Saturday, April 4, 2009

Rocket Languages' language software reviews: Astroturfing at its finest

I've mentioned before how RosettaStone's PR people seem to be everywhere, and competitor Rocket Languages doesn't appear to be taking it sitting down. In fact, they appear to be doing a full-court press, including what appears to be a pretty blatant astroturfing campaign.

Here's how Wikipedia defines astroturfing:

formal political, advertising, or public relations campaigns seeking to create the impression of being spontaneous "grassroots" behavior, hence the reference to the artificial grass, AstroTurf.
Why do I think Rocket might be astroturfing? The blatant evidence, after the jump.

My suspicions were piqued after I noticed a pattern among sites that seem to recognize Rocket Languages' software as top of the line.

Here's what the M.O. appears to be. Someone buys domain names that sound like independent, third-party review sites. The domain names have the feel of phishing or other web scams because they're just not quite right; the grammar is weird, they use an odd hyphen or two, etc. And, according to whois searches on, the websites appear to have been registered by Enom, Inc. (the older ones) or (the newer ones). It seems like a limited number of people are behind these sites, rather than them being small, independent sites.

On each of these domains they build the website of a "reviewer". Each website is slightly different, but the look tends to be pretty similar, as if designed by the same person or group. And how do you think these reviewers feel about Rocket's products? Why, they're always the best, of course! If they don't get ranked first in a best-of list, then they get five stars or some other stellar ranking.

Some pages also contain reviews of, say, RosettaStone as well. These competitor software products get decent reviews, but of course they don't beat out Rocket's stuff! This seems like a tricky way to get up there in Google's rankings; stick the name of a few highly Googled competitors' names in there, and bingo, links from Google.

However, the websites do go to some trouble to look legit. They include links to other language learning materials. They'll even say one or two negative things about Rocket's products, but still give their backing to Rocket.

All in all, it's a pretty clever scheme, if only a bit too obvious. The list below contains a few examples, but you can easily dredge up more through a few quick Google searches using keywords like RosettaStone, Rocket, review, software, language, or any of the languages offered by Rocket.

What's above is clearly enough to raise a few eyebrows, but I found indisputable evidence on the Warrior Forum, which bills itself as "the #1 internet marketing site since 1997". This thread tells you how you can get involved in Rocket's astroturfing campaign, at least part of which is being handled by Don Davis, who has designed some of the sites:
Rocket Language Review Sites! What a great opportunity to add an entire city block of new review sites to your Virtual Real Estate empire.
(For more on virtual real estate, see here. Click ahead to around 4:16 to get to the heart of it.) If you click through the link in that forum, you get this:
What I have to offer in this [Warrior Forum Special Offer] is an opportunity to put a little stable of sites to work in your online business. I have put together 6 review sites for the Rocket Language products.

These products have all been on Clickbank for quite some time, and the company boasts a customer base of over 180,000. These products are all priced right at a hundred bucks and pay between 69 and 75% commissions. The products are of a high quality which means you are more likely to keep the sales you make.

You may purchase one site individually, or you can buy them all in a package. I have also built a seventh site which reviews the Rocket American Sign Language product. This site is not being marketed in this WSO, but you can pick it up as a free bonus if you elect to purchase the full set of sites featured in this offer.

You can see how Rocket's been working with Clickbank here. Basically, Rocket has set up an affiliate system whereby anyone who builds up a website that can generate hits to Rocket's site and sales can make money off of it. Even if they are not directly behind each website, they're certainly enabling the M.O. described above.

What's more, if you did any of the Google searches I mentioned above, you might have come across some Rocket reviews on Guess what? More astroturfing. From the Warrior Forum thread mentioned above:

I had one article on [] in a twelve hour period that had only 25 views and 6 click thoughs. I got one sale already of $34 in that period! It must be down to my amazing article writing skills (lol) and definately also down to Don's great site design skills - thanks man.
But guess what? Rocket's tactics appears to be working. Here's Rocket's six-month website ranking comparison with RosettaStone, courtesy of Alexa:

While RosettaStone is largely flat, Rocket is gradually catching up. RosettaStone's mass coverage seems to be meeting its match with Rocket's sly campaign. Still, the whole thing makes you wonder... are either of these actually any good, or is it all just slick marketing?


  1. Ah, yes. And thanks. I was just lamenting that Rocket didn't have Thai...

    There was a product I raved about several years back (it really was fantastic and still is), so I considered creating one of their sites.

    They give you all the code, graphics, layout, everything. You get the domain name and hosting package and you are set.

    Of course there are people doing this unscrupulously (and should increase in this sad financial market), which is a shame.

  2. Let's not forget and
    All these sites say, "I was surprised because I have never heard of Rocket xxx before." was recently parked, I'm guessing that reviewer has never heard of Rocket either?

    How are they getting away with this?

  3. No one seems to have been paying attention to people doing this sort of thing, but the New York attorney general recently fined a cosmetic-surgery company $300,000 for faked reviews (see here). So Rocket may not be able to get away with this for much longer.

  4. There was also a time when people copied language learning videos on YouTube, re uploaded them on their own channels and then linked this channel to a Rocket sales page. They did it with some of my German lessons, too. :)

  5. Eric, it doesn't look like they'll be able to get away with it much longer, at least in the U.S. See "Is the FTC about to give Rocket Languages a call?" for more.

  6. Looks like the gap is closing. Have to say both companies produce great products.

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