When I saw an ad for fat loss pills on the website of Ireland’s leading newspaper, the Irish Times, I knew things had gone overboard. Adblock might be a problem for publishers, but realistically they need to stop whining about it because things are getting ridiculous. I decided to find out more, by doing what no one actually does: click the ads.
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As well as the more traditional sidebar, and banner stuff, over the last few years grids of Related Articles or Content from Around the Web have started to pop up at the end of articles. They first appeared on fairly spammy sites but now they’re just about everwhere. The quality of these links varies wildly – some are genuinely just links to other articles around the web.
Often these articles are typical listicles — 5 Celebrities with Ugly Babies, Look at What These Child Stars are Doing Now, 15 Amazing Photos You Just Must See — but they can also be poorly disguised marketing efforts — How This Housewife Shocked the Medical Community, Earn $1,000,000 a Year Working From Home, Doctors Hate this Liposuction Pill — and everything in between.
Most of the time, I just ignore these ads, but lately I’ve been curious. So you never have to, I decided to see what was on the other side. I dug deep into the social web and found a suitably clickbait-y article. Beneath it lay exactly what I was looking for, links to nine “articles”, almost all of which looked like scams.
I followed each one and this is what I found.
Dublin, Ireland : Discover a Weird Trick To Make Over $3,500 Today!
One weird trick to make over $3,500 dollars? Wow that sounds amazing! Click.
I was taken to a relatively slick looking page where a video auto-played. In it, an older gentleman, Walter Green, in soothing tones talks about how he’s going to personally make me a millionaire with the Free Money System. This isn’t a scam like Binary Options Trading, oh no, this was for real. Walter said so.
The video was everything you’d expect it to be. Hard sells, satisfied customers, “proof” that our hero has earned his millions, and the promise that he can do it for you too. A little digging revealed that the video was over thirty minutes long so there was no way I was sitting through all of it. I skipped ahead and clicked on the Free Download link fully expecting it to give my Mac a virus.
Instead, I was taken to a page with yet another video playing, encouraging me to sign up for a free account. The selling continued and I was assured I was definitely going to make money. 100 per cent. Walter was going to do it all for me.
Signing up for an account was a step too far, but I clicked the Can’t Register link and was taken to OneTwoTrade, a binary options site — Walter, you liar! It seems he was just another affiliate marketer.
This was the end of the line for me on this one.
People Become Millionaires With This Simple Manipulation Isn’t It What You W (sic)
What I “W”? With a headline like that, how could I not click.
This time I was offered a chance to join a “Secret Millionaire Society” in yet another auto-playing video. This video is much the same as the previous one, although they really make a huge deal about how super secret the club is, and how I’m the only person they’re going to let in for the incredible price of FREE — all this, despite the fact I got there via an ad on a fairly popular site.
This site doesn’t even hide the sign-up form and it’s right there from the get go. I obviously didn’t fill it in, but the content from the 20-minute long video makes me suspect it was another Binary Options affiliate.
You Won’t Believe How Members Of This Society Are Making $55,000 Per Hour!
After clicking on the headline, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of familiarity… I was back on the Secret Millionaire Society page. I hadn’t even clicked the wrong headline, they just had two ads in the same block.
I wasn’t going to suffer through the video again so I navigated on to the next link…
Get Paid $875 Everyday From Home in Dublin ! (sic)
…which brought me back to the Free Money System…
Watch how to make lucrative money before it’s too late!
Just like this one…
How Does This Dublin Housewife Make $1420 Per Day?
…and this one. I was beginning to get worried I’d just be bounced around the same two sites for the next four hours.
Woman Loses 37.5 kg Before Her Wedding! Here’s How She Did It – Watch The Video
Fortunately, with my next click we were away from the get-rich-quick schemes and onto the lose-weight-quick schemes.
The headline ended up having nothing to do with the “article” I actually found. Someone’s genuine weight loss story appears to have been hijacked to sell a product.
What starts with a video taken from ABC News (and it appears genuine) about Amanda’s amazing weight loss, quickly turns into a work of fiction. The article breaks down exactly how Amanda did it with special weight loss pills (get your 30 day free trial now!) without actually supporting anything.
This one annoyed me far more than the get rich quick schemes, because Amanda seems like a real person whose story has been coopted by scammers. I wasn’t going to sign up for a free trial, so onto the next one.
Revealed: Controversial ‘Skinny Pill’ Shocks The Irish Market For Only 8 (sic)
Shockingly, this site was actually tailored for the Irish market. Rather than claiming to have been featured on various US TV networks, they claimed to have been featured on Ireland’s national broadcaster, RTE, a fact I very much doubted.
This site was much the same as the previous weight loss one, all “just pay the postage” free trials, money-back guarantees, and shady promises. Thankfully, rather than stealing someone’s story they just used headless or poorly lit before and after pictures so there’s no telling if the models were the same in both shots.
I definitely wasn’t providing these people with my credit card details so it was time for the final link.
Liposuction in A Bottle Revealed in Ireland!: Zero Exercise ‘Skinny Pill&# (sic)
Once again I’m hit with duplicate content — we’re back to Amanda’s story. I quickly closed the tab, thankful that my brief dig into the scammier side of the Internet was over.
So that is what’s on the other side of bad Internet ads with click bait “get rich quick” or “lose weight fast” headlines. I was surprised that out of nine ads, only four led to unique sites; the rest were duplicates.
All of the sites I found appeared to make money through affiliate schemes for either Binary Trading sites or dodgy fat loss pills. They also all used the same tactics: hard sells, exclusive offers, free trials, and broken promises. Now that I’ve seen what’s behind these ads, I won’t be clicking on them again.