With an online population of close to 500 million users by the end of June 2018, India has one of the fastest growing Internet users’ populations in the world. A compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 percent will take the number of India’s online users to 720 million by 2021. The CAGR of the Indian online user growth is almost four times that of the global rate. India’s e-commerce industry has seen a steady growth over the years from 2014 onward and is currently pegged at $53 billion. The robust growth rate of 25 percent will take the Indian e-commerce industry beyond the $100 billion mark by 2020.
India is adding close to 10 million daily Internet users every month according to Google which is the highest rate of addition to the Internet community anywhere in the world. It is the second largest population of Facebook users among all countries of the world. If English is the language of the Internet, it certainly puts India in a commanding position because the Indian English speakers are more than twice the UK’s population. Interestingly, most Indians read and write at least two languages of which English is one. There’s an increasing trend of online users who prefer to browse for content in their local language.
India is Banned from Wealthy Affiliate’s Free Starter Membership
When you consider the above facts, Wealthy Affiliate’s decision to ban India or rather people from India from its Free Starter Membership looks a bit bizarre. The owners of Wealthy Affiliate (WA) have justified the ban stating that people from India (and some other countries included in the ban) are involved in high levels of fraud and scams and hence, it was a last-resort decision for the problem. At the time of writing this, the ban has not been lifted and it still stands.
I’m from India and I have my own reasons for disliking the ban. In fact, I have been very open about my feelings about the ban in the WA community where time and again, I have expressed my displeasure about it. The official reasons for the ban, I feel do not hold much water and seems like an easy-way-out decision and not based on economic merits.
I have been a Premium Member of Wealthy Affiliate for more than a year, and I really love this amazing platform. For a complete newbie, WA has to be the best platform out there to learn what Internet Marketing is all about and how one can monetise a website for an exciting online business. The lessons are intelligently crafted and one is taken along the journey in a step-by-step fashion. But for the slight blotch of the ban on my country for the Free Starter Membership, Wealthy Affiliate is a great platform for anybody serious about starting a money-making career online. The foundation provided is solid. It’s a pity that people from my country do not get to have a first-hand look of WA for free like it happens in other countries.
Wealthy Affiliate’s Free Starter Membership
One of the unique selling points of WA is its Free Starter Membership where people can join WA without having to pay a single penny. As a Free Starter Member, a person is entitled to two WordPress websites completely free to be hosted on WA’s own SiteRubix server and there’s no validity period for the membership. This means a person can host his two websites at zero cost as a Free Starter Member and continue to own them as long as he is a member. The free hosting is limited to two websites under siterubix.com subdomain. A starter member cannot host a website under his own domain name. Hence, a starter member’s website may look something like this – mywebsite.siterubix.com. Further, as a starter member, a person gets to enjoy the first 10 lessons in two different courses at WA – The Online Entrepreneur Certification course and Affiliate Bootcamp. If at any point, he wants to upgrade his membership to Premium, he gets to join WA at $19 for the first month (the monthly Premium fee is $49). He also can avail of WA’s affiliate program and can start earning by promoting WA through his website. This means if you join WA as a starter member, you do not pay any enrolment fee and yet you can earn money by referring it to other people. Isn’t this amazing?
Let’s see the comparison of the benefits of the Free Starter and Premium Membership.
The Banned Countries for the Free Starter Membership
As of today, there are altogether 10 countries where users from that country are not permitted to sign up and try the Free Starter Membership at Wealthy Affiliate (WA). The countries, in alphabetical order, are:
This is the official update for the list of banned countries. It is said that things are being worked out in the background to lift the ban on some countries. But things have remained unchanged for many years.
Except those from Nigeria, people from these countries can join Wealthy Affiliate as Premium Members though. It’s only the Free Starter Membership that’s not allowed. However, Nigeria is completely banned both for the Free Starter Membership and the Premium Membership.
What Does the Ban on Free Starter Membership Mean?
If you are a person from one of the banned countries, in order to join WA, you have to either pay $49 every month or else pay $359 for the full year for its Premium Membership. This means, you cannot have a first-hand feel of the platform on trial, and if you’re serious about joining WA (after reading its many positive reviews), you have to jump in immediately by paying the Premium fee. There’re no two ways about it. You have to forego all the Free Starter Membership benefits mentioned before. This also automatically cuts off another incentive – that of upgrading from the Free Starter Membership to the Premium at $19 for the first month (discount) instead of the $49 monthly fee because being banned for the Starter Membership, the situation simply does not arise.
The Basis for the Ban
In the early days of Wealthy Affiliate, free members could earn $1 credit for each referral (the Free Starter Membership) they made who actually completed filling out their profile details. Thus, the affiliate system then allowed the free members to earn many $1 referral credits from their Starter Member sign-ups. This was one chink in the system that was exploited to the hilt by certain people who recruited members in hordes (family, friends, colleagues) turning WA into a convenient avenue for a nice extra income. Most of these activities had their origins in some specific countries and unfortunately, India happened to be a major culprit.
The situation spawned another undesirable practice of people even offering 50 cents to new referrals to complete their profiles. These people then made WA into a pyramid style income stream and started promoting it as a highly lucrative MLM opportunity.
Another reason for the ban was the quality of interactions within the community that dwindled after many people who did not have a speck of an idea about WA and the affiliate marketing joined. Some did not even realise why they joined WA. Naturally, the overall quality of the platform, in particular, the quality of conversations got negatively affected which made the owners of WA sit up and take notice. After observing the various data, it was found that people were scammed into joining WA mostly in these few countries. Most frauds and other practices like trying to game the system happened in these countries only. Hence, the owners took the decision to completely ban these countries for the Free Starter Membership. They thought if people from these countries wanted to join, they should commit themselves to the Premium membership.
The Ban on Free Starter Membership – a Deterrent to Joining WA?
If you check the various online courses available on the Internet, most of them have a free trial or a money back offer to let people enjoy the full benefits of the membership within the trial period. Some make the offer without any validity period but with reduced functionalities or features of the product. Either way, the idea is to let the buyer decide on the membership enrollment and is more of a bait by offering the customer the delights of using the product. It’s a time-tested strategy and is mostly a win-win situation for both the seller and the buyer.
When WA bans some countries from its Free Starter offer, for many, it actually acts as a deterrent for people from these countries for joining it. You see, with many online scams happening, people are usually wary of making the buying decision based on a few online reviews or testimonials and without actually experiencing the product. Secondly, most people from these countries (they are mostly impoverished) are not able to afford the Premium membership of WA. But if the free trial is there and if people believe in the effectiveness of the system after experiencing it, they would find ways to sign up for the Premium Membership. They need to be convinced of the system first.
India’s Untapped Online Business Potential
With a large English-speaking and English-writing population like India, and with a booming e-commerce sector developing, people are very eager to join the online business bandwagon to earn a living. Add to this the huge unemployment problem, affiliate marketing provides a good opportunity for a lucrative online business career. Blogging or Internet Marketing is very much in its nascent stage and looking at its market potential, big online retail stores are eyeing the Indian market. At the ground level, demand for Digital Marketing courses and experts are on the rise. Businesses everywhere are investing a lot in recruiting Digital Marketing experts to scale up their business in today’s competitive market.
India is a late entrant to the online business world but things are picking up quickly. People, especially the youth and the retirees are slowly beginning to realise the relevance of getting equipped with the knowledge on learning to create good income streams online. Despite India’s huge Internet population, it is still far behind many countries as far as the penetration is concerned. But it is growing at a significant rate. Wealthy Affiliate or for that matter any Internet Marketing platform cannot remain ignorant of this burgeoning market.
The Value of “Free” Offers
Everybody loves the word “free” and there’s something about getting free goodies that get most people excited. So, when a very popular and reputed brand like Wealthy Affiliate offers its free stuff in the form of the Free Starter Membership loaded with many benefits, it creates a buzz. The thing with WA’s Starter Membership is that besides the many benefits, you can actually start earning money by promoting affiliate products and WA itself to people through your websites (two in number) hosted free at WA’s SiteRubix hosting platform. And like it happens with most products, the Free Starter Membership introduces the WA platform and hooks the free members who are then encouraged to sign up for the fully-loaded Premium Membership. By offering free trial membership, WA imparts a good brand image to the people. But most important of all, from the WA member’s perspective, the free offer is a great selling proposition and hooks aspiring Internet marketers to its fold. After all, WA is the best platform of its kind in the world.
Despite the Free Starter Membership being unavailable in my country India, I joined WA as a Premium member because I knew I was getting a good deal with the fee that I was paying. I trusted my gut feelings and signed up for its Premium membership, and I must say there has been no looking back ever since. The Wealthy Affiliate community is the best that I have ever found and has been an integral part of my online journey so far.
As a Premium member myself, it has not been easy at all for me to promote Wealthy Affiliate to my friends in India because of the absence of its trial offer. And whenever I say about Wealthy Affiliate and its USP of the Free Starter Membership, I have to come up with a disclaimer that the condition does not apply to my own country and some more countries. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that WA’s policy of imposing a blanket ban on a few select countries on the basis of a few random cases of fraud happening there smacks of discrimination. Their contention is fraudsters are everywhere and not limited to these few countries only.
I believe that the implications and the business consequences of the Free Starter Membership ban policy have not been entirely lost on the owners of Wealthy Affiliate. They must be finding ways at curbing the fraud menace that they are afraid of in these banned countries. WA is losing out on the big opportunity to expand its reach to a huge market like India. Lift the ban and I’m sure it will be a win-win situation for both WA and the many aspiring Internet marketers in India. It is up to Wealthy Affiliate to tap the huge potential customer base in India. The ball is in their court now.