I remember when Milli Vanilli got busted for lip synching. I was so sad. They made their millions, garnered tremendous fame, and just like that, were humiliated off the stage forever. They probably would have kept selling albums for years if they hadn’t got caught, and Rob Pilatus may have never died from a drug overdose. After that incident, however, everybody started watching singers and music videos with a very close eye. No music fan ever wanted to get duped like that again.
But there are fakers hidden everywhere in the public eye, not just in the music business. It’s peculiar that so many fakers feel no guilt pulling the wool over people’s eyes when livelihoods and finances are at stake. I’m constantly surprised with how much nonsense there is online. I’m not talking about mind-numbing Buzzfeed articles. I’m talking about articles that pop up in search results when you’re looking for useful information on the web. What appears like helpful content written by niche experts is often plagiarized or written in a hurry by a random person with no relevant experience.
WHAT ARE YOU REALLY READING?
The online publishing ecosystem is fascinating. I’ve thought long and hard about making Financial Samurai into a magazine-type site with 10 different staff writers pumping out news and factoids. In order to grow readership, I’d direct my writers to write in as plain vanilla as possible so as to not offend anybody. There’s a reason why vanilla is the most popular flavor in the world.
In my quest to become a Vanilla Online Media Tycoon (VOMIT), I’d sit back and shake my head at all those starving writers pouring heart and soul into their craft. My fellow VOMITs and I would clink our glasses of Macallan ’46 together as we laugh at the poor schmucks who toil for hours over original pieces based on hard-won experience, yet receive no traffic…and therefore, no money.
Of course I’m joking about this evil plan. I would feel too guilty, churning out content about things I know nothing about in a greedy quest to make millions from the internet. That being said, it’s always good to see the other side of the story, so recently I had a nice conversation with a real VOMIT who is just killing it online. He said I could share his thoughts if I kept him anonymous. So read on what follows, if you’re prepared to handle the truth.
USE, MANIPULATE, EARN
Sam, I make $50,000 – $70,000 a month online from my portfolio of sites. I do basically NO writing. All I do is make sure people are doing what they are getting paid to do. That means my system admin is making sure my site is up, my staff writers are pushing out endless generic content, and my editors are making sure there aren’t any obvious spelling or grammar mistakes.
My biggest cost is content. When I first started, I used to hire experienced writers who knew what they were talking about. For example, I hired an ex-Federal Reserve economist with 25 years of experience for $1,000 an article. His writing was super in-depth, had lots of original charts, and great quotes from authority figures besides himself. His articles took about six months of advertising revenue each to cover the cost. Never again.
Nowadays, I hire recent college graduates or kids still in school to write my content for $25 a pop on average. The titles are the same as the expensive academic’s articles, but the content isn’t nearly as detailed. But guess what? Google and my already-established reader base don’t care! I’ve got this one guy who is getting his PhD in Chemistry of all subjects, writing about stocks. He makes around $24,000 a year as a Teacher’s Assistant to undergrads, so he’s jumping up and down when he gets to make $25 for a 500 word article. He once recommended shorting Priceline stock when it was at $550 a share for whatever fluffy reason, I don’t remember. The stock is now at $1,300+ a share.
The average age of my writers is 24. All of them either live with their parents or are living with multiple roommates. If my writers wrote about life as a 20-something year old, that’s one thing. They know very little about stocks, real estate, retirement, insurance, stock options, healthcare and so forth. But they publish article after article about these topics anyway because they are leveraging my platform. How many times have you ever questioned the credibility of the author? Most don’t. People just trust the platform.
My writers are good at researching stuff on the web written by others on the web who are good at pretending to know stuff on the web. I instruct them to avoid such people and only cherry pick people with credibility to gain an edge. Borrowing another person’s credibility is the cheap and easy way to go. Nowadays, every one of my writers’ articles covers its cost in less than six hours.
One of my writers wrote a great post about how to get promoted in the workplace, yet she’s never had a steady job before. She’s a freelance writer, but the post was shared all over social media partly because she is very attractive. I make her put her picture up on every single post and she loves it, so do hoards of her readers which are 80% male. Another one of my writers produces great articles on how to buy property with no money down. Don’t tell my readers, but he’s never owned a property before and I hope people following his advice don’t get burned.
Look Sam, you and I are fine either way we cut it. I’m running a business, and you…. well, you’re running a blog. I’m totally on board with your Stealth Wealth movement don’t get me wrong. I don’t go to conferences. I don’t participate in community meet-ups. I have no time for forums. I don’t even write my own content thanks to ghost writers. Yet I know for a fact that I’m in the top 0.1% of online income earners. If you want to make money online, you’ve got to pump out tons of content in lucrative fields for cheap. Google caring about authority and authorship is baloney. Readers don’t care about authority either because they’re too lazy to even click on the author’s ‘About’ page.
Thank God everyone believes that what is written on the internet is true!
SO ARE WE ALL SCREWED?
If the blind are leading the blind across the internet and elsewhere, are we all going to eventually walk off a cliff? Maybe, but hopefully none of us on Financial Samurai will be hurt because we know better. What I encourage everyone to do is really understand the background of any author or service provider you consult. Visit their About pages, look up their LinkedIn profiles, search for the diplomas hanging on their walls, ask for testimonials, and speak with existing clients.
When I first started writing online in 2009 I didn’t share any of my credentials (education, work history, passive income amounts) because I wanted to see if my writing could stand alone without any help from my resume. I was forced to really inject personality or write detailed posts because I couldn’t depend on a resume or good looks to get me ahead. Furthermore, I didn’t want to mix work with pleasure. Now that I’m no longer working, it’s much easier to share my background and parts of my income stream to demonstrate some sort of credibility.
There’s definitely a moral issue of making money as a charlatan or hiring charlatans to make money for you. But if you are making $60,000 a month, would you really be willing to give it all up to take the moral high ground and produce material based only on real experience? As a business owner, would you be willing to pay $1,000 for an article that takes months to pay for itself, rather than $25 for a similar article by a very attractive person that generates the same amount of revenue in six hours? I bet most of you wouldn’t be willing to stop earning so much money just for the sake of feeling virtuous.
I’m thankful to have enough passive income to not be consumed with wanting to make tons of money online. Of course I’d like to make money online and have admitted before that active income is more fun than passive income, but beyond winning some advertisement deals here and there, money doesn’t excite me as much as it should. Can you really blame other bloggers for publishing crappy advertorials, volumes of product review articles, and buckets of thinly written content just to make money? I don’t. I just don’t bother to read their sites.
“Faking it until you make it” is a very dangerous strategy for getting ahead, especially if you’re in a role that can significantly impact a life. The best answer to not knowing something is to simply say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Nobody expects you to know everything. But everybody does expect a high level of integrity; if you lack integrity, you’ll lose your business. I give my VOMIT friend here credit for being a brilliant business man. I just can’t follow his path and feel good in the process.
EXAMPLES OF SITUATIONS WHERE FAKING IT REALLY DOESN’T WORK
* Your doctor faking knowledge of how to stent a clogged artery as you sit there dying from a heart attack.
* Your dentist faking interpretation of your x-ray and drilling the wrong tooth.
* Your stock broker faking knowledge of a company and buying the stock for you just because it’s hot— despite the fact that you are a conservative investor.
* Your mortgage broker faking understanding of the repercussions of a negative amortization loan, signing you up despite your precarious employment situation.
* Your lawyer faking readiness to defend you for a murder you did not commit.
* Your auto-mechanic faking knowledge of how to fix a fuel pump and ends up causing more damage.
* Your SAT prep teacher faking a mastery of mathematics, concealing the fact that she only scored a 1,600 out of 2,400.
* Your investment guru faking understanding of a company’s financials, yet still advising everyone to buy.
* Your electrician faking an ability to properly replace all your old copper wires, causing a fire while you’re sleeping.
Readers, why do some people try to fake it so much? Is “fake it ‘til you make it” a good strategy, given that people are wising up to the fact that this strategy exists? Do you know other examples where faking it doesn’t work? Why not just focus on being an expert at a few specific things? Is it worth trying so hard to be really good at something when you can take a shortcut and still make lots of money? Who or what is to blame for all of this?
Updated on 12/5/2014