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Time Management, Website Tips

How to Evaluate Advice You Read Online

Not surprisingly, if I see an online article or how-to about creating or maintaining an author website, I tend to read it. And, frankly, I’m dismayed at how often the advice sucks.

There are several reasons for this: some of them innocent, some of them not.

But there is enough bad website advice floating around that I came up with this list of how to evaluate whether what you’re reading is credible and likely to be reliable. And I realized it can be applied to all kinds of online advice, not just technology topics.

How to evaluate online advice

Given that we’re now in a climate where “influencers” exert disproportionate power over our decisions, I believe it’s more important than ever for you to be able to think for yourself and weigh up whether you’re getting good advice.

How to evaluate: look at these factors

1. When was it written?

Some topics are more evergreen than others. But for website advice, if the article was written more than a year ago, you should be cautious. If it was written more than three years ago, it’s probably so out of date you should discard it immediately. Tools and services are moving fast: excellent advice from 2015 might be terribly flawed now.

If the website has concealed when the piece was published, look to see if there are any comments from other readers: this can often reveal a date. The best articles will mention that their research was conducted in a particular year.

Naturally, for non-technology issues, a recent publication date isn’t such a big deal, but of course things do change in every industry.

2. Does it contain affiliate links?

Nowadays, you should assume that online advice is there for affiliate reasons (the author makes a commission if you buy the product/service) unless you’re told otherwise. Yes, most sites disclose their affiliate policy, but just reckon that this is the case for the individual page you’re on. If you examine the links for what’s being recommended, you can usually tell if it’s a pure link to the other company’s home page, or if there’s extra information in the link which triggers the affiliate payout.

An affiliate link doesn’t mean it’s bad advice per se, but you need to be aware that the person writing has an additional agenda.

3. Is it a comparison article?

Trustworthy articles tend to compare several options and tell you the pros and cons of each. If the point of view is simply why you should buy x, it’s likely the writer has little experience with comparable tools and services. So, how can they reasonably proclaim what’s “best”?

Another benefit of comparison articles is they are more likely to unpick the right solution for you, rather than assuming you are exactly like every other potential customer.

Similarly, has the writer tried the different products/services mentioned, or did they merely gather information from third party sources?

4. Are the drawbacks mentioned?

You should be immediately wary of any article which doesn’t cover drawbacks, limitations, or reasons why the recommendation would not be suitable for everyone. If it doesn’t, it’s not balanced advice, it’s an advertorial.

5. Does the author write extensively about this topic?

If you can find further articles, opinions and how-tos by the writer on this topic, the chances are they care deeply about this subject and want to elevate the quality of information available. If there’s nothing else by them that seems similar, they may be looking to make some quick affiliate income from you.

Let’s look at 2 example articles I wrote:

I want you to trust the information above, so it only seems fair I place my own articles under some scrutiny! Here are 2 examples.

How much should your author website cost?

  • When? 2019, with the research date in the article.
  • Affiliate links? No.
  • Comparison article? Yes.
  • Tried, or gathered? Gathered.
  • Drawbacks? Yes.
  • Similar writing? Some, and growing.

So, the only place this article really falls down is I gathered the information, rather than testing every service.

Why I want writers to know about Carrd.co

  • When? 2019, but not dated.
  • Affiliate links? No.
  • Comparison article? No.
  • Tried, or gathered: Tried.
  • Drawbacks? Only brief.
  • Similar writing? Some, and growing.

So, you’d have to look at the comments to know when this was written, and it’s very much in praise of a single platform. However, there are no affiliate links, so you can have more confidence that I wrote it because I’m genuinely excited about this offering.

We need to read more carefully

Almost every week in Facebook groups, I see questions from confused writers who haven’t applied these filters to “advice” they read online. With today’s short attention spans, we all want to grab information which helps us, and then get on with our lives. But if you consider these 5 aspects, I believe you’ll be better placed to sort the helpful advice from the red herrings.

Which other criteria would you add?


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1 Comment

  1. Reply
    Tracey Gemmell
    October 22, 2019 at 8:58 am

    Excellent advice!

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