Erika Heald

Are You Contributing to Fake News?

By: Erika Heald | April 5, 2017 | 
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Are You Contributing to Fake News?You’d think we’d all be pretty good about spotting fake news by now.

But the thing is, some of the fake news sites are getting pretty good at convincing the casual viewer they are legitimate.

However, once you scratch the surface, their lack of integrity shows itself.

That’s why they bank on your not taking a closer look.

Content marketers and PR professionals frequently receive pitches asking for their participation in a round-up post, or to secure an executive interview.

We receive a ton of guest blogger pitches.

We all know this sort of third-party inclusion is a smart way to build our audiences.

So our inclination is always going to be to say “yes.”

But it’s important, thanks to the fake news explosion, we take a few minutes to vet the publications and individuals who pitch us to make sure they’re aligned with our brand values.

Here’s what we look for when vetting a publication or a writer to make sure they’re who they say they are, and not a content mill and their fake authors.

Signs a Website May Be a Fake News Site

We recently received a partnership request that sounded amazing.

It was a top-tier international website, with respected industry and educational partners.

At least, that’s what their pitch email said.

Once we looked into them, and their email’s claims, a few cracks showed up that led us to not partner with them.

So what should you be looking for when vetting an industry or media website?

We begin by looking at these items:

Unverified Claims

Can you verify the claims they’ve made in their email?

If they say they have specific partnerships, look to see if they have published content from those publishers on their website.

Conduct Google searches to look for any mentions of the partnerships.

If you can’t find proof the partnerships exist, they probably don’t.

Low Domain Authority

What’s their domain authority?

Use the MozBar to find out their domain authority, and compare it to their nearest competing website.

If their domain authority is in the low 20s, yet the site had supposedly been active for several years and receiving high traffic, something’s fishy.

Broken Links

Are there a large number of broken links to key pages?

For instance, a partnerships or about us page in the main navigation that returns a 404 error.

A reputable website won’t leave something like that unfixed for weeks.

All Five-star Reviews

Are their company reviews all too good to be true?

If a company’s Glassdoor page has 10 five-star reviews of working for them, and all five-star ratings of their CEO, be suspicious.

I’m not saying these are necessarily all fake or coerced reviews, but no one is perfect.

Even great places to work have areas of improvement (and lower ratings) that turn up in Glassdoor reviews.

They Lack Any Other Internet Presence

They are business focused, but don’t have a LinkedIn company page.

Or they do have one and it has almost no publishing or engagement.

The person who contacted you doesn’t seem to exist.

They have a Gmail address, but no LinkedIn or Twitter profiles, and nothing turns up with their name when you Google them.

The Gmail address by itself is also a red flag—a reputable publication gives people domain-specific email addresses to conduct business.

How to Know When Your Guest Blogger isn’t a Real Person

As if fake news weren’t enough to handle, then there are the fake guest bloggers who come our way.

You may be asking why someone would bother to pitch us a contributed article from a fake author?

For the backlinks, baby.

That’s right.

Some unethical firms invent author personas and pitch content under their names.

All with the intention of getting backlinks to sites whose owners have paid them to do so.

Through our guest blogger submission process, we can often weed these folks out before they send us a post for review.

Occasionally, though, someone gets past that screening and submits something that’s just not right.

Here’s how we figure out we’re dealing with a fake byline:

Scholarly Credentials, but Poor Quality Content

Their impressive bio and credentials don’t jive with their numerous spelling errors and poor word choice.

If someone is a PhD in psychology who lives in California, yet their writing looks like it came from an overseas content farm, it probably did.

More Career Twists than Frank Abagnale

You receive several pitches from the same person, yet their gender and professional credentials change each time.

Content farms can lose track of their personas.

But when you have a spreadsheet full of contributor information, it’s easy to see duplicate names or credentials being used for clearly different “people.”

Google Can’t Find Them

It’s a red flag if there aren’t Google or LinkedIn results for them.

Yes, it’s true not everyone uses LinkedIn or is listed on a website somewhere.

But if they are pitching you a guest blog post, and you can’t find any proof that they exist anywhere online, it’s quite possibly because…they aren’t a real person.

It’s an Obscure Link Buffet

They submit a post full of links to a random assortment of sites you’ve never heard of before.

And the links go to sales pages, not to quality content.

Bonus points for you letting them know you only allow one website link that’s not to a verified news source and them pulling the post “unless all my links are included.”

The Copy isn’t Conversational

We once received a blog post I had to read several times to try to put my finger on why it felt off.

It didn’t feel as though a person had written it.

The copy read like a blog post was put through a synonym finder, or translated to and from another language and back to English.

People have caught on to plagiarism checkers.

But that doesn’t mean they’ve stopped plagiarizing—it just means they’ve taken a different approach.

Such as paraphrasing or rewording the entirety of someone else’s content.

I’ve had that done to one of my blog posts and found out because they pointed someone to a chart I’d used to illustrate an example, and I saw that tweet.

There’s no foolproof way to make sure you’re not taken in by a fake news site, or a fake contributor.

But by following these steps, you can greatly decrease your chances of being taken in by someone whose loose ethics give all of communicators a bad name.

About Erika Heald


Erika Heald is a San Francisco-based marketing consultant and freelance writer. She focuses on helping technology and specialty food start-ups define their content marketing strategy to drive lead generation and customer loyalty. Erika led and grew high-performance content marketing teams at Highwire PR, Anaplan, and Achievers. You can find her on her blog erikaheald.com and erikasglutenfreekitchen.com , or hosting the weekly #ContentChat Twitter chat.

  • Great tips! I vet my retweets too as some accounts mention you to get new followers.

    • Agreed—there’s a lot of automated twitter activity going on that you don’t want to be supporting.

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