Any time you need financial advice, and you turn to the Internet for help with it, the results can be hit or miss. More often than not, this is because when you need help it’s because you don’t know enough about the topic to tell if someone is providing helpful advice, or just filling your head with rubbish. Sadly far too many sites on the web take advantage of this and pretend to provide meaningful financial advice when they are really just promoting a particular service, or are a cloaked marketing scheme.
Other times financial advice sites can be little more than windows to third party advertisements, providing little meaningful content or insightful commentary. However, there are some great financial advice sites our there, and some of them have reasonable advertising, or none at all, depending on the site. Knowing how to find these gems can mean the difference between a sound financial decision and a bad investment. That means you need to know what to look for in a site, and in particular make sure you are finding a place where you’ll get honest and impartial financial advice that you can trust. Pay attention to these five things:
1) Do the sites tend to agree with mainstream news sources? If you’re reading a site, and it always agrees with mainstream news sources, essentially parroting the same story back at you each time you read it, then you’re probably not reading something original. A great way to check this is just to visit the blog of that financial site. If they have similar stories to major news releases, then that’s fine. What you’re looking for is anything that either disagrees with the news, offers an independent commentary and opinion on it (even if you disagree with that opinion), or provides general financial articles that appear well researched and interesting – but are on different topics. If you see a great deal of diversity, you’re most likely on a good site.
2) Is there a variety of helpful content that discusses more than one product? One of the biggest red flags to spotting a bad site is in their constant push towards one service, or one product. For example, if you’re reading financial help articles on a website, and they all constantly recommend the same service or product as a solution, that’s bad. This is an indication that the article was not written to help you, but rather that it was written to help you purchase the product recommended by the site. Look for product diversity on any financial website you visit. If you see it, and the site covers a wide range of different products, but especially competing products, then you know it’s probably a trustworthy website.
3) Are there any relevant or intelligent comments? Sometimes expecting to find intelligence on the Internet can seem like a waste of time, but as a general rule, a good finance site will have regularly moderated comments (this means no spam comments, or people selling services in the comments), and at least a few meaningful comments here and there throughout the site. This doesn’t mean that the site will have comments on every article, but rather that when you do see comments, they will be clear, and often answered by the person who wrote the article, or another member of the site. When you see that, you know that you’re on a website where the owners actually care what is written there. That’s a guarantee that you’ll also probably get good financial advice from them.
4) Do the site owners encourage you to ask questions or to participate? Many times you may read an article, but still have a few questions about it or the topic material. In cases like this, you should always consider how easy it is to ask a question on the site. Good sites will have a simple mechanism that will allow you to either ask a question, or to leave a message. A corporate blog such as this one is also a fantastic way to have your say. If they do not have an easy way for you to do this, even if it is just in the comments, then you should question the ability of the site owners to actually answer you. However, when you can easily contact someone, or see evidence that others have been able to contact site owners and get help, you’ll know that you’re on a good site.
5) Are there pop up messages that stop you from leaving a page? Many times a pop-up message will appear when you first try to leave a website. Often this message will ask if you are sure you want to leave, or whether you’d like to stay and get a great deal, or use some other feature of the site you might not have even seen. In cases like this, you are absolutely looking at a website that is more interested in making money than it is in helping you with any financial problems you may have. The only exception to this, and note that this is a rare exception, is when a site is giving away something free that can help you, such as an eBook, or subscription to something that isn’t just sales spam. Basically, if they are asking for your email, it’s probably a trick to get your email address, but if they’re giving you something for free, and only asking for your details after they’ve given it to you, the site is probably legitimate and genuinely concerned with helping you.
Remember, there is nothing at all wrong with making a little money on a website. However, if you are visiting a website that is plastered in advertisements and has failed to meet three or more of the quality concerns we outlined above, you should ask yourself just what sort of financial advise they are competent to offer, if they aren’t even able to pay their own bills and need to host random ads to pay for their site.
That’s not what we’d consider to be a sign of good financial management, and it’s not someone we’d trust with our financials. Of course, if you still choose to accept less than sound financial advice, and it ends up costing you, remember that you do have some recourse in the form of FCA complaints you can make.