How to Stop Sponsored Content E-mail Spam

If you’ve got even a tiny website that gets an incremental amount of traffic, odds are that you’ve gotten some strange, suspicious looking E-mails from “content marketing companies” offering to post “sponsored content” on your blog. You’ve likely gotten these E-mails even if you don’t have a blog. These companies are far from discerning or even diligent in who they target.

These E-mails are indeed legitimate – sort of. These marketing companies partake in what can best be described in casual terms as a form of digital product placement. While specifics vary, the general modus operandi of these companies is for them to offer to pay you a fee in exchange for posting an article often written by the company itself on your website. The intent is to bypass the barriers of traditional advertising such as ad blocking software or people just not viewing traditional banner ads and embed the article into the “main content” area of the website.

This significantly increases the likelihood of the advertisement/article being read, which in turns makes click throughs to the original product the company is selling much more likely. Even if no product is directly pitched in the sponsored content, it’s pretty easy to see the hook these companies are going for. A sponsored article from a web host, for example, may talk about how to secure your web hosting server. The idea in this case would be to promote the expertise of the web hosting company to encourage sign ups.

On paper this is a legitimate form of advertisement and I certainly don’t blame media websites for doing what they need to keep the lights on. Some of my favorite tech websites including Techdirt have used sponsored content fairly and ethically, clearly disclosing sponsored articles so that the viewer knows what they’re getting into and working with reputable companies.

In practice this has led to a shady underground network that the legal system is still grappling with. Stories are rampant of people failing to properly disclose sponsored content. More insidiously is the practice of websites going out of their way to “hide” sponsored content, sometimes at the direction of the marketing companies themselves. Less-than-reputable companies are also trying to get themselves promoted, especially the casino industry, in ways that can have disastrous repercussions for companies that take them up on these offers.

You’re likely to get these E-mails regardless of how active or widely read your blog is due to most of these marketing companies indiscriminately sending these pitches to large E-mail lists they’ve purchased or other unsavory practices such as mining business directories. They’re often sent through actual newsletter software but disguised to appear as if you’re being addressed personally, with an option at the bottom to opt out of future E-mails being the only indication of the E-mail’s true origins. Opting out may not even work; I’ve certainly gotten repeat E-mails from companies who have claimed that I’ve unsubscribed.

I’m fairly active on this blog except for a hiatus I recently took. As such I usually get several sponsored article pitches per month even though this is explicitly in my FAQ: “I do not feature sponsored content of any kind on my blog nor am I an affiliate marketer.”

I usually ignore these E-mails, sending them to spam or trash where they belong, but one E-mail I received a while ago from a content marketer named Rick made me take notice since it was a slow day.

Hi Michael,

My name is Rick & I represent (Name Redacted) – an agency that lives and breathes content marketing.

I was on your site recently and noticed that you actively publish great content which is why I want to discuss possible content opportunities with you.

I would love to send you a couple of article titles I’ve came up with or discuss sponsoring relevant resource link placements 🙂

Would you be interested?

Kind regards,

I’m not sure what motivated me to do it, but I replied noting that I explicitly say I don’t accept sponsored content on my website, which prompted a followup E-mail from Rick which included this puzzling nugget: I did, in your FAQ page. Reached out still because people change & you’d be surprised how many website owners out there don’t update their content even if they change their rules.

Let’s unpack that for a second. Rick reached out to me despite reading explicit verbiage that someone doesn’t accept sponsored content in the vague hope that it’s out of date despite my website clearly being updated on a regular basis and which he allegedly viewed as being such a great site to be worthy of promoting his client. Confusing, right?

This is all just smoke and mirrors though. The intent of many of these companies is to just get their client’s sponsored content on as many sites as possible for the search engine optimization. They don’t care about the quality of the content, how relevant it is or even how many people actually read the website. Hence why they reached out to me. Opting out usually doesn’t work with spammy companies; they’ll find a way to opt you right back into their list, or just buy another one.

So I made a decision recently: Game on. You all want to be on my website so badly? I consider my website a temple, a repository of my work going back a decade and a well of my ideas, thoughts and journeys. If you’re going to pay for the extraordinary privilege of taking up space on this website, you’re going to pay for it.

As of this writing my fixed rate for sponsored content is $1,000,000 per promoted blog post, plus an additional $25 service fee because I feel like it.

That’s right. If you want to pay me to put sponsored content on my website all you have to do is pay me a nonnegotiable, nonrefundable fee of $1,000,025 plus any applicable taxes. That’s how much I value the real estate on my website and it’s what you should be paying me for the incredible business opportunity.

In all seriousness, I’ve sent this exact message to a number of particularly aggressive sponsored content marketers who have sent me these pitches. Not only have they not bothered responding, but I’ve yet to receive any E-mail from them ever again. Why would they bother if I’m not taking them seriously? Imagine the frustration of these spam companies when they see a potential mark has replied – only to find that it’s a goof E-mail. An opt-out on your part is temporary but a clear message from you that you’re going to waste the spam company’s time tells them they shouldn’t bother with you at all.

These E-mails are intended by the “content agencies” as business opportunities, so you may as well do business with them. You’re showing them a huge opportunity by giving them that kind of quote because your website is just that awesome and they should pay for the privilege of having their content on your kickass site. Or why not offer to to stick the promoted post on a hidden page not visible on the website at all? Be creative!

Be mindful of the fact that this wouldn’t be an issue in the first place if 1) These companies would stop spamming you or 2) They’d take you up on your gracious offer and pay you your $1,000,025 fee or whatever you chose to make it. If they did, everyone would win. They’d get their promoted post and you at least made a substantial return on your investment.

So if you’ve ever been annoyed with the spam you receive from these content marketing companies, reply back with some junk E-mail of your own. At this point these spam companies only have two options:

  1. Entertain your faux proposals and try to get you to take them seriously. Don’t expect this to happen since these companies have quotas to meet and their sales reps won’t have time to deal with you.
  2. Stop annoying you in particular with an endless flood of unsolicited E-mail spam.

It’s one thing to just opt-out of a content marketing company’s newsletter, the success rate of which is variable at best. So tell them you’re not interested in a way that will hopefully lead to them never bothering you again. Or you might make a cool $1 million out of it. Who knows? These companies are desperate and it only takes one.