Bicycle businesses and organisations in the UK and the US are being contacted by the website for the British Bike Association, soliciting for reciprocal linking. The organisation claims the British Bike Association was created in 1982 and has 42,000 members.
BikeBiz.com can reveal that the British Bike Association does not have 42,000 members. The website it is run from - Bikes.org.uk - only started loading content earlier this year. The British Bike Association is run by Mark Taylor of Liverpool. He operates an affiliate marketing business called Shop Direct 247 (not to be confused with Shop Direct of Liverpool, the home shopping group that owns Kays, Great Universal and Littlewoods).
According to his Linkedin profile, Taylor left secondary school in 1982. If he founded the BBA in the same year, he waited until 2005 to register Bikes.org.uk. A search on the Internet's 'way back' web archive service shows that Bikes.org.uk had no content until 2008 at the earliest. News stories on Bikes.org.uk were first posted in May 2010.
Clicking on the RSS feed for the 43,000+ mailing list on Bikes.org.uk takes the visitor not to a bicycle-specific feed but to a feed for 'free tickets'. freetickets.org.uk is one of Taylor's many other affiliate marketing websites.
Online affiliate marketing is where a website sends customers to a retail website and, thanks to an affiliate link identifying the referrer, gets a cut of any eventual sale. Many online retailers offer affiliate programmes to bloggers and other third party websites. Amazon is one of the biggest players. In the bike trade, Evans Cycles, Wiggle and others also operate affiliate programs, offered through affiliate management agencies. Bloggers and websites offering genuine news stories and product reviews can send substantial traffic to online retailers.
However, 'link farms' are not so genuine. This is where a bunch of seemingly disparate websites all link to and from each other in order to gain higher search results on Google, one of the favourite tactics of 'search engine optimisation' agencies.
Sites which link to other sites by automated means are full-on 'link farms'. Sites which solicit for links and add them by hand are not usually classified as full-on 'link farms' and requesting such linkage is perfectly acceptable, albeit usually regarded as 'spammy' when emails are sent unsolicited.
The British Bike Association has just 28 followers on Twitter and just 74 'likes' on its Facebook page. The business links to Wiggle and to Evans, running reviews of £1000+ bicycles from the likes of Gary Fisher and Scott. The referral fee for a sale on Evanscycles.com is 5 percent.
Shop Direct 247's registered address turns out to be an accountancy firm in the Wirral. Bikes.org.uk is registered to a residential address about a mile from this accountancy firm. Shop Direct 247 was founded in 2005, the same year that the Bikes.org.uk domain name was bought by Taylor from Freeola, an Essex-based internet service provider.
Mark Taylor's day job is ecommerce manager for bid.tv, an online and TV auction site.
His affiliate marketing business runs websites such as ukcamcorders.co.uk, gadgetheaven.co.uk, and a 'fan site' for X-Factor 2009 winner Alexandra Burke, alexandraburke.org.uk. He also runs alton-towers.org.uk, which "is not an official Alton Towers website" says the site smallprint and which scrapes the web for cheap tickets to the theme park. For no logical reason, alton-towers.org.uk links to Bikes.org.uk.
Like his other sites, the RSS feed for ps4gamesconsole.co.uk also links to freetickets.org.uk. Freeticket's 43,000+ mailing list, which is the probable basis of Taylor's claim that the British Bike Association has 42,000 members, is, in fact, made up of emails harvested from all of Taylor's 20+ interlinked websites.
Other websites set up by Taylor include bhascience.org.uk, not to be confused with the British Humanist Association Science blog.
bhascience.org.uk now points to ukcamcorders.co.uk.
Gadgetheaven.co.uk is "proud sponsors of the British Bike Association whose aim is to promote all aspects of Biking in the UK."
When asked to substantiate the claim for 42,000 members and for BBA's foundation in 1982, Mark Taylor referred BikeBiz to his 'about us' page.
This states: "The British Bike Association was founded by Mark Taylor, in 1982. We are a small group of dedicated bikers who are passionate about bikes...Membership stands at just over 42,000 but we are hoping this will continue to grow as new members are always welcome."
On a business profile on affiliates4u.com, Taylor wrote: "Shop Direct 247 Ltd is an affiliate marketing company that prides itself on delivering quality websites, full of useful and informative news, info and product reviews."
When the site visitor signs up on bikes.org.uk to "receive the latest news on bike events, clubs & shops in your area", the news is mostly product features on bikes. According to such a recent review by 'Mark' on Bikes.org.uk. the Gary Fisher Paragon 29er 2011 has "black rims [which] help to make the tyres look artificially fatter and so the bike does have an aggressive stance that challenges anyone to mess with its rider."
A review by 'Alan' of the Gary Fisher Mamba 29er 2011 is written in identical style: "The simple grey and black colour scheme of the Gary Fisher Mamba 29er, which is picked out with blue patterns, is not over the top and prefers hard angles to the softer sweeps and swoops which many other mountain bikes feature."
An email doing the rounds from the British Bike Association is said to come from 'Michaela Henderson'. On Bikes.org.uk, the "small group of dedicated bikers" said to contribute to the site does not include a Ms Henderson but, in addition to Mark Taylor, is said to include Tim, Alan, Aaron, Anna, Sasha and Emi.
None, except for Mark Taylor, are listed on the website with surnames.
The link-soliciting email from 'Michaela Henderson' (which is a cut-and-paste SEO letter, an identical example of which can be found here) says: "We would like to set up a relationship with [company], either by exchanging links with you (we can link to [company] from a relevant content page on bikes.org.uk which we will explain when you reply) or by offering you some unique, free of charge, professionally written content on a subject of your choosing.
"We are working with a specialist content firm here in the UK. They have a large team of high quality researchers and editors who can write on any subject. We are happy to commission them (at our expense!) to write some content for you to publish on [your company website]. You have complete control over the subject and there are absolutely no costs for you. All we would ask is that you allow us to include one simple text link back to bikes.org.uk in the content which will hopefully be found by the search engines in the longer term - which is how we would benefit."
The British Bike Association is sending emails to US businesses and organisations; businesses and organisations which might not be familiar with the UK trade organisation scene and hence fooled into thinking the British Bike Association was similar to the long-standing Bicycle Association.
The British Bike Association is said to have grandiose plans: "Phase II of the BBA plan is to take the message of bikes...into schools as we want to get kids back onto their bikes, improve their health through exercise and to have fun – just like we did as kids!"
There is no information on Bikes.org.uk how an affiliate marketing business run part-time from a house in the Wirral will take "the message of bikes" into schools.
According to Dirtybikers.co.uk, the British Bike Association is "probably the best place to find everything you ever wanted to know about Cycling in the UK. Unlike many cycling associations, the BBA covers all types of cycling."
Dirtybikers.co.uk is registered to Shop Direct 247 of the Wirral.
According to Bikes.org.uk, some of the British Bike Association's claimed 42,000 members "include bike manufacturers, bike parts suppliers, bike accessories and components suppliers, distributors, wholesalers and many other companies who have an interest in the Bike Industry."
This claim has raised eyebrows at the Bicycle Association of Great Britain. BAGB is the official and internationally recognised industry association in the UK. Apart from representing UK bicycle businesses it funds promotional programmes for school children. The Bicycle Association's website contains no affiliate marketing links. The Bicycle Association can trace its history back to 1890 when the Cycle and Motorcycle Trades Association was established in Coventry.