Stop Linking To “Top 100 Blogs” Lists

There is a pile of money to be made in tricking people into enrolling in online colleges. A pile.

It’s a trick because these online colleges don’t care if students can succeed at their school or not. They profit either way. How?

The underprepared student takes out loans from the federal government — that’s your money and mine. They give that money to the college. Then they drop out halfway through, either defaulting that debt back to our tab or carrying that debt around with them for decades, unable to discharge it in bankruptcy, unable to get a job or rent an apartment because they’re a credit risk to employers and landlords. Either way, the college gets paid.

It’s a predatory system and whenever you link to a “Top 100 Teacher Blog” list, you are one of the predators. Here’s how it works:

1. The Prey Googles “Get An Online Degree”

Or something close to that. There is incredible competition to be the top result on this list. Why?

2. The Prey Clicks A Link And Looks For A Degree

3. The Predator Returns Results From Online Colleges

This is where the predators get paid off. They have passed the prey up the food chain to a larger predator and they get an awesome conversion fee for their trouble. Those fees add up to a pile of money.

But Where Do You Fit Into The Food Chain?

You’re a predator.

The other predators make big money when they’re Google’s top result. How do they become Google’s top result? They get a bunch of people to link to their website!

How do they get a bunch of people to link to their website? They make a list!

They make dozens. Top 10 social studies blogs. Top 20 writing teacher blogs. Top 100 administrator blogs. They flatter a bunch of people who are underpaid and underappreciated who then relink, reblog, and retweet the list, simply flattered to be included!

For Instance

I got an e-mail 22 February 2010 asking me for some details about my blog. At least 100 of you got the same e-mail. “You’ve been selected as one of the top 100 teacher blogs,” it said. I clicked “Spam.” I got another e-mail a month later:

I was wondering if you could please write an article about this on your site, or include the list in your blog roll. My goal in writing this article was to make it a resource for other teachers…so hopefully by coming across the list it will inspire them to start blogging as well. Please let me know if this is possible via e-mail.

No. You’re a liar. You made that list so you could take money from people who don’t need more predators in their lives.

Click “Spam.” Move on. Don’t look back. Don’t be a predator. And please relink or retweet this post whenever you see someone who doesn’t know better.

Related:

  1. Campus Progress gives for-profit colleges a solid infographic treatment.
  2. This undercover video from the Government Accountability Office is nauseating. I dare you to tell these enrollment officers apart from used-car salesmen.
  3. College, Inc.. How online, for-profit college works.
  4. More details on the money in gaming Google’s search results.

Other E-Mails To Ignore:

EdTechSandyK:

The other thing to be aware of in this arena is unsolicited emails where someone is asking to write a guest post on your blog. That has happened to me in the last year. They are very flattering. Fortunately, the person who wrote me provided links to examples of her work elsewhere, and I could see the guest posts were littered with links back to a scammy online college website.

About 
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school teacher, former graduate student, and current head of teaching at Desmos. More here.

70 Comments

  1. luke

    March 14, 2011 - 6:18 pm

    yikes.

  2. Chirs Sears

    March 14, 2011 - 6:28 pm

    The on-line institutions are also competing with legitimate colleges, especially community colleges, for financial aid money. The on-line colleges charge twice the tuition as a four-year college, and the students come out less prepared than attending a community college. They are a scam, and should be avoided at all costs.

    On the other end are the students who get Pell grants, sign up for four classes, and then stop coming once the financial aid residuals come through. You can tell when the checks have been issued because there is noticeably better parking on campus. The problem is that if the students stop coming to class before a certain date, the college is liable for the students’ grant money. That is a painful chunk of cash to pay back when your budget is cut each year. I don’t have a good solution to that problem. Sorry for venting.

  3. Jose Vilson

    March 14, 2011 - 6:32 pm

    Poignant. At some point, one of my forums blew up because I wasn’t on the list for one of these, and people mobilized around the idea of creating their own top 100 list. The effort fizzled after people soon saw the folly of the scheme that is this list. Since that conversation, interestingly, I feel like I’ve been added to one of these lists every 2 weeks. Ironic at best. Spammy at worst. Thanks for this.

  4. David Wees

    March 14, 2011 - 6:36 pm

    If you don’t believe this story, I recommend watching College Inc, a documentary you can see on Netflix, or I’m sure rent from your local video store. It is an important documentary for all educators to watch so they can warn their students about these scams posing as colleges.

  5. John T. Spencer

    March 14, 2011 - 6:50 pm

    I get those e-mails frequently. Sometimes I have to laugh at the descriptions they have of my blog (Mr. Spencer works as a fifth grade math teacher). It’s so obvious that they are simply finding high-profile teacher blogs and trying to get those bloggers to link to their site.

  6. Ben Wildeboer

    March 14, 2011 - 7:23 pm

    I always felt the lists were spammy, but I didn’t realize they were greasy sleaze balls as well. Thanks for sharing the resources- definitely something to pass on to others writing in online spaces.

  7. Sue VanHattum

    March 14, 2011 - 7:58 pm

    Thank you. (I will definitely link here when needed.)

  8. Britt Gow

    March 14, 2011 - 8:58 pm

    Thanks for your enlightening post Dan. I was sucked in, and quite pleased to be on the list, but now I will not be linking back to the top 100 list. I will spread the word.

  9. Frank Noschese

    March 14, 2011 - 9:20 pm

    Dammit. The whole page rank thing eluded me. Thanks for the tip.

  10. Sandra

    March 14, 2011 - 10:02 pm

    I’m not sure you could convince me that non-online colleges really care that much about their students either.

  11. Bo Adams

    March 15, 2011 - 2:32 am

    I fell for it. Thanks to John Burk for pointing me to this Dan Meyer post.

  12. jon

    March 15, 2011 - 3:37 am

    I got one of those also. My blog traffic is very low. The claim was, “My wife and I stumbled upon your site…” When I clicked the link it went to one of those sites. I too marked it spam. They organizations must pay people to search for any site that has key words like “math” to spam. It’s annoying.

    Keep up the good work.

  13. Jan van Hulzen

    March 15, 2011 - 4:15 am

    I wonder if this works for wikipedia links as well…

    Jan

  14. Will Richardson

    March 15, 2011 - 5:35 am

    I always love the very common names that get added to the e-mails linking to these lists. Carol Barker, Frank Simmons, Ed Franklin and many other friendly folks pop up in my gmail all the time…straight to the trashbin.

    Thanks for the deconstruction.

  15. Mary Jude Schmitz

    March 15, 2011 - 5:39 am

    Funny, I just got this:

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    If you prefer not to receive any emails from teacher2school.com, click this link

    — right after reading your blog post.

  16. Daniel Schaben

    March 15, 2011 - 5:54 am

    Too many people without character on both ends of government hand outs. Students and institutions alike. Eventually all of this will catch up with us and erode the strength of our nation even farther. Painful post to read, but a problem that needs addressed and quickly.

  17. Dolores Gende

    March 15, 2011 - 6:05 am

    More importantly I think that we should educate our students NOT to search on these sites in the first place!
    Media literacy is a must teach/learn skill.

  18. Chris Ludwig

    March 15, 2011 - 6:21 am

    The part that really sucks about this sort of scam is that it does produce a decent list of blogs that one might be interested in. It creates a list from peer recommendations that is probably a lot easier than sorting through the blogroll on dozens of blogs. I guess we ultimately end up paying for the service, though. Thanks for connecting the dots for me and helping me figure out why an online degree site was being seemingly altruistic and sharing out our blogs.

  19. Brian

    March 15, 2011 - 6:44 am

    My friend from south america was enrolled in a non-online scam university, which preyed on non-us citizens who wanted to stay in the country after graduating from a legitimate school. They charged an arm and leg to be enrolled in “grad school”, but there was no real teaching, no real learning, just a whole bunch of people sitting in a room paying not to get kicked out of the country.

  20. R. Wright

    March 15, 2011 - 7:32 am

    Sandra (#10) already made the point I wanted to make. However, I’ve taught now at a public research university, a public 4-year, and a private 4-year, and of the three, the private university is by far the most interested in student success. (Though I must say that I thought students at the huge, impersonal research university were getting a great education in a lot of ways.)

  21. lfarrington

    March 15, 2011 - 12:12 pm

    Wow, the undercover video made me really angry. Bullying, lying, hiding information….those people are scum! Reminds me of the time my husband and I went to collect “prizes” from Festiva and they tried to sell us a timeshare. Shameless sales pitch — and no concern for whether it would be affordable.

  22. Humphrey Jones

    March 15, 2011 - 1:15 pm

    Thanks for that info – very useful indeed!

  23. Andrew B. Watt

    March 15, 2011 - 1:34 pm

    Makes perfect sense. How elegantly a new, digital version of the bottom-feeder appears.

  24. Christopher Danielson

    March 15, 2011 - 1:39 pm

    So if everyone else here refuses the invitation, I’ll be able to make my move and be a “Top 100 blogger”!

    Do I take the right message from this discussion?

    Tee hee.

    Thanks for the well-structured lesson.

  25. Michael Paul Goldenberg

    March 15, 2011 - 4:03 pm

    I’ve received (and turned down) so many offers that all boil down to what you’ve described. Some put me on a top 10 or top 20 list. Ironically, the most recent named my blog as one of the top 10 (#10, to be precise) GEOMETRY blogs. Interesting, in that I don’t specifically blog on geometry. When I pointed that out, the person wrote back just asking me to publicize the list. If I hadn’t already been suspicious, that would have clinched it.

    Earlier offers were not based on lists, but on allowing some sort of link to be inserted in various posts I’ve made that would indeed take people to these sites you mention. And of course, I would be paid a princely sum of $100 for allowing it. And for some reason, I never did.

    The third line of attack is to request that I allow a “guest” piece on my blog on a topic of my choice. Interesting, in that I never have guest contributors, so why, out of the blue, would I want to do so now? Obviously, such pieces would have included links to these sites. But again, I have systematically declined such offers.

    The fact is that until I read your piece today, Dan, I hadn’t completely put together everything that’s going on. I just intuitively refused to participate or was simply too lazy to do whatever was required to earn my hundred pieces of silver. Now, I’m even happier about my decision than ever and won’t even bother sending the polite refusals.

    Finally, there are Facebook pages and e-mail campaigns promoting the political arm of these organizations, often using some variant on the slogan, “My education, my choice.” I have written some rather unpleasant replies to the folks who pitch those to me, as there I directly recognize the evil being represented. Intriguingly, the last charter school I worked for, run by a truly evil management company in Akron, OH called White Hat Management (cursed be their name), used a similar slogan to promote their rather awful charter schools, at least here in Michigan: “My school, my choice.” When I originally saw t-shirts at the school with that slogan, I thought they meant that kids were being congratulated for CHOOSING to go back to school, as many of our students were dropouts. But when the on-line college crowd started using their slogan, I put two and two together. “Choice” is increasingly become a tool of bloodsuckers and reactionaries to both destroy democratic institutions (unions, public schools, etc.) and equity-based policies (e.g., affirmative action), and to promote money-making schemes that are at the heart of the entire ugly charade.

    Thanks for writing so forcefully and cogently about this particular aspect of a dangerous national situation.

  26. Richard Byrne

    March 15, 2011 - 4:55 pm

    I have to admit that I did fall for linking to one of those list posts a few years ago. Since then I’ve learned the error of my ways and until now I have just clicked “spam” when I get one of those emails. Now I just might reply and tell them to read your post if they really care about education.

  27. louise

    March 17, 2011 - 4:10 pm

    I’m sorry, I don’t see the difference between this and urging obviously unqualified and ill-suited students to attend college-any college- rather than steering them towards vocations and job positions that would really suit them. We can argue about how much students are getting ripped off, but ultimately if you encourage 100% college attendance, you must know that you have encouraged at least half the students to spend $20K on the pursuit of a degree they will never attain.
    I think we should start being honest with 18 year olds. Sure, some of them will mature and decide at 25 to go to college, but if you have ADD, can’t focus on book learning, never make due dates and hate writing, the world of college and academia is probably not for you.
    I just met, on my walk home from school, an ex-student who struggled with school, struggled with college, dropped out after 2 years, and now is happy as a clam working as a painter/house repairman in a small company. He’s the young kid in a group of older guys, who are teaching him how to grow up, he loves his job, and he’s being paid $20 an hour. He no longer feels like a loser. Hurrah!

  28. Paul Hawking

    March 20, 2011 - 10:41 am

    @Dan: Okay, I am embarrassed by this post. Why? Because a couple weeks ago, I started putting together a “new edublogs directory” on my blog. It is tough to find out about blogs that are less than a year old through most search engines so I thought it might be worth collectively sharing finds. Good intent, but the sad thing is is that if it did become something useful, the scammers would just duplicate it and create a “Top 100 New Edublogs” list. Ugh! I’m hitting delete on the directory asap. Thanks for sharing this, Dan.

  29. Maria Droujkova

    March 27, 2011 - 5:25 am

    I was recently approached by Maria Rainier, offering to write a guest blog post on the condition that I list her affiliation, namely http://www.onlinedegrees.org/ She sounded human, obviously knew what my work is about, and wrote two original posts to my specifications – both summaries of existing content that I wanted to do at some point. And yet now I see University of Phoenix (R) at the front page of that site – a very problematic institution.

    I guess this makes my acceptance of the price of this offer very problematic, too. Thank you for making me look again.

  30. Miss Teacha

    March 27, 2011 - 8:13 am

    I actually responded to one of those requests, “she” asked for very specific information, but I never even had time to respond before she placed my header picture and an inaccurate summary on her top 100 list. I wish I had know better at the time. Are we able to ask them to remove our info?

  31. Guillermo Bautista

    March 27, 2011 - 10:10 pm

    It’s nice that you have posted about this. I am having math blog carnivals every month and I receive tons of submissions from these websites.

  32. David

    April 6, 2011 - 5:21 am

    I’ve now added something to my daily routine; call out people who are linking to these sites and point them to this blog post so they can understand why they are helping participate in great harm.

  33. Julie Reulbach

    April 6, 2011 - 8:18 am

    Wow. I had no idea. It’s a jungle out there! Thanks!

  34. Lisa Parisi

    April 20, 2011 - 2:38 am

    I had no idea. Thank you. I am finding now that people comment to my own blog, saying thank you for writing. It was very educational. Then they add a link to a business or college site. A new strategy?

  35. Darcy Moore

    April 20, 2011 - 3:25 am

    Yes, I have been guilty of enjoying being listed at such sites and have tweeted the link. My bad.

    What does interest me is how people seeking online learning, for formal qualifications, sort the wheat from the chaff. Your thoughts?

  36. Dan Meyer

    April 20, 2011 - 6:37 am

    Lisa: I am finding now that people comment to my own blog, saying thank you for writing. It was very educational. Then they add a link to a business or college site. A new strategy?

    Maybe not new, but it is another strategy. In most cases, Google doesn’t check links in blog comments when calculating PageRank, so you aren’t hurting anybody by leaving it. I get rid of them because they don’t contribute anything except a link to themselves.

  37. Dan Meyer

    April 26, 2011 - 9:28 am

    Good! Eye!

  38. Ari Bancale

    July 24, 2011 - 6:52 am

    Does that mean those Google+ listings are also spammers? :(

    e.g. findpeopleonplus, group.as

  39. Jan Conger

    July 24, 2011 - 7:28 am

    Wow! I had no idea. When people put links on their comments I thought it was just like putting their website on the signature of their e-mail! I will be more careful in moderating comments in the future!

  40. Barry Munro

    August 11, 2011 - 7:03 pm

    Thank you very much Dan for the information. I had always wondered how this process worked. I will be letting my students and colleagues know about these ideas. Cheers Barry.

  41. Chuck

    August 21, 2011 - 4:29 pm

    Hi Dan,

    Just to play devils advocate, if someone is typing in “get an online degree” and going to a site about online degrees how are they being tricked?

    Some people may prefer to attend an online degree program because it may be difficult to leave their job to attend traditional lectures and want to find information about their options so they can evaluate them.

    Would you advise people to take down their Edublog award badges since it was probably designed to market Edublog’s product?

    Would you not link to Google or Apple because they care more about making a profit for shareholders than they care about their customers?

  42. David Wees

    August 23, 2011 - 11:12 am

    Chuck:

    The trick is that there are good online degrees which are relatively cheap, and there are bad online degrees which are expensive. One of them is intended to impart some knowledge, the other to fleece people. One of them has a limited budget for advertising, the other spends a fortune advertising.

    Which of them do you think has higher page rank? The high quality, affordable programs? Or the ones that we keep linking to…

  43. Chuck

    August 23, 2011 - 4:01 pm

    Thanks David,

    So if a good online degree school curated a list of great blogs would you link to it?

    Is the best criteria for determining a good online degree school the price and their intent? How do you determine whether they intend to fleece people or educate them?

  44. Dan Meyer

    August 25, 2011 - 7:24 pm

    Hi Chuck, great question earlier. My response is that this is a market with asymmetrical information. When I give Apple $500 in exchange for an iPad, I know what I’m paying and what I’m receiving in return. So does Apple. This is a transaction, though, where only one party is aware of the costs and benefits. Educators are getting nothing more than an entry on a list of 100 Top Edubloggers without realizing what they’re giving in return: their names, credibility, and Google PageRank. In every case I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a hundred, easily) the list-writers don’t just fail to mention what they’re getting out of the arrangement but they lie about it. (ie. “My goal in writing this article was to make it a resource for other teachers,” in the example I quoted above.) Consider this my effort to right the imbalance. I don’t like to see my professional brothers and sisters duped. If they understand the transaction and still like it, that’s none of my business.

    As for the problem with the online colleges themselves, that’s a longer essay but the fundamental asymmetry is the same. Why are online colleges resorting to the same linkbait SEO techniques employed by Viagra spammers and the same hard salesmanship employed by used car salespeople? If online colleges are giving students (and the taxpayers who underwrite their grants and loans) fair market value, why don’t those colleges publicize their attrition, debt loads, and employment rates after graduation?

  45. Chuck

    August 25, 2011 - 10:20 pm

    Hi Dan,

    These are excellent points and I totally understand where you are coming from.

    There are a lot of businesses that create good content and they do have an agenda to promote their products. I agree that it is a good idea to consider a content marketer’s intent before linking to that infographic or cool piece of content.

  46. Lucy Gray

    September 7, 2011 - 12:17 am

    I’ve gotten dubious emails over the years asking to guest blog, which i invariably respond to with a not very polite email, saying something along the lines of “not on your life”. I also get offers for link exchanges, whatever those are, and these seems pretty overt in terms of scamminess. However, I have not gotten many sites offering to put me on a top 100 list if I respond or do something; a couple of these sites just put me on there without my consent. What do you do in this case? Ask for them to take it down? What if they refuse? To me, it’s good etiquette to comply with my wishes, but hey, can’t anyone link to anything without permission?

  47. Dan Meyer

    September 7, 2011 - 6:14 am

    Me? I don’t care if they put me on a list. You’re right. Anyone can link to anything. It doesn’t serve their interests to link to me, though. It only serves their interests if I link back.

  48. EdTechSandyK

    December 7, 2011 - 6:07 am

    The other thing to be aware of in this arena is unsolicited emails where someone is asking to write a guest post on your blog. That has happened to me in the last year. They are very flattering. Fortunately, the person who wrote me provided links to examples of her work elsewhere, and I could see the guest posts were littered with links back to a scammy online college website.

    I’ve only been blogging for a couple of years, so this offer was flattering and tempting. I almost fell for it. I made a rule for myself after it happened, though – no one will ever write a guest post on my blog unless I invite them to do so first.

  49. Neurobonkers

    March 15, 2012 - 5:52 am

    I got an email from one of these sites just outright asking me to link for a $50 pay-pal fee that they offered to pay before I put the link up.

    Needless to say I declined.

    They even asked me to rephrase the title of an article and alter several phrases that would make the article read like complete nonsense, all for their SEO.

  50. Gary Stager

    July 16, 2012 - 10:38 pm

    You missed the most obvious reason to avoid such lists of most popular bloggers, blogs, etc…

    They’re stupid.

    The obsession with popularity on the Web just makes adulthood a lot like junior high school and indicates little or nothing about quality or expertise.