How to lie and cheat to get a good search engine ranking for your client, the PureImagin way.

Since it is common knowledge that you don’t earn a lot of money by being a freelance journalist, I often get asked why I don’t change careers and do some PR stuff. Probably the most obvious reason is that if I did that, I’d be earning my money with shit like this:

Anybody who runs even a semi-successful blog or website with regularly updated content will know what that is. What we have here is an email from a PR company trying to place a free link to a website run by a client of theirs on my blog. They want me to mislead my readers. For free, no less. They do this because the client believes SEO works – ie. the bullshit idea that you can scam search engines like Google into giving a site better search rankings and more exposure by placing links on other sites that are read by people with similar interests and such. As if Google wasn’t smarter than these douchebags.

I usually immediately delete these things and block all future emails from that address or, especially if the mail is clearly coming from a PR agency, the whole sender domain – such are the ground rules clearly stated on my contact page.

This one is special, though. First of all, the guy claims to be a student. I always have sympathy for people at university and want to help them, if I can. And also the domain that I am supposed to link to is pretty legit. Private Internet Access is a VPN provider that, like many of these services, runs a blog dealing with privacy issues to bolster the exposure of their service. I even know one of their writers: Glyn Moody is a respected UK tech journalist and an ex-colleague of mine from The H days back in London. He did confirm to me that he’s been writing for them for several years, too.

You wouldn’t necessarily expect a respected source like this to hire a PR company that resorts to sleazy tactics like scammy SEO link placements; even if many VPN providers are known to use pretty sketchy PR tactics once in a while. Because of this, I kind of thought this was a real request at first. The student thing made me sceptical but at least I didn’t block and delete on sight.

But looking at the email more closely, it becomes obvious that it was sent by an employee of a PR company and not a university student working on a thesis concerning censorship issues. It’s right there in the sender domain of the email:

According to their website, PureImagin is “a digital marketing agency with the goal of helping companies and small businesses to grow their business in a more accessible and efficient way”. They “use various marketing strategies to raise brand awareness, generate traffic, and increase sales in a short period of time.” Apparently that includes pretending to be students and spamming journalists – who explicitly have asked people not to do this to them – with lies to get them to link to their clients. Luckily they are dumb enough to use their own domain to send these emails.

PureImagin, at least according to their website, doesn’t have a Dean Williams working for them, by the way. Probably another lie as I suspect this spam is generated automatically and sent out in large volumes. Their whole website might be a lie, it suspiciously looks like it’s completely made out of stock images.

Having blown their cover in about a second, I decided to see if I can confirm that this was a scam and sent a quick email back:

Date: Fri, 17 Sep 2021 11:18:14 +0200 (CEST)
To: Dean Williams <>
Subject: Re: is helping combat internet censorship

Hi Dean!

That is very interesting. I’ll make sure to have a look at that.

I must say I’m very curious about my readers and the way they derive value from my writing. May I ask what the title of your thesis is? Maybe you can send me a synopsis. And yeah, where are you studying, BTW? :)

Best wishes,


Fabian A. Scherschel
Freelance Journalist, Writer & Podcaster

…aaaaaaaand of course it’s a scam. The shitty automated answer confirms it:

I hate fucking sleazeballs like that. I mean, I’m not saying the whole advertising industry is doing this. And readers of my blog will know what I think of many of my colleagues in the journalism profession (spoiler: not much), but there the problems are mostly down to incompetence. This shit is clearly malicious.

PR is always about putting yourself or your client in the best possible light – it’s corporate propaganda. And as such it always skirts the line between misdirection or lying by omission and downright lying. PureImagin clearly crosses the line regularly. And in an automated, mass-mailing way no less. Anybody using a company that employs such tactics should be ashamed. It’s one of the fastest ways to completely lose my trust as well. And you’d think with a VPN provider like Private Internet Access, their business was built on trust. But what do I know. Definitely not a service I would use or recommend now.

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Header image credit: JP Valery