I’ve been planning to start a more popular blog and see if I could get more readership — maybe even revenue from advertising. (I don’t like that it’s advertisements, but that seems to be the way to get money from views, and earning money from writing would be a dream come true.) Recently, I came across a website called Wealthy Affiliate that’s supposed to help with that kind of thing. There’s a free membership, but I was never so naïve as to think you’re not supposed to upgrade to the paid version. Still, you can at least try it for free.
At first, it seemed that reviews of the website were all positive — and credible. But now I’ve looked into it more and don’t think I will want to try it. So I can’t do a proper review as someone who’s tried out the site. You’ll find a million reviews like that online if you look, like I did. I also don’t have a definite opinion as to whether it’s a “scam” or legit or something in between. What I want to tell you is to point out some… rather interesting things I noticed about those reviews.
After all, if it’s a website about marketing your website, it ought to be pretty good at marketing itself, right? So how much can you trust what you read about it?
If you’re here to read the kind of stuff I usually write, you can read this as an exercise in critical thinking.
I first saw Wealthy Affiliate mentioned when I was looking information about a completely different “make money online” business. It was one of those things where you’re paid to transcribe something or test apps or something like that, I forget. I found a website (I think it was this one) about different methods of making money online that said that you could hardly make any money for work like that — this was backed up by other reviews that said it was mainly good if you wanted to kill time. Well, I don’t have time to waste, so that was not for me. But this website also had other advise, particularly how to earn your living online altogether. The way to do that, it said, was to start a website based around something you love and promote it well to get enough traffic to sell stuff or get ad revenue. And part of the instructions was to become a member of Wealthy Affiliate to learn how to promote your website, like the author had.
This was a little suspicious. Not “become a member of A, B, or C, which are all good.” Just “become a member of A because it’s the way to go.” I also noticed how the freeness of the site was touted even though full membership was not free. But then, what free/paid thing doesn’t advertise itself as free? And if the site’s author was part of this community and had been helped by this product, why not promote it? Things seemed legit enough otherwise. For one thing, it was made clear that this was no free lunch, no get rich quick scheme. You would have to learn and to work. The good thing was that you could work with what you loved. Also, the website where I was reading this seemed like it really had been written by someone with plenty of experience with different methods of making money online — someone who knew what they were talking about.
What does Wealthy Affiliate offer, then? It reportedly teaches you how to create your website and get traffic there, as well as providing free hosting (at least as long as you, uh, pay for membership). I certainly don’t know a lot about websites and traffic, so that sounded good. It’s also touted as a great, helpful community.
Yet, I was suspicious. I searched for more reviews about Wealthy Affiliate — and it seemed I could find nothing negative on it. Other legit-looking sites also gave it great reviews. And it made sense. Like I said, it was no free lunch. It was a resource to help you make money by working. And of course it would really cost money, too. But it did have a free preview, so it seemed less risky. (Still does on that count, I guess.)
So I was fully intending to start a membership when I’d have time. However, later, before I did, I did another search, this time taking up Google’s offer of the search “wealthy affiliate scam”.
I found a couple of negative reviews saying it indeed was a “scam”. This one said their members go around giving false negative reviews of everything else and recommending WA as the only viable option, when there’s really nothing special about it. It also says WA becomes all about promoting WA, I suppose like some kind of pyramid scheme where only the people at the top benefit. (There’s also something about how it’s not really free like they claim… I’m not sure whether that contradicts what I said above or is just a negative way of putting the same thing.) This review also says that they just make people promote WA, and also has some complaints about interactions with the staff, something I can’t comment on.
So the main thing I was left with from all this was that WA makes people falsely promote itself. That would have explained the positive reviews. Of course, there were much more of those than the negative ones. The claim that they were fake was like a conspiracy theory — “All the evidence is faked, here’s the real truth” — but a plausible one.
Now, it’s no less naïve to automatically believe the second, sceptical thing you hear (eg. “WA is a scam”) than it is to believe the first thing you hear (here, “WA is great”). So at this point, I didn’t really know what to think. I looked at other results for the search “wealthy affiliate scam”… and noticed some interesting things.
The other results tended to say it was not a scam. I’ll go through a couple of interesting examples. First, this one. They ask whether it’s a scam and say no, giving it a 9/10. This is another legit-looking site with reviews of different websites. The review wasn’t also all positive — there were cons mentioned, though no very negative ones. But I noticed something about this particular review. There were links in the middle of the text to starting out at the WA site. Big, orange links. Several of them.
That kind of sounds like an advertisement, doesn’t it? So does the site have lots of big orange links in its other reviews too? I checked this quickly by checking out the “recommended” reviews handily available. Not too surprisingly, they weren’t full of big links. They did, however, contain recommendations for WA with links to the WA review. So basically all the recommendations led to the same place.
Notice how this strategy promotes WA over other sites without being overly and openly negative about all the others.
That site was remarkable for its apparent legitimacy. Even more remarkable is this one, and when I give its URL, you’ll perhaps see why: http://scamreviewwealthyaffiliate.com/. That’s right — a whole something.com for this one “scam review”, a review asking the question whether WA is a scam. The front page consists mostly of this one “scam review” that’s really just one big advertisement that at a glance doesn’t even talk about the “scam” angle much. Posts on the site — which you won’t see first thing when you get there — have titles like “How To Make Money Online!” and “7 Things You Can Learn With Wealthy Affiliate”.
So here’s the observation I wanted to share with you: Even though it looks like Wealthy Affiliate has really good reviews on the web, on legitimate sites that are not just about promoting it — well, that may well be all fake. They certainly seem to have supposedly objective reviews that are really more like advertisements, both superficially very legitimate-looking ones and at least one rather too obvious. So you can’t really trust it when someone writes that WA is the site you should choose, not even when that someone really seems to know what they’re talking about.
In hindsight, it’s even suspicious that WA is the number one choice for so many reviewers. Surely genuine reviews of a great product would sometimes place it as number two or three? (Maybe they’ll read this and set up sites doing that next…)
What’s interesting about this scam or whatever is how “intellectual” it is. Now that I have explained why I am no longer convinced, it may not feel obvious why I was convinced about it at first. But it really looked good, and it avoided any obvious signs of a scam. Different websites that seemed to have lots of other unrelated content that indicated the author knew what they were talking about gave it good reviews. The concept made sense to a sceptical mind: no getting rich quick, just guidance in how to make money by working. Free trial to test it out, although obviously they were trusting you to want to buy it afterwards — so it seemed safe-ish but, again, not like a free lunch.
Now that I have noticed the scammy-seeming aspects, it seems like a scam made for sceptical, critical people. Maybe they need people like that at WA. It’s obvious that it may be a good idea to try to scam gullible people, since it’s easy. (Allegedly, the so called Nigerian scam e-mails have such terrible grammar and stuff to make sure no people smart enough to see through the ruse later will respond in the first place. I don’t know whether that’s actually true.) But it may also make sense to fool smart people — if you need them to work for you. Then again, the “scam review” website seems geared for a more gullible audience, because it’s much easier to see through.
Like I said, I have no final opinion on whether WA is a scam or not or somewhere in between. I suppose the last option seems the most likely, but that’s just a guess. Just because its reviews apparently tend to be kind of fake ones its members have been encouraged to write lots of doesn’t mean you can’t learn anything else there, but it’s not a good sign either. Just remember that the good reviews are not as credible as they look, and that other similar sites could well be just as good or better regardless of what reviews like that say.