Are You Unknowingly Using Bait-and-Switch Marketing?

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It’s no secret that bait-and-switch marketing techniques are dishonest. In fact, in many countries true “bait and switch” has been made illegal through different forms of consumer protection legislation. In the United States, for example, consumers can file a lawsuit against a marketer for false advertising if they’re using the technique.

In case you’re not familiar with bait and switch, Wikipedia says it’s…

“a form of fraud used in retail sales but also employed in other contexts. First, customers are ‘baited’ by merchants advertising products or services at a low price, but when customers visit the store, they discover that the advertised goods are not available, or the customers are pressured by sales people to consider similar, but higher priced items (‘switching’).”

Despite bait and switch being dishonest—and, sometimes, illegal—some marketers have discovered how to use bait and switch without getting in trouble. Two ways:

  • Either they make sure that they have the item they’re advertising for the price they advertise, but they then aggressively push a competing product at higher margins on the consumer.
  • Or they advertise an item with a low price, but clearly state that there’s a limited quantity of that item available. Then when the seller runs out, they promote a higher cost comparable item to the consumer.

Of course, not all bait-and-switch marketing tactics are as obvious. Let’s take a look at a few common methods so you can make sure you’re not unknowingly helping with a bait-and-switch scam.

1. Piggybacking


Piggybacking is when you use a competitor’s name or terminology to boost traffic and exposure of your brand or product.

This isn’t a true bait-and-switch technique, but many consumers could feel that this is an untrustworthy way to earn their business.

For example, if you’re selling glass lamp shades, you might be tempted to use the term “Tiffany lamp” when describing your product. While you might not directly say you’re selling Tiffany lamps, you could mislead your potential customer to believe that’s what you’re selling.

Comparing your product to another product is not piggybacking, but if you’re padding your keywords to get traffic from people looking for Tiffany lamps you may be piggybacking. And, a consumer looking for real tiffany lamps could find your site and get upset at your bait-and-switch technique.

An easy way to avoid any confusion is to be upfront with your potential customers. Also, avoid using trademarked terms, slogans, or product names when marketing your product.

2. False Keywords and SEO Bait and Switch

As the popularity of targeted keyword research and pay-per-click advertising increased, so did the use of bait-and-switch marketing with keywords.

Keywords are meant to help people find relevant information and products related to what they are searching for, so using targeted keywords is a great way to get potential customers to find your website.

However, some marketers look for as much traffic and exposure as possible—regardless of how suitable that traffic is.

If you’re using keywords that aren’t directly related to your product, service, or content, you’re using a bait-and-switch marketing tactic. You’re basically saying, “I have this thing you’re searching for!” But, when the visitor gets to your site, you give them something else.

For example, when you search for “free energy generator review” in Google, most of the search results are false review pages promoting affiliate products. This is frustrating for a consumer who wants honest, non-promotional information about a product.

This page is an obvious landing page:

Bait and Switch example

This short review-themed landing page has over a dozen affiliate links with highly promotional copy directing you to buy a program to start making your own electricity—for free.

This is bait and switch because I searched for a review. The marketer used that keyword phrase to get traffic to a site for selling a product.

Another false keyword example is from a major retailer. Searching for the term “camouflage curtains” for my husband’s office yielded some odd results.

JCPenny’s ad showed up as the first AdWords result when searching this term. When you click on the ad you land on a page of curtains, but there isn’t a single camouflage curtain in their inventory! In fact, there aren’t any curtains on that page suitable for someone interested in camouflage curtains.

Bait and Switch example

This bait and switch—while it may have been an oversight—costs JCPenny’s money every time someone clicks on one of their ads. And, if your traffic isn’t qualified because you don’t sell what they’re looking for, you’re not likely to make a sale.

Sadly, SEO and keyword baiting still works for many marketers. Sometimes it provides sales, but often it alienates the potential customer.

So how can you market effectively without the bait and switch?

Marketing Without Bait and Switch

One of the best marketing strategies is also the simplest. It involves no tricks, tactics, or questionable techniques …

Simply put, you give the visitors what they want—great content and exactly what they’re looking for.

Proper SEO and Keyword Research

By using keywords that your potential customers and clients are searching for you can optimize your traffic for the most qualified leads.

Getting a lot of traffic sounds good, but the targeted and focused traffic is what really converts into leads and sales.

Quality Content

Content marketing is one of the best online marketing techniques you can leverage. In fact, you probably visited this site because you were looking for this type of content.

By producing quality content that your readers and visitors are looking for, you’re building a lasting relationship with your client base. And a happy client base delivers more sales, conversions, and referrals.

Of course, you should tailor your content to what people are looking for and what they want. Then, with the proper keyword research and usage, readers can easily find your content.

Cross Promotion

Cross promotion is when you promote another site or business and they promote you. This can be very lucrative in the world of online marketing because you’ll get backlinks to raise your ranking in the search engines. Plus, some of their traffic will visit your site, increasing your visitors and potential leads.

When done properly cross promotion is a win-win for all parties involved. But do beware: Google could perceive cross links as a linking scheme and demote your website. Check out Google’s post on linking schemes to learn more.

Bait and Give

One of the best ways to get traffic and qualified leads is by giving away a bait piece. I call this “bait and give” because you’re providing something of value—that’s relevant to your potential customers—without any real strings attached.

The only “string” attached is you asking for their email address and permission to email them.

Just remember when you’re marketing directly to potential customer’s inboxes you need to continue providing value while building trust. Pure promotional emails will have readers hitting the unsubscribe button at alarming rates.

Your bait piece can be as simple as a checklist or as complete as you want to make it. Some marketers give away videos, audio lessons, and more. It’s all up to you.

Is there something about bait and switch that I forgot to mention? Let’s talk about it in the comments below …

Christina Gillick is a direct-response copywriter. She helps her clients create loyal customers and raving fans through relationship building copy and marketing. She is also an entrepreneur and founder of ComfyEarrings – The Most Comfortable Earrings on Earth.

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