Your Reviews Are Your Content. They Are Your Brand.
Grab a coffee and glass of water, this is going to be a long, thorough post on "reviews".
Today I want to touch on a topic that is very much "near and dear" to all authority bloggers, affiliate marketers, and up and coming marketers alike, REVIEWS.
There is a misconception these days about reviews as misinformation online continues to run prevalent across a breadth of industries. I want to help by offering some clarity in proper practices for reviewing products/services and hopefully offer you insights into the broader concept.
Almost all “authority sites” and branded bloggers will have a component of their websites and revenue model that stem from product/service recommendations. It is critical that you understand how to appropriately construct reviews, what the right and wrong approach to reviews is, and how to effectively integrate reviews into your business.
The first and most common question I get is...
Can You Review a Product Without Owning It?
The simple answer is YES. The longer answer is still yes, but there are some things that you should comprehend when you are constructing any review, whether you are an actually owner of the product or not.
People, in particular newcomers, have the tendency to a hit a roadblock when they realize they don’t have a budget to purchase every product/service they plan to review on their website. The reality to this is that some of the best reviews I have ever seen and the most comprehensive “help” style experience have been from people that haven’t purchased the product themselves.
Purchasing doesn’t mean you are “privy” to the product, privy to the intricacies of how the product works, nor does it mean that you understand the product weakness and where consumers are struggling/enjoying the product. Owning the product can give unique "hands on" insights, but it can sometimes create an illusionary product bias if you don't actively use the product, or don't understand it in a comprehensive way.
Act Like a NON Commission Salesperson.
I don’t like the word salesperson, simply because that is not what you are as an affiliate marketer, or a marketer in general. Marketers that try to sell you stuff are truly annoying. Marketers that HELP you and then make useful recommendations are my type of people!
You are a HELPER. You are helping people within your given niche or category and as a result, you are building trust with your audience. Once you have trust, you are going to have the ability to effectively and efficiently make product/service recommendations.
That is HOW you create a thriving and very successful business as an affiliate marketer.
A good example of this is Best Buy. They are non-commissioned employees and it shows. They steer you towards the product that will benefit you most, and most of the representatives are very knowledgeable and well versed in your area.
I was Best Buy the other day looking at televisions and the guy effectively told me 100 times more than I needed to know about TV’s, but also helped me get to a point where I felt comfortable to make a purchasing decision. He not only outlined the features of the televisions, but helped me understand the different qualities of the brands, their track records, their drawbacks, as well as he put the features into perspective in terms of their benefits.
Had the guy purchased and owned every TV? No. That would have cost him $100,000+ just to do his job. Many of the TV’s he was telling me about were “online only”, but he absolutely was still qualified to help me make a purchasing decision.
Compare this guy to a “commissioned” salesperson...which funny enough, was a competitor of Best Buy when they arrived in Canada (where I live). The most popular electronics “big box” company was called Future Shop. They had commissioned employees and I always hated going in there even for the simplest of electronics.
They knowingly would recommend the higher ticket items and bundle things into a purchase that you didn’t need. That is what I deem to be very unethical sales practices and that is something that is very much prevalent within the online space, in particular you see a lot of this within the “make money opportunity” and “weight loss” industries; marketers promoting products simply because they have high commissions, not because of their value.
Selling the Warranty. This is Where It Gets Unethical.
Many companies thrive on their "salespeople" selling bogus warranties. Most commissions salespeople will make the bulk of their commissions are warranties. Unfortunately, they don't make it apparent that all products come with a manufactures and all credit cards usually back purchases made on it. These commissioned salespeople earned upwards of 50% of any warranty, it was a cash grab for the salespeople and many of them used ruthless techniques to capture it.
**As an aside: Future Shop went out of business as they succumb to the competition (and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy). Coincidence? Or was this a result of the shady sales tactics?
Don’t act like the commissioned employee, selling whatever costs the most simply because you make the most and selling stuff that customer doesn’t need. That is the problem with much of the online world and a lot of the fake “positive” reviews (which I will be getting into).
As you progress and become an authority online, it will become easier to purchase products/services within your given space as “test products”. Likely you will be sought out by bigger agencies and companies to review their products (if they stand behind their product), or they will offer a free sample in the first place.
One thing you can do is test “demo” models and in a store, you can test demo models online, and you surely can do some incredibly detailed research online about a product or service to gain a lot of insight not just into the product features, the typical customer feedback, the pros/cons, and of course, share your own personal insights.
Surely, you can review products without owning them. In an ideal situation you would own every product and perform thorough and comprehensive research on that product, but there are circumstances where this isn't cost-efficient or at all necessary.
You can source your information and obtain product/service knowledge in several ways. There are many reviews on Amazon itself (if it is an Amazon product), within forums, other websites, product information, discussion boards, the actual product website, through videos on YouTube/Vimeo, and even advertisement and reviews within publications like newspapers and magazines that can be incredibly insightful.
You can leverage this information to offer thorough, informative, truthful, and a highly engaging review for your audience for just about any product...in any niche.
It all comes down to doing your research and this is part of the process when writing any content, whether it be for a review or whether it is for a product/service or a generic sort of article.
The Scheme of False Positives.
This leads me into a pretty significant topic and one that is in line with my last example. False positive reviews.
As bad as any false "negative" review, is any false "positive" review. It is not OK to promote products or services in a positive light, in any industry, if you knowingly are aware the product is overpriced, is overcharging its customers, is low grade in comparison to other products in the space, or where people are being taken advantage of as customers.
If you do, you are an extension of the product itself and you are using customers as a PAWN for your own personal income.
If you are promoting a scam or scheme, you are an extension of that scam if you are actively promoting it in a positive light. Unfair and very much underhanded tactics. This is absolutely something that is taking place within the affiliate marketing industry, at a higher pace than ever.
You are seeing a lot of these scams (in particular in our industry) that are getting taken out by the FTC, and the authorities then go after the affiliates that were promoting those products. This is absolutely fair, and I would hope to see more of this moving forward.
When constructing any review, you want to be fair, be accurate, and make people your focus and helping them out. That is what we support, that is what we teach, and that is what those that are succeeding online (in any niche) with any sense of sustainability are doing.
There are many companies fighting against these false positives, and we feel an inherent responsibility as the leading affiliate marketing platform in the industry to do our part as well.
We have a big responsibility in the industry as a whole as we teach ethical marketing. We also teach people to accurately and insightfully review products/services (when they do reviews). We are actively combating false positives, which are an ongoing problem in the industry and you have many unscrupulous affiliate and network marketers promoting various scams for the purpose of making a buck (at the expense of a consumer).
We are not alone though. There are other companies actively working to combat fake positive reviews
- Trust Pilot. Trust Pilot has been working to combat fake positive reviews, and wrote an article on this subject matter.
- Amazon. Amazon sued sellers for buying fake reviews back in 2016, and there has been a big focus by retailers to prevent fake positive reviews since.
- FTC. They are actively doing "claw backs" on affiliates that are misleading customers into MLM, pyramid schemes and misleading coaching schemes.
And those are just a few. There are 100's of other agencies and independent authority bloggers out there working to combat against these false positives. There is an inherent liability to you as an affiliate if you are promoting overpriced products, or companies that are not ethical in their marketing or claims, for the sake of generating revenue.
You are seeing high ticket and overpriced products/services being taken out by authorities and the affiliates (or participants if it is an MLM) are also responsible parties in the ethical or sometimes illegal activities. This will continue.
Lacking Insight or Proof.
As with any industry and being an authority within any niche, product/service reviews are likely going to be a component of your website. Like any industsry, there are some great products in the affiliate/internet marketing space, there are some not so great products.
Our hopes is that anyone would do some due diligence and if they were going to review any product. If a product is low quality and is truly taking advantage of people, as some are, there is nothing wrong with pointing this out. Unfortunately within the online world there are MANY people that have been scammed, ripped off and taken advantage of and I have literally worked personally with 100,000's of them over the years, so I have heard every sob story imaginable.
You have an obligation to your niche to provide them with insightful, truthful, information and to do so in a way that helps them make an educated decision. This level of help will create trust and will lead you to establishing yourself as a respected authority.
Fabricating a Review. Nope.
The first thing I want to acknowledge is that we don’t condone or support “false” reviews for the sake of “intent”. This could mean writing a review for the sake of promoting a product just for the sake of earning high commissions, or it could mean not promoting a product with a review that is nonfactual. It is not good.
All your reviews that you write within your given niche should be well researched, and well articulated...with of course a layer of personality or opinion which is how you are going to represent your brand.
Never falsify information for your own gain, this is incredibly unethical and not good. If you are writing a negative review, it is completely fine if you are using fact. If you are writing a negative review, with incorrect or false information about a company or person, then this can potentially get you in legal hot water.
Expert Reviews vs. Newbie Reviews
Is someone that has been around in an industry more qualified than a newcomer to offer a more insightful and useful review?
That may seem like sound logic at face value, but the problem is that many companies, brands, celebrities, and indie bloggers tend to monopolize on their positions of authority and trade “money” for “recommendations”.
It is an abuse of trust in my opinion.
You are just as qualified as a beginner or first time user of a product to review it, as someone is that has used 100 products in the industry. You have a unique perspective, you have unique insights and experiences to share, as do they. They are all valuable and can serve to be very insightful to the potential customer.
Your WORDS, Are Your BRAND.
One thing that you should always consider when creating ANY content, is that your words are your brand. They are things that will follow you wherever you go, and whether you have something good or bad to say about a product or service, it is the visitors that are the focus of everything you do.
What is the best for them? What product or service will benefit or help them out the most? If you can help someone, make a recommendation, or help someone avoid a potential landmine or lower quality product, this is good!
If I had a choice between a blender that was known to have a consistent problem with it’s rotor in one brand, and was more expensive, or I could choose the cheaper version that has a much longer standing track record (and no rotor issue)...what do you think I would choose?
The latter, every single time.
As a prospective customer, it would be important for the affiliate that is recommending these services to make me aware. Some affiliates may choose the blender with the rotor issue, because it is pays higher commission (because it is more expensive). That is selling your customers short, and that is going to lead to a short term brand and most likely, an unsustainable business for you.
Plain and simple, you have probably just lost a repeat buyer.
Align your customers with the most relevant, the best option for them and they will love you, love your brand, and trust your advice down the road. That is how you create a long term business, putting people first (and is something that we have focused on from day on with Wealthy Affiliate).
Comparisons Are Incredibly Useful.
I research stuff before I buy it online. Whether I am looking to purchase the best “app” for simplifying my day to day tasks (and making me more efficient), or I am looking to purchase a digital camera lens, I am going to spend some time doing research.
As a consumer, something that I have always found effective in terms of giving me a "birds eye" view and helping to make a comfortable purchasing decision is the use of comparisons.
PRODUCT A vs. PRODUCT B vs. PRODUCT C
This can be a great way to offer people perspective across many data points. People are very good at absorbing information when it is presented visually.
Comparisons also showcase and reveal expertise in an industry. Often times when you put a subset of products together in an industry, it is easy to declare a group of 1, 2 or 3 of the top products in the space that can benefit the customer. It is also easy to compare those that are under performing in a way that makes sense to the customer, thus helping them make a much more educated and positive purchasing decision.
As with all reviews, the potential customer should be the focus. What makes the most sense to them, and which products/services will benefit them the best out of a much broader range of products.
Following the CIAO Principles.
I recommend that people use the CIAO principles when constructing a review, within any industry. When people go to purchase anything online or offline, typically they will review it. Unless it is a complete impulse buy (which does happen to the best of us), we will spend our time researching a product before we purchase it. We want to be informed and feel as though we are making the best purchasing decision possible.
There are four core principles that I follow when creating my reviews, I call these the "CIAO Principles".
All of your reviews, and content for that matter, need to capture the interest of your audience. If you can't capture the interest then people will get through the first paragraph of your content and leave. The hard work is getting someone to your site, and if you are captivating, they will stay for a much longer period.
To be "captivating" you should write as though you are writing to a friend, explaining a product or service to them. Explaining the benefits of it, how their life will be better having it, than not having it.
This captivation also starts with a STRONG title and headings within your content that keep the reader engaged. Tell people what you are going to talk about before you talk about it!
Plain and simple, if you don't provide people with enough information to make a purchasing decision (either to buy or not to buy a product/service), then they are going to vacate your site and resume their research elsewhere. That equates to LOST traffic and revenue. This is the reason you want to offer a very informative review, something that is comprehensive enough that someone can make a decision after reading your review.
One that builds enough trust and offers people enough help that they feel comfortable enough with your "words" that they decide.
A recommendation would be a minimum of 1,000 words for every review post you create on your site. Write until you feel you are offering a comprehensive experience for your visitor.
A review, should be accurate to the best of your knowledge. Make sure that when you create your reviews, that you base it on factual information. Sure it is fine to have an opinion based on facts, but you don't want to be in a situation where you are making stuff up or creating a fabricated story.
The facts can be derived from many places and will obtained through thorough product research. The internet is your information gateway and you can learn an incredible amount about a product or service through:
- Researching it on the product website or sales channels
- Your own product experience (if you have tried it)
- Forums and online discussion platforms
- YouTube, Vimeo and other video platforms
- Through other bloggers and industry authority websites
- Communicating directly with others that have tried it
Lots of ways to put together and accurate and precise review, utilize all the resources available to you.
Your opinion matters, in particular when the very essence of your brand and authority as you build out your website content is going to surround your brand. You can feel confident in offering people your opinionated information within your reviews if you are basing your review on accurate and factual information.
If you feel a product is great because of XYZ, then state it. If you feel it is lacking because of XYZ, then state that. Your content is unique to you and the same way that you would email a friend explaining a product/service that they should try or not try, is the same way you should present your content within your reviews. Be opinionated, it will make your review that much more engaging to read.
In conclusion, we need to remember that almost everything that we purchase has been the result of a review and the result of our research. You are likely here at WA because of your research, and the last product that you bought online was likely the result of you doing some due diligence about it through a search engine or a social media inquiry. That is just the reality.
Another reality is that companies that provide a low quality service are quick to call something "fake" if they don't like what is being said. Instead of fixing their product/service, they blame their deficiencies on others or just call adverse complaints fake.
It is an interesting time we live in right now.
I would love to open the floor on the entire discussion of "reviews". There has been so much misinformation out there about reviews, about fake reviews, and about what indicates the quality of a review or not.
What are your thoughts on reviews? Do you have any questions or anything to add to what I have said here? Please lead your comments, questions, and feedback below. I would love to engage in conversation about this.