Why write online Review? There are two main reasons for the online business owner to write product focused content pages:
I have some startling news this week.
Tire companies lead the way in ethical reviews.
Say what? Tire companies??
Yep. Take a moment to read a section from an article in their recent online magazine (who knew there even was such a thing, right?!): “Tire Review” …
“If you never put money ahead of people.”
Hold onto that thought.
Today, we’re going to look at how you can rise above the mire by making sure that affiliate reviews you write are honest, ethical — and nothing to do with fake.
Why Write Product Reviews?
Niched-based content pages form the foundation of most successful entrepreneur-built online businesses. There’s no reason at all why some of that content cannot be product-focused.
There are two main reasons for the business owner to write product focused content pages:
- Authority: By reviewing products, and having people engage with them, you create more authority in your niche. You review products you know to be useful to your potential customers and it’s clear from your review that you know what you’re talking about.
- Money: We saw in “What Is a Fake Review, and Why Should You Care?” that reading reviews online is one of the final stages of the purchase path. Once a reader gets that far, she’s on the cusp of becoming a customer.
So product-focused content pages on your site can be especially profitable if you’re an affiliate of those products. You’re just one strong PREsell away from earning a commission.
Exciting, right? Right! But there are two big caveats to keep in mind…
- It’s easy to slip from PREselling mode to selling. As we’ve seen, some do that intentionally. We’ll assume that you, like most folks, are basically an honest person. But…
- With “commission” in the back of your mind, it’s all too human-nature-natural to “phrase to sell.” You subconsciously color a good feature a little too excitedly. You downplay negative features, or ignore them completely.
The final conclusion, a fair and objective one, helps the reader to make the best possible choice.
Helping the reader — your potential customer — should always be the main purpose of your reviews.
So What Exactly Is a Real Review?
In many ways it’s easier to turn that on its head and ask: “What is not a real review?” There’s plenty of information about that in the other articles in this series!
But the core answer is simple: It’s a review that helps the reader, who is likely on the edge of a purchase, to make the best choice possible.
A real review is not a sales page. It’s not written primarily to make money. Remember our friends in the world of tires:
“If you follow this advice, and if you never put money ahead of people, you can’t lose.”
It is, of course, fine to write direct sales page(s) when it comes time to sell your own products. That’s not what this article is about.
This article is about writing reviews of affiliate products that you’re promoting on your own site or blog.
A real review gives the reader the sense of deep knowledge and use of the product. The detailed content of the review provides evidence of that knowledge — something fake reviews can’t do.
Reviewers saying they know a product is not enough. We already know that creators of fake reviews lie. There should be enough evidence of knowledge that, if you were to ask a question about the product, you’d be confident of a straight, practical, down-to-earth reply.
Fake reviews often trash a product. Others spit out known facts and features. Whatever the approach, it’s “easy-to-do” content, created without having used the product. Ignore. Go for those with high quality content.
A real affiliate review is written as an honest, impartial opinion that reflects realexperience. No remuneration (in any form) should be received by the author from the company that provides the product or service.
Which leads us to the question of the legalities of reviews. As an affiliate, you do not want to run afoul of the law. It’s unlikely that the police are ever going to knock on your door, but an ethical affiliate program should be contacting you if you cross the line.
So let’s get it correct, right off the bat. There’s no need to “fix” if you start right! (Many “fake reviewers” are going to be crying when “fake reviews” get hit by Google and/or the law).
What Do We Mean By an “Ethical” Review?
The good news is that “legal” and “moral” are pretty much the same (a happy coincidence ).
A real review (whether of a product, service or business) can be positive, neutral or negative — the “verdict” doesn’t matter. But it should…
- be user-written — you have actually used the product or service, even if only to test it
- be your honest and impartial opinion
- be balanced and complete — not selecting only the positives, or only the negatives
- reflect a consumer’s genuine expectation — she has come to your review for a balanced opinion, not a sales funnel.
If you’re reviewing any product from which you stand to make a commission, no matter how small, you must self-identify as an affiliate. In other words, you must clearly state that you earn a commission if the reader clicks on your link and makes a purchase.
And, according to the Federal Trade Commission guidelines, that statement must be in a prominent location on the actual review page.
Putting a vague statement in your footer, or having an affiliate policy hidden somewhere on your site — or not having a statement at all — is not acceptable. Unsurprisingly, as we’ve seen, it’s what many companies that indulge in fake review practices often do.
The good news? In this cynical, murky world of fake news and fake reviews, honesty is a selling point. You will develop more trust, not less, by being transparent. Quite apart from it being against FTC guidelines, trying to hide your affiliate status is treating your visitors disrespectfully.
So make your affiliation a selling point. Be proud of what you’re PREselling — don’t try to hide the fact that you’ll make money from it, if they buy. If you’re delivering regular, high value content to your readers they won’t have a problem with you having the occasional affiliate link.
And if they do, perhaps they’re not a good fit for your business.
You have leeway in the language you use — so use it. Let’s face it. A statement such as this, while honest, is going to cast some doubt on your review…
How about this instead:
“I may earn a small amount from links to various products I recommend on this site. If you like what you’re reading, clicking on those links provides the funding that lets me do my passionate thing for home audio. Thanks very much.”
So make your affiliate statement with confidence. Stand proud with your integrity. Remember the world of tires…
“…never put money ahead of people.”
Put your trust in your site visitor. Allow her a fair chance to assess the review in the light of full disclosure. Because when you’re honest, and when a review is outstanding, such disclosure can be to your great advantage.
Are you really confident in your site visitors? Run a study of your own. Offer them a product with and without an affiliate link. Make clear which is which and what it means.
You might be as surprised at the results as Jonathan Fields was.
Should a Review Aim to Convince?
The short answer to that is “no.” And if you see an article titled: “How to Write Convincing Reviews” anywhere, beware. In those cases, “convincing” usually means “fake.”
One of Solo Build It!’s prime directives is: “Keep it real,” which is particularly relevant in this situation.
Reviews should not be “convincing.” They can and should be…
- complete, honest, balanced
- without agenda
- based on user experience
- authoritative, with your knowledge clearly shining through
- of true and honest value to the reader to help make the best decision possible.
But the one thing that a real review should not be is “convincing.” Your goal is not to convince anyone to purchase.
Product-focused content pages (reviews or other types of articles) can be valuable content, if they’re done right.
What Happens When It’s Not Possible to Use a Product?
Ideally, your review should include your personal experience of the product under review.
The FTC’s position is clear:
But what about when that’s not possible? After all, if you’re a travel site it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stay in all the best hotels in Venice! Or if you’re a gardening site, you probably won’t want to own 6 lawnmowers until you find the best!
The answer is to consider researching the best reviews and any other information you can find about the product. Then, pull that all together into your own original coverage of the product.
This does not mean to take part of one review, then add part of another in a mish-mash of information.
It means doing some good quality secondary research. It will take time. But it can also provide you with a mass of high-quality information, which you then reduce to new content, with added thought, delivered in a format and voice that make it uniquely yours.
- Sites like Amazon and TripAdvisor make it easy for you. Take all the reviews — positive and negative. What are the common complaints? What do people love? Who do the reviewers say the product is best suited to?
- What about videos? Are there reviews on YouTube? What do they say?
- Is it a branded product? What does the manufacturer say? What evidence do they provide? Video? User reviews?
- Can you do any testing in-store? What about talking to salespeople about their experience of it? (Be careful for bias here, too.)
- Suppose you’re reviewing a hi-fi speaker system. Turn a “lemon” (no hands-on) into lemonade with a video of you listening to various receivers in an AV room of a store, commenting on each as an assistant switches from one to another. Be sure to catch the sounds with your own mic…Visitors will hear all the sounds the same through computer speakers, but it still makes an impression that you’re testing them.
- How could you possibly do this? Ask! A local store may allow you to when the store is quiet in return for acknowledgment and a link. Get creative!
- As your site becomes more well-known, you’ll be able to get a sample for in-home testing. If it’s offered as a gift, of course, you must disclose that prominently on the website.
Again, it’s critical to be transparent.
Write a review that focuses on the site visitor and how you think it would benefit her. Make clear that it’s not based on personal use or experience but reflects accurate, exhaustive research of “expert” opinions. Detail what that means.
Add, of course, that it has been supplemented by your own conclusions based on all those hours of research.
It’s always better, though, to be able to build true user experience or hands-on testing into your review.