Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Five Ways to Protect Medical Websites and Blogs from Marketing Scams

If you run a popular medical website or blog (or any website/blog for that matter) you will inevitably be contacted by people who want to advertise on your website to market their brand name or product. Sometimes you will be contacted a company representative but other times you will be contacted by freelancers or other third parties who work to promote businesses on the internet.

Fortunately, most of the people who contact website/blog owners represent legitimate and reputable companies but this is not always the case. To maintain a popular and trustworthy website, it is crucial that you protect it and your readers from dubious advertisers and marketing scams. Below are five tips to help prevent you do this based on personal experience.

1. Do a News Search: Simply take the name of the company and search for it in the news section of a major search engine. You are looking to see if the company is involved in some sort of significant controversy or receiving some type of negative press. For example, I was once contacted by someone who wanted to place an advertisement for a rehabilitation facility. A Google News search revealed that the company had been in the news for using controversial and scientifically unproven techniques that resulted in several deaths.  I had not heard of the facility previously and would not have not have known without the search. A good example of how a little investigation can go a long way.

2. Do a General Search: Not all companies will be involved in controversy significant enough to have caught the eye of the media to warrant a news story. This is where a search on a major search engine’s main page can come in helpful. For example, I was once contacted by a freelancer who was selling advertising for a company offering test preparation guides. Nothing turned up on a news search but a regular internet search revealed that all user reviews were negative, accusing the company of selling a fake product with wrong answers and refusing to issue refunds. True or not, this was not a company that would be advertising here.

3. Go to the Company Website: Evaluate the company’s website. Does it look professional? Would you feel comfortable being directed to it from a website you trust? Does it seem like the website is making outlandish or dubious claims that may put your readers at risk for deception?  Does the website seem exploitive in any way? Look for names of who runs the company and do a search for them as per above. Is the site run by someone who lost their license for malpractice and/or involved in recurring media controversies or is it run by an established physician(s) well-regarded by his/her peers? Answers to these questions will help guide decisions about advertising placement. 

4. Do NOT Install Code Files from Third Parties: You should not install code files (e.g., source code) on your website/blog provided to you by third parties because you can unknowingly be placing malicious content on your website/blog that can spread viruses and malware.The one exception to this would be source codes for ads provided by reputable advertising programs such as Google Adsense.

5. If it Does Not Seem Right, Go with Your Instinct: This part is more difficult to describe because it is the most subjective but if something seems suspicious, trust your instinct and stay away. For example, I was once contacted by an advertising agency requiring a signed contract (which is unusual). Upon asking the agency rep the name of their company and website, the company name provided could not be found on any search engine, it was claimed that the website was down for repairs, and the link provided to a supposed new website looked like it was created in a few minutes and consisted only of a bar across the middle of the page with a few words.  Another advertiser once asked to purchase 10 text links of short phrases scattered anywhere throughout the page, even in tiny font. This is a very odd request and a little investigation revealed it to be a company with a bad reputation.

Suggested Reading: The Con: How Scams Work, Why You're Vulnerable, and How to Protect Yourself

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