On travel insurance, paid links and reader trust

Regular Travelfish.org readers will be aware that we have a particular travel insurance provider that we recommend. That provider is World Nomads. We promote them because while they’re not the cheapest provider, we think that they’re the best match for independent travellers to the region.

And yes, we promote them on an affiliate basis (meaning we may earn a commission if you click across to their site from a link on Travelfish.org). They’re the only travel insurance provider that we work with in this fashion.

I’ve met the people who started World Nomads and they have always struck me as stand-up kind of people — the type of people that I trust. When it come to insurance, trust is important.

Now just like anyone else, they’re running a business, not a charity (though they do support many) and I assume they don’t pay out every claim, but likewise I assume they do pay out a lot. I’ve seen them personally intervene in cases that have somehow gone off the rails. That’s important. Nobody is perfect. If you make a mistake, you admit it and try to fix it as best as you can.

We do put our money where our mouth is. Both Samantha and myself use them without fail whenever we travel outside of Indonesia (we have separate coverage for within Indonesia from a different expat provider). As luck would have it, we’ve never had to make a claim.

We use World Nomads because we trust that the people behind it will do their upmost to assist us if we need it. It’s one thing to promote something because it sounds ok, it’s quite another to promote something because you use it for yourself and your children.

Where am I going with all this? Bear with me while I ramble on web-nerd-stuff.

One of the factors Google uses to ranks sites is to count up the number of natural links that point to a site. Afterall a link is generally a “vote” on the quality of the linked to site. This created an entire industry of link buying and link selling. Sites would buy hundreds or thousands of links in an effort to game Google. Crucially, these links do not adhere to Google’s guidelines (code can be added to tell Google to ignore a link). They want Google and, by default, the reader, to think it is a natural link. They’re hoping that Google won’t realise the links are paid for and so will push the destination site up in the search engine rankings.

Originally these links would be off on the sidebar or in the page footer. But Google cottoned on to that, so then the link buyers asked to have the links closer to the main text (“This story is sponsored by” kinda thing). But Google is cottoning onto that too. So then the link buyers started asking for the links to be in the actual content (write whatever you want, just add a link to X somewhere in the copy).

For publishers, especially small scale publishers, the earning potential can be substantial. I personally know people who charge US$300 to $500 for a single link. When you have 100 pages on your site, the money adds up quick.

But there’s a cost to this practise. Trust. Publishers who sell links are lying to Google and so to their readers. They’re saying this link is a natural link when it isn’t. They’re essentially the vital cog in a black-hat SEO tactic designed to game Google. They’re helping a website to appear higher in Google than it should.

Obviously each site owner is entitled to make their money however they want, but Travelfish.org does not engage in this practise and we try whenever possible not to link to sites that do.

So what on earth does this have to do with travel insurance?

Travel insurance companies are one of the biggest link buyers out there.

How can you trust a business that actively uses misleading SEO tactics to try and boost their ranking in Google?

World Nomads does not buy links.

We are regularly approached by travel insurance companies offering paid link deals. We ignore the emails.

So, what they do instead is they set up fake profiles and post messages on our messageboard with leading questions like “Has anyone heard of X insurance?”

So the insurance provider having found we won’t sell them a link are now posting fake messages on our messageboard to try and drum up business and create more “natural links”.

I find this rather annoying, hence this post.

So next time you see a link reading “This story was sponsored by X Insurance” remind yourself that if they’re lying to you before you even click on the link, how do you think they’ll treat your claim?

You can learn more about our recommended travel insurer World Nomads here. Yes, that is an affiliate link.

Dear Westpac & HSBC, can we have our $2,000 back please?

We pay all our writers by international bank transfer and have done for years. Nearly all the time it works fine. We’ve very infrequently had problems wiring to accounts in the US, but generally speaking we’re able to pay a bunch of people, month in month out, without problem.

Place money in waterproof bag, attach to pigeon, tell to fly to London.

Place money in waterproof bag, attach to pigeon, tell to fly to London.

All the payments are done through the Westpac ebanking platform meaning there are no painful trips to the bank required, and over the years it has proved to be a convenient and reasonably affordable means of paying people.

Until now.

While the following was kicked off by a mistake by us, the ongoing problems clearly indicate some issues that Westpac could better handle.

Back on 18 August (yes, over a month ago) we sent a wire to the UK account of one of our writers for an amount just shy of A$2,000. Their invoice listed all the details we normally use for transfers to the UK (account name, account number, SWIFT code and intermediary bank details). We had made a previous payment to this account without problem.

On the invoice, the account number was listed as (xxxx) xxxxxxxxx. When we tried to enter this into the ebanking, the system choked on the brackets, so, in our error, we tried it without the bracketed section. The details were accepted and a receipt number was issued. Bingo.

The problem of course was that the bracketed section was vital (it is the branch indicator) and so without that number, HSBC (the intermediary bank) would be unable to determine which branch to send the money to. We discovered this weeks later, when we realised that with the first transfer, we just removed the brackets rather than the bracket and number.

Anyway. At this stage we didn’t know anything was wrong, but just to be clear we are aware this entire shebang was kicked off by our error.

A week later, on August 24, we received a message from the writer, politely enquiring after the funds.

We then called Westpac who advised the branch identifier was missing, so we then filed, by email, a payment adjustment request. According to Westpac, this request would be forwarded to HSBC who would connect the dots and forward on the money.

On 30 August we received another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

So on 30 August we contacted Westpac again, only to be told that they had “overlooked” forwarding the details to HSBC. So, they would do so immediately and confirm this action by email. We never received an email from them.

On 31 August, we called Westpac again to ask after the email and to check the instructions had been forwarded to HSBC. Instead we were told that the funds had been returned from the UK and had been retransmitted by Westpac (without notification to us) with the full correct details. This apparently took place without the money hitting our account at all. We were also advised that this action would be confirmed to us by email. We never received an email from them.

On 6 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 6 September we checked with Westpac and were told the funds were re-transmitted on 31 August for effect 1 September. Westpac agreed to contact their “investigation branch” and have a trace sent to recipient bank. During this call, the consultant noted that “IBAN should be used in UK transfers, but that transfers would work without one, just easier for the recipient bank”. We then advised that we had an IBAN, but they neither requested that nor any extra information. As with the other calls, the consultant then advised the above would be confirmed by email. No email was received.

On 9 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 9 September we checked with Westpac and were advised all Westpac can do is wait for response from UK bank.

On 13 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 13 September we contacted Westpac again, and were advised that the UK bank had responded, saying “we are investigating and will revert”.

On 16 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

On 16 September we contacted Westpac, they advised they would forward another trace and at our request copy an email to us — this email actually was received. We also instructed Westpac that if funds are returned from the UK bank, the funds to be returned to our account and we are to be advised. Absolutely do not re-transmit to UK.

On 17 September we received yet another message from the writer, noting that the money had not been received.

Separately to this, on 16 September, we sent a new wire for the same amount and the writer received it within 12 hours — so they have been paid, but Westpac and HSBC, given it has been a month, we’d really like that $2000 that you’re collectively sitting on, back please.

On 20 September, we called Westpac again and were told they wait five days before chasing HSBC.

On 21 September, still no money back from Westpac.