Monday, April 4, 2011

Worthless Financial Articles

Have you ever noticed your favourite blog include an article that seems out of character with the blog’s usual content? This could be a sign that someone has paid to place the article on the blog. The number of offers I get to place a paid article has grown from a rare email to a barrage of spam.

I don’t object in principle to paid articles if they are useful to readers, but too often they contain recycled fluff that is of little use to anyone. I’m not an idealist here. Bloggers have to get paid somehow for the work they do. The subscription model doesn’t seem to work. I use advertising, but I prefer to make it clear what is advertising and what is content. Paid articles blur this boundary.

In a typical case where an email offer makes any sense at all, I’m offered a unique article on a subject of my choice that will not get reused anywhere else. In return, I’m to let the writer include some links on key words within the article to a web site where they want to drive traffic.

The email offer often contains links to examples of their work, and all too often the articles are just a pile of words with no real point. My articles may not all be gems, but I write them with the goal of conveying useful information.

Many of the paid article offers make little sense at all. Others can be amusing. In one email, the sender claimed to be affiliated with a prestigious publication, but she spelled her name differently in two places. When people use their real names, I don’t think they get the spelling wrong very often.

Another category of offers is money for adding an advertising text link to my blog. In this case, the organization paying for the text link doesn’t really care if the text link is very visible or ever gets used. The goal is to improve the Google PageRank of the target web site. Every link to a site raises its PageRank and the higher my site’s PageRank, the more it helps the target web site’s PageRank.

All these efforts at search engine optimization (SEO) tend to pollute Google search results. Google is constantly working to punish web sites involved in useless paid links that are designed to improve PageRank numbers. I don’t bother with these paid links.

I’m all for trying to make money, and I’m interested in new ideas, but not at the expense of the usefulness of my site for readers.


  1. Good article. I agree that bloggers should be compensated for the work you do. It is nice and important for the readers who begin to trust you that there is a certain level of transparency in your writing.
    It would be nice, albeit very difficult, that there could be a standard or code of ethics for bloggers as blogging becomes more of a mainstream source of information. There can be some “questionable ethics” and a lack of controls placed on bloggers. An example was a recent article on the Dividend Guy's Blog where he recommended Questrade as a discount broker. While it was easy to see that Questrade compensated him in some sense, there was a Questrade add on the page, it would have been nice if he had disclosed that he was also sponsored by them so the reader could take his recommendation with a grain of salt.
    I commend you and a few other blogs for seeming relatively transparent in their actions.

  2. Congrats on not going to the darkside Michael! ...keep up the thought provoking content.

  3. @Chris: Thanks.

    I received another comment from a reader that disappeared. I can't be sure whether it was lost somehow or it was deleted by the person who made the comment, so I won't copy it here other than to say that the commenter saw conflicts on another blog. Keep in mind that many ad systems are context sensitive, which means that if I write an article about Company X, an ad for Company X may appear beside the article, whether the article is complimentary or not. So, it can be difficult to tell if a blogger is writing essentially paid content.

  4. Congrats, and thanks for letting us know the kinds of pressure bloggers can get.

    Hopefully, over time, blogs that don't "sell out" will win out over those that do... I know it doesn't take much to make me give up on a site or a blog, I hope it's the same for most other readers.

  5. @Anonymous: My guess is that the blogs that win out will be the ones that find a way to balance revenue generation and desirable content.

  6. Thank you for resisting and keeping it "real".

    I read many blogs so it doesn't take much for me to delete a blog from my RSS when it fails to keep my interest.