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Lead Laundering

Perpetually a year or two behind the times in what's happening on television, I am, despite all the bad press and dithering CEO, a satisfied customer of Netflix, and watch most of my television through my Netflix subscription. In the past few months, I've been burning through the first three seasons of Breaking Bad, a pretty good show starring the craggy Bryan Cranston, who, as a high school chemistry teacher diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, resorts to cooking meth in order to support his family long after he's gone. The increasingly fraught decisions of Cranston's character embroils him more deeply in the drug trade, which, as you can imagine, makes home life complicated, and here you have the ingredients of a good drama with some thrilling moments.

I will spare you the rest of the exposition and critic's review and cut to the chase. In recent episodes, Walter (Cranston's character), flush with drug money, is advised by his lawyer to launder the money or be caught by the IRS. For those not familiar with the concept of money laundering, he's basically discreetly putting his ill-gotten drug money into a reputable business that he owns in order to conceal the source of his fortune. That business is then taxed by the government, and Walter's fortune is legitimate and intact, albeit somewhat diminished after Uncle Sam's take.

It occurred to me when watching this and then coming to work and speaking with a few prospective lead vendors that this concept of laundering has a place in the higher edu lead gen industry, albeit a slightly different version. Here's how it plays out:

  • A vendor has a clean-looking portal with nice navigational tools and a believably searched-for domain. The more sophisticated the laundering ploy, the more attractive the domain.
  • The vendor claims to have proprietary sources of traffic, including organic and paid search, an email list, maybe an affiliate or two.
  • You do a deal with this vendor, they have no problem sending you leads, ramping and throttling, etc. Good customer service.
  • In fact, this vendor doesn't have any proprietary sources of traffic, or those traffic sources are at best a negligible percentage of the overall traffic mix. The vendor uses all sorts of traffic sources that you don't have any insight into, and whose marketing methods you have no control over. These are traffic sources, some of which are networks themselves, that you normally wouldn't sign a deal with, who are able to launder their leads in the portal of this seemingly upstanding vendor.

Your brand is accurately portrayed on the portal. The leads you're receiving contain all the required information, perhaps a higher percentage of them are screened, but, overall, on the face of it, these leads are valid leads. Everything seems fine, except that these leads are cheaply gotten and of generally poor quality. And, when the leads aren't working out, you might hear about changes that can be made in sources of traffic. You want to believe them. The portal is nice, they can get geo-targeted and other targeted leads (MBAs, military), and the domain suggests that their traffic is the kind of traffic you either could convert or should convert. So, you may re-up with them, only to be disappointed with the lead quality and the amount of money you've spent to find out that you've made a bad media buy, not to mention that you don't know what kinds of ads these leads have seen upstream in connection with your institution.  

Obviously, not every portal is like this, and not every vendor who uses affiliates that are blind to you is laundering leads in the unsavory sense of the above. But, there are quite a few examples of the above doing very well in the industry, and knowing how to spot them will save you a lot of time and money.


Published Jan 05 2012 by admin

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