Over the last years, there have been appearing more and more VPN review sites on the internet. Many of them are in the top search results when searching for “VPN Review” on Google.
When browsing through them and their results I’m wondering why their top 5 results were often the same.
Looking deeper into this, I saw that many of those VPN review sites are using affiliate links, connected to the “reviewed VPN providers”.
How does it come that we in 2019 have so many VPN review sites, recommending the same VPN providers? – Is it for making money instead of giving the readers an honest recommendation?
VPN review sites ranking VPN providers with Affiliate programs
Below a list of some VPN review sites that are connected to affiliate links.
See for example “The Best VPN” review site.
1) Express VPN – affiliate link
2) NordVPN – affiliate link
3) Perfect Privacy – affiliate link
4) IPVanish – affiliate link
5) Mullvad VPN – no affiliate link
And so the list goes on and on for many of those VPN Review sites.
Even tech news sites like TechRadar, Cnet or PC Magazin are misusing affiliates for ranked VPN providers!
Techradar.com best VPN (March 2019)
1) ExpressVPN -> affiliate link
2) IPVanish – affiliate link
3) NordVPN – affiliate link
4) Hotspot Shield – affiliate
5) CyberGhost – affiliate link
6) HotspotShield – affiliate link
USA Cnet Best VPN Providers
1) NordVPN – affiliate link
2) ExpressVPN – affiliate link
3) Hotspot Shield – affiliate link
4) PureVPN – affiliate link
5) CyberGhost – affiliate link
6) StrongVPN – affiliate link
7) IPVanish – affiliate link
PC Magazin Best VPN Review uses Affiliate links
Swedish IT news site IDG.se
Bäst VPN services to surf anonymous and access blocked sites
1) Hotspot Shield – affiliate link
2) Cyberghost – affiliate links
3) Mullvad – no affiliate link
4) Dold.se – affiliate link
5) PrivateVPN – affiliate link
6) Dold.se – no affiliate link
7) Windscribe – no affiliate link
Effectively this is paid advertising for the news magazines.
The Affiliate programs
Looking into those Affiliate programs, the VPN providers are advertising about how much money you can earn by recommending their VPN services. Promising a lot of money to be earned. See some screenshots below.
At the same time, there are VPN providers that do have affiliate programs but which still are not placed high in the reviews, for example Private Internet Access. They are a rather cheap VPN provider. (6,95 US$ per month – 39,95 US$ per year)
Compared to other VPN providers, Private Access Internet is stating:
“earn up to 33% in commission on new and recurring sales over the lifetime of a customer“.
This is not much money knowing that their service is rather cheap in general. Why promoting a VPN service where you earn “only” 12 US$ for a new customers if you can earn 36 US$ for the same new customer at a more expensive VPN provider.
Could that be the reason why this provider is less recommend than others?
(An update regarding this part was made in april 2019, see at the end of the article.)
VPN provider shutting down it’s affiliate program
While searching through the different VPN providers affiliate programs I found one provider, iVPN, which has closed it’s affiliate program already in september 2016!
You can read more about it here:
“When we realised professional affiliates were signing up as customers to get a link, we created a separate signup page for them. As the VPN industry grew, a dizzying number of ‘Best/top VPN’ comparison sites popped up. And with the increasing competition, along came increasingly unethical behaviour (which is certainly not unique to the VPN industry).“
“In addition, it’s clear to us that many unscrupulous affiliates rank providers in order of potential revenue. Providers that have better commission offerings, or website conversion rates, go straight to the top. It’s not hard to see why. Many affiliates are spending thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollars on advertising to get visitors to their site, and they lose if a visitor clicks through to a VPN and doesn’t buy. – Why does this matter? When someone goes to Google and asks for the ‘Best VPN’ they expect to find information aiding them in identifying the best VPN for their needs. Not only would the above practices compromise this, but in some cases, people are using VPNs in circumstances where compromising their anonymity could be life threatening. For this reason alone, its imperative that companies advertising VPN services are honest about their relationship with the brands they are advocating.”
I do not have to add anything to this statement, it says it so clearly. Check out the link above to read iVPN’s whole blog article about their affiliate program showdown.
Affiliate Guides to maximize your earnings
There are already VPN affiliate program guides existing that are helping you to promote the “right” VPN to maximize your earnings.
Now that you’ve gotten some ideas on why VPNs are important to internet safety and learned more about 10 great VPN affiliate programs, it’s time to focus on a niche. You could focus on promoting VPN Apps for iPhones to help iPhone users protect their information on the go. ExpressVPN works on all devices to ensure completely anonymous browsing from any location. They offer their affiliates a flexible commission structure that rewards them for higher sales volumes.
Affiliate programs vs user referrals.
Some of the VPN providers do just offer user referrals. This means that you as an active VPN user can send a refer link to a friend. If he/she subscribes to the same service as well, you will get a bonus of an extra month which will be added to your existing subscription at that provider. This model is also existing on for example password managers like Lastpass. You refer a friend to a service you are using and get a small bonus for that one.
There is a big different between those referrals and affiliate programs. Referrals are for users with with an active subscription at the VPN provider which will add extra subscription to their account when a friend buys the same service. Affiliate programs are cash-out programs to earn money for referring.
AirVPN is for example a VPN provider which is not at all rated or mentioned at the VPN ranking sites above. Just because they don’t have an affiliate program?
Other VPN providers which are not offering an affiliate program and as a result, are not often found on many VPN review sites:
Leasons learned and how to choose a VPN provider
Which review can you trust? Which VPN provider should you choose?
Do affiliate programs make VPN providers untrustworthy? Not necessarily.
Do they make “reviews” inmoral, untrustworthy and possibly illegal? Yes.
Remember the statement from iVPN in their blog mentioned above, what false recommendation also could lead to:
“in some cases, people are using VPNs in circumstances where compromising their anonymity could be life threatening “
At the most VPN providers you can buy a 1 month subscription. Buy such a subscription at the providers you think could be interesting for you. Make your own review, test a few of them. Also the most providers offer own apps for Windows / MAC / iOS and Android (even if not all). Take that into reconsideration.
Check the number of countries available. Do you really need a VPN provider that has over 5.000 servers in 61 different countries (NordVPN), or one with over 3.000 servers in 160 countries?
How many countries do you really need to connect to with your VPN?
Wouldn’t it be enough with a VPN provider that has 22 servers in 5 countries (AzireVPN), or 300 servers in in 37 countries (Mullvad) ?
Or why not just choosing a VPN provider from a well known IT Security company like F-Secure with 23 different countries to choose to connect to (F-Secure Freedome) ?
Try to test a few VPN provider yourself, before ending up in a long-term subscription with a provider that fulfills your needs and offer the services you need. It must not be one of the Top rated and recommended at VPN review sites which might be the right for you!
Be critical from which sources you get information from, and don’t just trust any random VPN review site you find on the internet! Just because they are reviewing a lot of VPN providers and seems to know much about all of them doesn’t mean they are trustworthy.
The review sites mentioned above show unfortunately that a lot of money can be earned by recommending certain VPN providers before others, which will of course result in untrustworthy and dishonest reviews.
Update 15th of march 2019
Even the Swedish IT News site IDG is using a lot of affiliate links on the big VPN review articles. I updated the article with that information.
Update 7th of april 2019
Private Internet Access (PIA) has recently increased the price for their VPN service. In the past i was one of the cheapest VPN providers. Now they are in line with many others.
In the past the pricing was 6,95 US$ per month / 39,95 US$ per year.
Now with the updated pricing is 9,95 US$ per month – 71,88 US$ per year.
What was the reason for the price increase? Could it be that PIA wishes to be higher rated at all those VPN Review sites by giving their affiliate program a high cash out due to increased customer price? Well, who would think something like that!? – Below you see the official statement from PIA why they are increasing their prices.
Why are you increasing your prices?
This price increase will allow us the ability to provide you with new features without sacrificing security or privacy. Visible changes include the new look of our Desktop application as well as the increase of our device limit from 5 to 10.
Updated 20th of April – Interesting links:
- VPN – a Very Precarious Narrative – awesome article by Dennis Schubert about what a VPN is and what not! It’s rather long but highly recommended to read it!
- Choosing a VPN service is a serious decision – Drew DeVault’s Blog
- Are VPN providers more trustworthy than your ISP? (own article from Nov. 2017)
- Mapping of egress points used by VPN providers (own article from may 2018)