Adventures in Sponsored Content *THIS POST IS NOT SPONSORED IN ANY WAY, SHAPE OR FORM*
So if there is one thing that anyone who has read my writing could work out about me, it’s that I’m not exactly a subtle person. I couldn’t do subtle to save my life. What you may not know is just how small of a website this is. In the first year of writing, I had about 1500 views, a peak month in November when I had 400 views and my best article was my mother! review which sat at a very tidy 100 views. I’m not even big enough to be considered small, but I enjoy this and hope that in the future I’ll be able to do more of this kind of work. Now, why am I writing this? Why am I bothering you with something that seems so congratulatory even when there is nothing to congratulate me about. Well, because I’ve clearly somehow made it to the big leagues because this right here is a paid editorial. Or at least, it would be if I accepted the payment.
TL:DR version: Media Top tried to get me to write an article for them, I got a ton of information about the process they use in order to dupe unsuspecting bloggers and decided to share it with as many people as I possibly can!
Strap yourself in, this is going to be a long one but I promise you it’s worth your time.
On January 29, 2018 at 12:36 pm I received an email on my nice new contact form (Which you can use to maybe suggest movies I review, tell me your opinions on what I can improve, or just to offer me substandard amounts of money in order to write a piece on my website) and this was by a lovely lady called Veronica. Yes, I have her last name and email, no I will not be sharing it because I’m not about to dox someone just because they work for a slimy company like Media Top. That’s a name I know for a fact you’ve heard because they made this same offer to a Mr Jim Sterling who did a scathing takedown when they made this offer to him which you should watch again. He blew them to smithereens, I’m just here to do some light cleaning… but seriously, his video is awesome, watch it
So, here’s the email I got from Veronica.
I am writing on behalf of Media Top online agency.
We would like to commission an article from you. It will be published on your https://moviemeisterreviews.com website and you will receive a fixed fee for your work.
The content of the article should be true to the spirit of your website.
If you are interested, let me know as soon as possible and I will give you more details about exactly what we are after.
I hope this is of interest to you and I look forward to hearing from you.
Oh Veronica, you have no idea how interested I am in this. You have no idea what is about to unfold and how much fun I’m going to have with this.
Several points I want to be noted. First off, this was from a Gmail account. Not a professional Media Top account but a Gmail account. I could’ve had a goddamn professional account for this site if I’d wanted to have one, it’d cost me $55 for a full year of that email address so what’s this company’s excuse? Then again, this is a company that hasn’t used their professional twitter account since August so really, why am I shocked that they’re not even professional enough to make their own email address?
Second, notice that they just copied the link to my page and didn’t try and just type the actual name? I just find that a little weird, almost like it’s a form email that is set to fill in that section with the URL instead of the website name.
On top of this, notice how they’re not telling me what this is about. No mention of their client, no mention if what kind of article, not even a mention of how long the article should be. They just try to lure you in by saying you can write an article for them for a fixed fee, which is goddamn enticing for a low-level writer such as myself. For reference, so you understand how tempting such an offer can be, I used to write for Moviepilot and was paid based on people viewing my articles so after roughly 8-10k views on my articles, I was paid the princely sum of $8.44 US. Yeah, that’s not a joke. 8 bucks for 7 articles and I’m sure I’m not the only one to have that kind of payment history with that company (Who were lovely to give me a shot when, at the time, I maybe had a couple dozen reviews to my name and no actual editorial experience but seriously, the pay sucked if you weren’t somehow able to get the big news stories).
So yeah, getting paid a flat fee for an article would entice someone in my position who want’s to make this into a career. Heck, I’m not even saying I’d turn down writing an editorial for a fee… I am saying, no way am I ever going to write for a company like Media Top. But they didn’t know that personal belief of mine and so on January 30th at 1:49pm, I emailed Veronica. The game was on.
I just got your message from my contact form and am curious, what kind of article would you be requesting I write. I am a movie review website, though I do occasionally do editorials, and am intrigued to what kind of piece you are wanting me to write for you. Having never written a commissioned article before, if you could give me some information about just what you’re after and maybe an example, just so I know the quality and research I’d need to do for this piece, I would very much appreciate it.
Lee (of moviemeisterreviews)
Yes, I have a y7mail account, I’m no better. I’m also not claiming to be a professional or getting paid to do this. I’m improving, but I’m not at “Email people to get them to do a thing for me” levels yet. When I renew the website domain later this year, I’m probably going to get a professional email if it seems of value to me, but I’m painfully aware of my low stature right now. When I emailed them, I wanted to really make sure that they understood what kind of site I am. I’m not someone who does big editorials and I’ve never done a commissioned piece before. Also wanted to make sure she knew it was from that person who she found on Bing… Yeah, she found me with fucking Bing, I checked the analytics.
I just find it Funny that this professional company is finding completely random blogs on Bing. That’s possibly the funniest way someone has found my blog since someone found it with the phrase “Emoji movie porn”… actual phrase someone actually used to find my actual Emoji Movie review.
After this, months passed. I’m not even kidding when I tell you that I’ve had everything before this sentence typed up since January because I had a feeling that this would be so quickly put together but Veronica never messaged me back and so, on March 21st, I wrote her another email.
A few months ago I received an email from you on the contact form my website (moviemeisterreviews) and emailed you about it back in January, just wanting to follow up on that and see if you could give me some info regarding writing an editorial as you suggested. I’d need to know what kind of editorial you were looking for and what the fee you’d be offering just so I can know how much time to allocate to this.
I look forward to hearing back from you
Well, I’m happy to report that this time, I got a reply back within 6 hours. Let’s look, shall we?
Thank you for contacting me.
Can you please tell me when this site is created?
I checked the website age on Whois and there I saw that the website was created 09 January 2018. but the site has posts from June 2017. So this is something strange.
So, to recap, she first emailed me on the 29th. Meaning that this company saw a website that they believed was 20 days old, didn’t check it then, and made an offer. NOW this company want’s to act like somehow I’m the one doing something shady because my site’s creation date (The date I paid for the URL) is different to when I posted my first article (Because this site was a free WordPress blog before I really started getting into it). So, let’s put Veronica’s mind at ease and see if she can give me the magic information we’re waiting for.
Thank you for getting back to me.
The website was created in June of 2017, but I only upgraded from a free WordPress blog to an actual website in January of 2018. That’d be the information that Whois had, Hope that clears up that confusion.
So for those who don’t know, Whois checks your domain information. It’s a very simple site to use, you basically can see not only see if a domain name is available but when that domain name was purchased and when it will expire. Now I’m unsure why Media Top decides that NOW they want to check the creation date of a website they were so eager to get editorials on, or why NOW they suddenly care about inconsistencies (Again, this company tries to push links to online gambling websites into advertorial… cos they’re a bunch of assholes) but that’s what happened and so the wait began again.
The next morning I wake up to find Veronica is back, and now we’re getting serious.
Thank you for the information.
The article should fit the site and the readers, as it possibly can. This is why I prefer you will write it.
The focus of the article will not be about my site. It should have the same writing style like all other articles. It should be at least 350 words and with unique content (not copied from any other site).
The article and our link should remain on the sites for lifetime and link need to be dofollow.
Can you tell me your price for this kind of article?
Can we all just take a moment to re-read that email and clock how bad it’s grammar is? I know for a fact that I am no grammar or spelling king, I’ve found mistakes in stuff that I write all the time but I’m also not being paid nor am I part of a professional business trying to turn a profit. Also, I write stupidly long posts so mistakes are bound to happen, this is a 96-word email and you can’t word it better than this?
Anyway, hypocritical grammar mocking aside, I want to call attention to a few actually important things. First is that we still haven’t been told exactly what link they want me to put in the piece but we do know they want it to be dofollow. If you’ve read an article of mine where I mention a movie that I’ve already reviewed (Like Red Sparrow, for example) then I will link to that review in hopes that you’ll jump from article to article. A lot of blogs do this, it’s standard enough that companies like Media Top take advantage of that system. Setting dofollow links up is insanely easy, that’s the default link style. You have to pointedly try to not have a link be dofollow, as in go into the HTML and code it to be a different kind of link. Why do companies like this want you to make it a dofollow? Because it improves their SEO ranking meaning that they turn up higher in search engines and if they do that, their client can be first seen in the search engine. Hilariously, if you google Media Top, the majority of the links on the first page are pieces like this one calling out their scam.
Second, I love how they insist that the piece must be written by me and fit in with my style. Obviously, that’s just how this was always going to happen, I’m not about to allow someone else to write a piece on my page without special reason and due credit/blame. This is intended to make me feel as though I get to do anything I want, nothing will change… except, ya know, I’ll be hiding links for whatever company they want me to do it for. It’s also meant to make sure that the readers don’t notice what’s been done.
Notice at no point has Veronica even suggested that I disclose what our deal is yet. Surely when asking for paid editorial you should be mentioning how you want your companies name mentioned right? Surely when Crunchyroll buys ads at the end of youtube videos they state where they want their company name mentioned. I’ve got no problem with paid editorials if the company paying me is reputable and we can agree on disclosure and if your product is one I like. Hell, even if you wanted to pay me in the product I’d probably go for it. If Loot Crate came to me tomorrow and said “You get a free subscription to our service and all you have to do is say we sponsored your reviews”, every goddamn review would be sponsored by Loot Crate, just so we’re all understanding where my line is.
Advertising by a reputable company is all good by me… I have a problem when the company is a shady group like Media Top who apparently has a history of not even paying people.
Oh yeah, almost forgot, I’ve been doing a tiny bit of digging on Media Top and came across this short little thread on Reddit by someone else who was contacted by them but what made me excited is the two responses at the end, allow me to screencap and transcribe for you now.
Yes.. i have been contacted by the same guys this month. We had long text emails on agreeing and getting the way forward to having there sponsored post publish (ofcourse with a link to thire client website) but after we agreed the cost. The guy said they only offer 30% upfront payment and after we publish there article, then media top will organise our final payment. Long story short, we agreed and till now (about 20 days) he hasn’t wrote back. In his last email, he said that he will confirm the order. BTW, he wanted to have a sponsored post for there client [a gamboling company].
These folks just scammed me into writing an article. After I wrote it and put in a link, they asked me to share it, and then to put it on my front page for a year (for $15 extra LOL). Then when I said no thank you, just the $45 we agreed on, they stopped writing me back and never paid me.
So yeah, I would theoretically only end up getting a third of what is offered and then never get the rest. I understand that some companies would really like to be able to confirm their purchase, I mean imagine how stupid Media Top would feel if they paid me full price for this piece and then saw what I did? They’d want their money back so I get this system of “Pay part up front and the rest on completion of the task”, if that system is good enough for movie assassins then it’s good enough for me. But, I need to know you’re going to give me the second part of the payment and there’s no guarantee that Media Top will do that and I’m not about to be an assassin for you if you won’t give me the money that’s owed me.
So now we’re going to really work out this deal. Since this piece is inspired by Jim Sterling’s video I feel it only fair that I ask for the same amount of money they were going to offer him. Not only because I’ll find it amusing if they are willing to pay me and him at the same level when I’m not even close to his level, but because that’s about the maximum amount they’d offer anyway if everything I’ve heard is correct. Plus if they’re only going to pay me the 30% total, that’d be about 30 bucks for them. That’s a goddamn bargain considering they want me to give them a 350-word long article. That’s roughly an opening paragraph for my babbling ass. By this point in this article, we’re up to roughly 3000 words. I told you this was a lot of information at the start, go get another cup of coffee while I email Veronica and make my deal.
That sounds reasonable, 350 words is on the small side for one of my articles (I tend to get wordy with my articles) so I can easily get a piece over that word count.
Unique content is something that I’m pretty good with, though if you have some examples of what kind of pieces work best for you I’d be glad to have them. If full editorials work best I can do that, but if simple list pieces are what you prefer I’m good there too, just so I have a guide for how the piece should look in the end to satisfy your requirements.
Where would you like the link to be placed? Is placement of the company name important?
My price for an article depends on the length of time I put into it and I do like to make my pieces bigger so does $100 sound good? We can always adjust it depending on the kind of piece, a full editorial takes me more time than a list would so if lists are what you prefer then I’m happy to go lower.
Did you get your coffee? Good, let’s keep going then.
So I asked her for examples. Partially because I really would like to know just what kind of pieces people write for this company (I don’t blame them, they’re just trying to get by in this difficult blogosphere) and partially because maybe then I’ll get a goddamn link to her client. I’m also just generally curious how much effort is put into these articles, do they write epics like I am or do they just write small 350-word pieces, collect the cheque (Or 30% of the cheque) and move on.
Also since Veronica isn’t going to tell me where she want’s the name disclosed, I had to ask her myself. I was curious if she was ever going to mention it (Based on a piece by Wellcultured, I’m already aware of my answer but she doesn’t know that I know that yet) but I just got bored and decided to force her hand on that one. Forgetting to tell someone about disclosure is one thing, but if she actively discourages it (And I suspect she will) then that’s some shady shit.
Finally, yes, I gave her the same price they offered Jim Sterling. That’s not my actual price for an article. I don’t really have a price for one because I’m still new to this and don’t have a set value for an article, especially one with the limited reach that one of my pieces get. I’m not anywhere near as big as someone like, oh let me pull a name out of my ass, 2Guys1Review… oh no, did I link to another article by another person who got another email by Veronica and exposed her as a pseudonym for some Singapore worker using a Shutterstock photo as her profile photo, thus cementing this entire thing as a complete scam by a company that get’s shadier and shadier the more you look at it? I did, didn’t I? Oh drat.
I do find it funny that 2Guys got the same emails I did, almost verbatim. It’s almost like they’re form emails written up by someone in a basement and copy/pasted with minor tweaks with no real acknowledgement of what’s being said. Just saying, I won’t be shocked to learn that Veronica is actually a scamming robot designed to dispense 30% of an agreed payment and suck up SEO Juice like there’s no tomorrow.
Finally, at 3:55am on the 24th of March, she finally gives me the bit of information I’ve wanted from the start.
Our client is an online casino site but you don’t need to write about gambling. As I said before the focus of the article will not be about my site. It should have the same writing style like all other articles. For example, you can write about some movies based on casinos and so you could link to our client’s website in a natural way.
I don’t want the article to be an advertisement. I would like that the article will look like all other articles. Therefore, I’d like it will not mention “advertisement”. “PR”, “Sponsored”, etc.
Also, the article and our link should remain on the sites for lifetime and link need to be do-follow.
If you came up with topic ideas please let me know before you start writing the article so I’ll can review it. After that I will send to you the writing guidelines.
Regarding the price – we usually pay $30 for this kind of article. Can you consider lower price?
And there we have it folks, here is where Vanessa finally pointedly states she doesn’t want any mention of “Advertisement” “PR” or “Sponsored”. This is where we’ve officially gone from random assumptions to her explicitly telling me not to disclose important information in the article about why it’s there. They don’t want it because, frankly, they don’t care about the article. They are about their link. She hasn’t even told me what casino website she’s talking about here.
By asking me to pitch her the topic idea, she’s asking for a lot more control than first implied. I understand why a lot of sponsors of content would do this, you don’t want the company name associated with an article on why the pig in Charlottes Web grew up to be the Pig in the first episode from Black Mirror, so I get it. But remember, her company doesn’t want to be mentioned. Far as we’re aware it’s just about the link and not the company name so this might just be about not wanting an article about problem gamblers to be linked to their site… we’ll find out about that soon, I’m sure.
Lastly, as expected, I’m not worthy of a Sterling size payment. I’m worth 30% of what I asked for… AKA, what I would’ve gotten in an up-front payment before never receiving the rest of the money. Again, I get why it’s a low offer for a small site but come on guys, there is lowballing me and then there is blue balling me. It’s kind of funny honestly that it dropped so low so quickly because we’re aware by now that this company and this person have offered more to other writers and here I sit at the kid’s table with a 30 buck offer to write them a piece to link to their gambling website. Oh well, let’s see if I can at least push that offer up a little.
I think I can do that, a piece relating to Molly’s Game might work since it’s more recent. A comparison between Molly’s Game and Casino in terms of how they portray running a casino could be fun to work on, if that kind of theme is suitable. Not sure what you mean by linking in a natural way, would you have any examples so I can get an idea of how to do this?
No mentioning advertisement, PR or Sponsored? OK, I mean I’m new to this but I’d of thought the site sponsoring the editorial would want their name attached. I thought that was how paid editorials worked but, I admit to not knowing much.
I can absolutely lower the price, though 30 is a bit lower than I’d expect considering how much work would go into it. How about in the middle at 50? Closer to your number than my one.
Calling her Vanessa was a completely accidental typo but we’ll see if she calls me on it.
And yes, in case you’re wondering, I did suggest comparing two films where the operation of a casino leads to the ruin of people’s lives and causes them severe trauma and get’s them investigated by the FBI, I’m so glad you noticed. I was going to suggest a character study of Brad from Molly’s Game (The problem gambler of the film) but I figure that’s a little on the nose. Also with Molly’s game being more recent, I figure that Veronica will have heard of that one so it might go over well, and might get me the links that I require in order to get this piece it’s glorious finish.
I also love how she’s pointedly avoiding giving me previous examples, I’m going to keep acting naive and pathetic until I get them but surely you would have one or two links on standby just in case someone genuinely wanted the help? If nothing else, someone who is clearly concerned about where to put your site name should get a link of an example just to put them at ease.
Here’s hoping 50 isn’t pushing it too much, it’s still low balling it for an editorial but hell, I’m going to go for it. Keep in mind that the payment would be to cover the materials needed. If we were to do this kind of a deal it needs to be taken into account just getting to see the films in question. If a company were to sponsor a review, just so I’m not operating at a loss, they’d need to be able to cover the ticket price and transport which could potentially total 30 bucks in itself. That’s not even including the time spent writing the piece. When you account for hours put into the writing of an article, getting the item to review and the amount of time spent away from other work… there’s a reason people charge hundreds to write articles, let’s put it that way.
25th of March, 4:52am is when the next email pops up, let’s look at what Vanessa… sorry, Veronica, sent me.
I accept the price of $50.
Also, the article about Molly’s Game sounds good to me. But you need to make a connection to the online casinos so that our link could look natural in that article. It means that the article should talk about online casinos, online gaming or online gambling before our link.
It is very important that our link will not be marked as sponsored.
Let me know if it is okay for you and I will send to you the writing guidelines so you can start writing the article. Also tell me in what category this article will fit.
Huzzah, we have our price. for 50 bucks I could link back to this company she hasn’t told me about without telling you that I’m doing it. She’s very adamant that I can’t tell you that such a post would be sponsored. She seems downright petrified to have an article that says “Sponsored” but now we’re hopefully going to get some guidelines so you too can know how to write an article worthy of a scumbag company like Media Top. Won’t that be fun info to have?
Also, very clear this person hasn’t seen Molly’s Game or they’d know it’s probably not the best movie to use to advertise gambling on… oh wait, they don’t actually give a damn. Hell, they didn’t even bother mentioning the other movie I suggested. I’m beginning to suspect that Veronica might not be that bright. Heck, she didn’t even call me out on calling her Vanessa.
It should be very easy to connect online casino’s to an article about that movie, just talk about the fun scenes of a casino at home and how it’s just like having a casino on your computer, easily done.
I pinky promise your link will not be marked as sponsored.
That’s fine by me, if you can just send me the guidelines or examples, I’m good. It’ll be put under Editorial along with all my other major non-review articles and tagged with the movie and probably the actors mentioned.
We’re finally going to get those guidelines now, I want to make sure I’ve got as much info as possible out of Veronica purely so that when you get this email you know the scam she and her cohorts at Media Top are pulling on you. I am beginning to wonder, at this point, if she’s ever going to give me a link to previous work that they’ve paid for but I somehow doubt it.
Finally, at 9PM on Sunday 25th, we get what we’re looking for.
Please write the article according to the instructions below:
• The article must be 100% original and unique not duplicated content.
• The article should be at least 350-400 words.
• The topic of the article can be about: Molly’s Game movie
• Please use in the article the anchor – try luck with online video poker, Link: [I’m not going to type the link and give them the exact thing they want!]
• The article should be published atthe home page, and at the relevant category: Editorial.
• After you write the article, please send it to me in Docs format for checking and adding the link.
Please put our anchor/link at the higher position you can in the article, as long as it doesn’t affect the natural flow of it.
Also if you have a post on your site that is related to our post somehow please link to it from the relevant text.
Please Don’t upload the article before I check it.If the webmaster will publish the article without sending it to us for approval we will not pay for it
• After the article will goes live I will deliver you: $50
• Please do not mention any sponsored posts, guest posts, PR etc. The article should be like all the natural posts in your site, and the link must not contain a no-follow tag.
And there you have it, that is the specific set of rules they would like me to follow in order to receive the money. No mentioning of sponsorship, link as high as possible, the word count is now up to 400 words and, of course, they want me to link to their page as high as possible in the article. I find it interesting that they’ve also added that I should add the link to other posts that are related, expanding the web for free.. Speaking of links to previous work, I never got them… and never will cos I got what I wanted, so I’m not about to chase up that bit of information.
Also, wouldn’t be getting paid until AFTER the link goes live… normally understandable but since we have plenty of information about how they don’t pay writers after they get what they want, we know this means it’d be for free.
Now I’m sure you’re curious what website they sent me too. Well, they sent me to Casino dot com. Yeah, the UK version of Casino dot com (Written like that because, again, fuck them they’re not getting their link on this page to increase their SEO). I wanted to get you a screenshot of their website, I really did. I thought it’d be funny to show how shitty the web design looks or explore how insidious they are but… I can’t, the link doesn’t work for me in Australia. My guess is it has something to do with the new law in place that banned online poker and actually makes it impossible for me to see the site, I just get “FORBIDDEN” in huge lettering which amused me no end. I can’t even visit the very site they wanted me to advertise, that’s hilarious. It’s either that law OR it’s a UK site that just really doesn’t want foreigners to view it. Either way, they’re the idiots who handed Media Top money to raise their SEO.
…So here’s Media Top’s site instead since I can’t use the one I wanted too.
What kind of bullshitty stock image fuckery is this? Worlds #1 Online Marketing Agency? Says who? No one, that’s who. No one says this and no one has ever said this, no one will ever say this. I can’t find where they pulled that from, I’m guessing it’s out of their ass. They don’t have an actual physical address on their website, it’s just a front for a company that, according to whois, has only been in existence since early 2016!
This is a fraudulent company, they are not here to help creators and bloggers but are just taking money from internet gambling companies and trying to boost their SEO ranking using bloggers who may not know better. I urge you that if you get an email from these people to just ignore them. Their offer is tempting, they pray upon people they think won’t know better in order to help internet casino’s pray upon people with serious gambling addictions and it’s not OK. Just delete their emails… either that or do what I just did and write an article of your own chronicling their scammy emails for everyone so that, with any luck, we can make their SEO plummet and make all the search results for their company nothing but page after page of warnings to STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM MEDIA TOP!
But before we go, thanks for reading this and I leave you with the final email that I sent to Veronica before blocking her email address and hitting publish on this piece.
Thankyou for all the info and the link.
Sadly, I’ve gotten a better offer for an article that’s far more entertaining for me to write. You can keep your 50 bucks, I’d suggest donating it to a gambling addicts charity.
If you’ve also had fun with Media Top, please leave a comment and spread this around, let’s make sure this company doesn’t stick around.