Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review sites: Another marketing ploy

A few weeks ago, I received an unsolicited email from Elizabeth Reynolds (elizabeth@reviews.com; not her real name, I'm sure) complimenting me on a blog post and asking me to add a link to their site. Note that once again, the topic has nothing to do with my blog's focus (language teaching and learning, though my most popular posts are the ones dealing with marketing ploys like this one). 

This site is at least more up-front about its source of revenue:

In fairness, a lot of websites make money this way (using affiliate links), so it's not as deceptive as other sites that pass themselves off as third-party sites with no profit motive dedicated to helping people. (Please note that I do not use affiliate links, and I do not have any ads on my blog. All opinions are my own, and I receive no payment from anyone for my opinions on different educational resources. Mostly because I am happy to give my opinions for free, whether asked for or unasked for. 😁)

Here are a few things that make me skeptical about this site:

1. As with all of the other sites that have contacted me, there is no information about who runs the site.  In fact, the site mentions that there are no bylines. From the site's About page:
"Our reviews sit squarely on the shoulders of our entire editorial team. The picks we make for the best are collectively ours, not the individual opinion of a single writer."

2.   There is conflicting information about when the site started and where it's located.  The site itself says it was founded in 2013 and is located in Fort Mill, SC. However, the email I received and the site's Twitter page indicate that it is located in Seattle, WA (and that its Twitter account started in 2007).

3. As with other sites, whoever designed the site has tried to make it look like a "real" business site, so there's a sidebar ad indicating that they are hiring. However, when you click the link, it pulls a page with values, but no job listings. Now, this does happen when there are no job listings, but usually there are two other things that also happen. First, the company does not have a sidebar ad announcing that they are hiring, and second, when you try to browse list of jobs, you'll usually receive a message saying that there are no positions available at the moment.

While having affiliate links doesn't automatically mean that a site's content isn't trustworthy, it's worth investigating who is running the site and why. Many bloggers use affiliate links because it allows them to make money doing what they love (writing about whatever topic they care about, such as education, food, or lifestyle).

So how can you tell if you can trust a recommendation from a site that uses affiliate links? Here are my recommendations: 

1. There should be a name attached to the site. You should be able to verify from an independent source that the person actually exists. Ideally, it's someone who has been around for a while who is a trusted and respected voice in the blogging community.

2. It should always be crystal clear which product recommendations are affiliate links. If the site doesn't disclose which recommendations are affiliate links, it's not a credible source of information. If it does disclose which recommendations are affiliate links, and those make up the majority of the site content, it's a dubious source of information. 

The bottom line is: Always remember that 
anyone can publish anything on the internet.
Some of it looks extremely credible, so even major news organizations have been fooled into publishing content from for-profit entities masquerading as disinterested third-party reviewers (see the following stories about Drew Cloud, a supposed student loan expert, but actually a made-up person used as a tool of the student loan industry: https://www.chronicle.com/article/Drew-Cloud-Is-a-Well-Known/243217, https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/04/drew-cloud-fake-student-loan-expert/559019/). 

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