi.
Here is why I'm cutting them off...
They aren’t interested in protecting customers. They are interested in making sales.
What do they do when someone like me points out obvious fraud?
Fraud that has potentially damaged their business going forward.
First, they give you a full refund.
Ok cool, good start, not done though.
Here is the part that made me lose all trust in them.
They don’t remove the promoter when someone makes a complaint, in fact, they suppress the feedback if the purchase was refunded.
They lump negative feedback for orders that were completed but complained about into the "not delivered" bucket.
This is the feedback that would protect future buyers.
The feedback that could have saved me from buying from a guy like this in the first place and spamming people.
Feedback like this...
Or feedback like these from 2016!
Yes, the same issues I noticed have been going on with this seller for years.
Here is what this would look like in real life if a company were to operate like Udimi.
Imagine you hire a head hunter to help recruit and hire employees for your company (let’s say it’s a bank).
You paid them to connect you with a good, qualified person. A person they vetted and stood behind.
They recommend someone and you hire them.
That new hire then goes and defrauds your customers.
Your reputation takes hit.
The agency says, “Whoops! Sorry! Here’s your money back, we’ve also covered his wages for you because we’re sooooo nice.”
However, you get word that they got the person another job at another bank.
They knew the person was a criminal AND still let it happen again.
Pretty awful, right?
Yeah, internet business is just as much of a business as a brick and mortar one.
How to Do Solo Ads Right (Can You?)
Like I said, I am new to solo ads, but I'm not new to spotting fake traffic, analyzing metrics and exposing scammers.
Like I've said already, there is nothing innately wrong with the concept of solo ads. The problem is that the 3rd party networks are a petri-dish for scammers. It is simply too easy for them to make money with click fraud.
Buyers think they're getting tons of opt-ins and in reality, many of them are getting nothing more than stolen email addresses that will never lead to sales AND can damage their IP reputations.
So, here are some tips to help you prevent the same mistakes I made with my first solo ad.
#1 Don't Work with Udimi or Any Network That Doesn't Immediately Remove Scammers
Even though I'm sure there are tons of great solo ad sellers on the platform, I will never be able to get over the fact that Udimi consciously facilitates scammers.
I have no other recommendations for solo ad companies, so do your own due-diligence.
#2. Know What Metrics Matter
The following metrics matter only after you've confirmed the leads are legitimate. These metrics don't represent a legitimate seller.
- Conversion rate. Scammers will make even the worst landing page convert at mouth watering numbers. Once you verify the traffic is legitimate, this metric is a good way to tell if the audience is relevant enough for you to continue working with them in the future.
- Number of opt-ins. Scammers will send you plenty of opt-ins. It doesn't matter if they don't confirm the opt-in and open future emails.
These things don't matter at all...
- Speed of delivery. You should be suspicious of anyone who sends you a flood of traffic too fast. As long as it's delivered on time, this doesn't matter.
- Positive feedback that doesn't mention anything beyond opt-ins. Many people will rave about an ad sold by a scammer simply because it looks like real results. Most people are not professional email marketers so they might not even realize they are getting screwed.
These things DO matter...
- Email Open Rates After Opt-in. Fake opt-ins won't open emails. You should have a good idea of what your email open rates will look like before you broadcast to new traffic. Low open rates may indicate the audience is either not as relevant as you hoped or completely fraudulent.
- Email CTR (Click Through Rate) After Opt-in. Clicks on your email broadcasts are what really matter. An email list is your source of future traffic that is already paid for. If they aren't clicking on your links, they aren't making you sales or growing your business.
- Sales without Refunds. Udimi does have a sales metric that shows the number of buyers who reported sales. The larger scammers will have to make some fake purchases in order for them to look halfway legitimate. They could do this by purchasing the products themselves and then doing chargebacks OR creating fake buyers accounts, buying their own gigs and reporting sales that didn't actually happen.
- Spam Complaints. If one of your brand new opt-ins reports you as SPAM, you need to take a deep look at your order.
Another big red flag I noticed was in the IP addresses that the seller reported.
The IPs shown on Udimi were perfectly normal. They were what you'd like to see as a buyer.
One interesting thing I found was that Udimi's platform showed a very good spread. Many different browser types, different states and only a few foreign countries. Pretty much the same sort of traffic spread I'd see at my website organically.
Unfortunately, since Udimi swiftly removed the ads history, I can't screenshot this too you or I would. You'll have to take my word for it. It looked totally legit.
However, when analyzing my opt-ins from Clickfunnels, I noticed a huge issue. All but one of the opt-ins were from the same place.
Ah, beautiful Bucharest, Romania!
A little research showed that the average salary there is about $630 USD.
My $88 purchase was nearly 2 months of their average salary.
#3 Immediately Kill Any Campaign That You Suspect May Be Fraudulent
Start with smaller orders and test your results. If you get the slightest whiff of fraud, immediately end the promotion.
If you collected fraudulent emails, remove them immediately and never contact them again. Not even with an apology.
#4 Work with People You Know or Are Recommended by People You Trust
There are great partners you can either collaborate with (Quid Pro Quo sort of value exchanges) or buy promotions from. You don't have to use a 3rd party platform like Udimi to make this happen.
Ok, that's my story 🙂
Let me know in the comments what you think of solo ads!