Modest Martin Lewis – A Reader Rants

martin-lewis
According to internet research company Hitwise, moneysavingexpert Martin Lewis has become our most magnetic celebrity. More wanted than Britney Spears and more bankable than his namesake Leona, Lewis was the most searched for personality during the last quarter of 2008.

Lewis modestly blogs that his success is down to the recession and not relentless self promotion.
How does he do it? It helps that his site is extremely well optimised for search and uses subject headings that match what people are searching for. Inbound links from the gold star BBC and dozens of platinum newspapers help promote his website in organic search results.

He retains celebrity PR Murray Harkin and his wall to wall media appearances pay off because he has an online strategy that capitalises on his PR. This is something many companies fall down on. When he promotes a particular product in the media, he might use paid search in conjunction as he did recently when recommending a current account from Alliance & Leicester. Alongside promoting it as the best bank account on radio and TV, Lewis ran a paid search campaign on keywords ‘Alliance Leicester cashback’ and monetised click throughs by signing up with A&L’s affiliate programme.

How much he has made from the credit crunch remains a mystery and his recent decision to hide his earnings by changing his company’s status from limited to unlimited is a controversial one. As a consumer champion, he has been dedicated to exposing other companies’ profits. According to Companies House, he is sole director of the unlimited company that owns his website. For those waiting for his 2007-08 accounts, my guess is he will not file these even though his company was limited for the majority of that period. Companies House is unlikely to see sufficient public interest by taking him to court to force him to publish. In the abscence of fact, Lewis gives plenty of figures from which to work out how much he might be earning. His weekly email for example goes to over 3 million subscribers and generally has between 5 and 10 affiliate links. If each affiliate link earns a conservative ?10.00 and he achieves a lowly 2% conversion rate, his email could earn him over ?15 million annually. In 2005, he told the the Guardian newspaper his website was worth ?30 – ?40 million when it had 1 million monthly visitors. Today it has over 8 million visitors a month.

Where he might have trouble is not with Companies House but with the OFT. The only source of income he has from his website is from affiliate links which are generally referred to as advertisements. His media appearances depend on him being independent of commercial influence and he maintains despite earning as an affiliate, his website is free of ads. Under the OFT’s Consumer Protection Regulations, of the 31 commercial practices that are banned outright, number 11 is ‘using editorial content in the media to promote a product where a trader has paid for the promotion without making that clear in the content or by images or sounds clearly identifiable by the consumer (advertorial).’

This is a guest post from Sam Clemens

{ 7 comments }

Jonathan February 20, 2009 at 8:01 pm

A good example of how to overcome the BBC rules regarding placement advertising.
Every one of us has a problem recognising what we’re immersed in; sometimes, because we’re so immersed in something, we also have a problem recognising things beyond that which we’re immersed in like manure.

michael February 24, 2009 at 2:50 am

Martin Lewis is utterly shameless with his self-promotion. His name face is on every page on the website, his website’s favicon is his face, there’s a Martin Lewis ‘thumbs up’ emoticon on his forum, the site is basically ‘Martin Lewis is so great’, so all those TV appearances are free advertising for him.

He sells himself as the “money-saving expert” on TV, radio, newspapers, again free promotion for his site of the same name.

The funny thing is despite having at least £10 million to his name and a site worth probably £100 million, he’s as cheap as they come. It’s transparently obvious that he pays his staff low, low salaries, hence why none of his content is particularly good. He clearly also treats his staff like shit, see http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.html?p=18128431

The cheapest thing he has done to date has been to convert to ‘unlimited’ company to save having his accounts done properly, thereby exposing himself to unlimited personal liability. His company is also trading illegally and liable to be dissolved at any time because he is the only member where unlimited companies require at least two.

Martin Lewis as a journalist is very weak, he’s of only moderate intelligence, he’s stated publicly that he doesn’t understand many finance issues, such as pensions and other investments. Because of this none of his ‘guides’ are much good, partly due to his insistence on paying peanuts (and hence getting monkeys) – there is almost no original thought or decent research, it’s just stuff regurgitated from the forum or other sites.

The site works as a destination because of its high traffic and users willing to help others, but Martin Lewis as the ‘money saving expert’ just doesn’t work, because he’s just not that clever. No other sites brand themselves by their proprietor in such a way yet many have much higher quality content in their own area. For instance there are hundreds of mere forum posters on Motley Fool who have greater expertise than Lewis.

The irony is Lewis could build a much better site, but he’s too cheap to do so.

For instance http://flightchecker.moneysavingexpert.com/ is a substandard version of http://www.skyscanner.net/. The MSE version is useless in comparison. But had Lewis forked out for so competent (i.e. expensive) developers he could own that market and being eating Sky Scanner for lunch, courtesy of all the free advertising he gets (see above).

I went for an interview at Upmystreet.com quite a few years back. They were actually interested in innovation, the lead programmer was a nerdy Cambridge graduate (i.e. very clever), not Martin Lewis’ ‘would you like to come and work for MSE, we can only pay below market rate, but you get to work in broom cupboard and be bossed around by me’ approach, and as such their site has expanded so it has a huge amount of data feeds and links to third party services to make more money. MSE has zero innovation despite its 8-digit revenues, and why? Because Lewis is too cheap.

H April 30, 2009 at 5:17 pm

Perhaps you need to do your research better. Martin Lewis makes everybody aware that he has affiliate links and they are ALWAYS clearly marked. He also puts the non-affiliate links down so it is up to you whether you choose to use them or not.

I personally have saved and made a lot of money thanks to Martin Lewis. His website is second to none , he is friendly and approachable on his website and the forum members that have met him speak very highly of him.

Clearly the fact that Martin has so many hits on his website and earns so much money from it means the public like and trust him.

This stinks of jealousy.

pete July 20, 2009 at 11:49 pm

Lewis is a jerk,he bans users of his site if they dont agree with everything he says,well he gets his henchmen to do it because he has’nt the balls to do it,then if things go wrong he blames everyone bar himself.His favourite saying is “this is a private site and i can do and say anything i want”Him and his cronies talk about users in private and then ban them if they dont obey his every command.The banned user has no say in the matter,no email,no private message,nothing,the sooner he is gone the better.

Kelvin58 October 22, 2009 at 11:18 pm

In this process, the media is crucial; blogs, and mass media. ,

pjw July 23, 2010 at 11:52 am

I don’t mind Martin making a ton of money from his website – good luck to him – but I do mind when he is promoted on the BBC, which is publicly funded and supposed to be free of bias and commercial promotion. Martin’s website is clearly a commercial enterprise and the fact that he receives so much free publicity, which must be worth tens of thousands of pounds, for free via his ‘friend’ Jeremy Vine to me is unacceptable. Nobody else on the internet gets the same kind of promotion, yet they must compete with his website. This is patently unfair.
(NB: I know I run an internet business, but I don’t compete with Martin, so it’s not a ‘professional whine’, but a personal comment)

LordManley June 1, 2012 at 10:20 am

Whilst i am not huge fan of Mr Lewis, he clearly marks his affiliate ads and the ASA/CAP will be fine with that.

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