Does a Paid Review Mean a Positive Review? My Recent Blogging Dilemma

June 10, 2008 - Written by Gyutae Park  

As bloggers, many of us rely on paid advertising to help cover costs and buy new toys. Blogging by itself is definitely not as lucrative as e-commerce or affiliate marketing, but it definitely has its intangible perks (like networking and developing a readership). The extra income is just cream on the cake.

One of the main sources of revenue for Winning the Web is advertising in paid reviews (I get a few orders every month). While I don’t want to plaster the site with ads everywhere, paid reviews give me an opportunity to occasionally check out new products and services and provide my honest feedback.

The problem with paid reviews is that advertisers always want and expect a glowing response. If they’re paying good money for a review, it should be positive no matter what, right? Unfortunately for bloggers, there’s a tough balance to keep between satisfying advertisers and maintaining a level of trust with regular readers. We want to provide advertisers with the most value possible, but at the same time we have to respect and honor the readership above all else.

I was recently approached by an individual for a paid review of an ebook and a blog. Assuming that they would pass the test of being high-quality, I accepted without thinking much of it. However, later on when it came time to write the review, I was surprised that the ebook was not something I wanted to endorse or promote on the blog. In fact, I was turned off by the contents and the way in which they were marketed.

I wrote an honest review (as every review should be) with my true thoughts and opinions. That was probably not what the advertiser wanted to see, but I felt I owed it to my readers. There’s absolutely no way I’m going to promote a shady product I don’t believe in for a few hundred bucks. In fact, I wrote a post about my thoughts on make money online ebooks shortly thereafter.

Needless to say, the advertiser demanded a refund while accusing me of going behind his back to write a “negative post”. He further fueled the fire by lecturing me about bad business ethics and how I slandered his reputation. Am I at fault here?

Now, the interesting thing is that we never agreed on a positive review at all. Should payment automatically guarantee a perfect plug? Some of you may have seen the post while it was up for about 12 hours. Yes, I was honest – maybe a bit brutally honest. But I did bring out the positive aspects of the product as much as possible. Paid or not, shouldn’t a review contain an honest opinion?

Putting myself into the advertiser’s shoes, I can understand the dilemma. If I’m paying for a review, naturally I would want it to be positive. It can’t be guaranteed but there’s definitely a conflict of interest here.

For future reviews, I will be communicating with potential advertisers my general opinion of the product or service BEFORE accepting payment. I think this will clear up a lot of miscommunication and set realistic expectations that are beneficial for both parties.

Below are some guidelines to follow for selling paid reviews on your blog:

Use an automated plugin like OIOPublisher for paid reviews
Not only will this system save you time, but it will actually increase sales as potential advertisers are more likely to go through with the process.

Clearly label conditions on an advertising page
Do you plan on nofollowing links in paid reviews? How long does it take for you to write a review? How long will it be and how detailed? Outline all of these important factors in your advertising page and include some sample paid reviews you’ve done in the past. This will help potential customers to have realistic expectations and understand exactly what they are paying for.

Use testimonials
If you’ve done paid reviews in the past that have had a big impact on advertisers, ask them to write a testimonial for you. This will help increase sales and will set the minds of potential advertisers at ease.

Discuss your opinion on the product before accepting payment
As I mentioned before, take a look at the proposed product or service BEFORE you agree to writing a review. Negative reviews are not well accepted by advertisers. Rather than dealing with the headache later on, avoid it from the start by only agreeing to reviews that are generally positive.

What are your experiences with paid reviews? Are you entirely honest all the time or do you find yourself being overly positive to satisfy advertisers? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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15 Responses to “Does a Paid Review Mean a Positive Review? My Recent Blogging Dilemma”

Andy Beard on June 10th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

You have to be honest with your readers, thus you can’t lie

I would never accept a review where I couldn’t give significant value to an advertiser, though I tend to look on reviews as consulting.

If you can find positive aspects, and define a niche of users who will be happy buying the product among your readers, and you highlight that, along with other constructive help to improve things and widen the userbase, you have done a good job as a reviewer.

For me, a paid review they are buying my time, they can’t buy my opinion or Google Juice (I block paid reviews with robots.txt now)

Gyutae Park on June 10th, 2008

Hey Andy,
Thanks for clarifying that. The lesson that I learned from all of this is that there has to be a clear balance between advertising and consulting. Obviously, the advertiser wants to see something positive to increase exposure – but as a reviewer you have to be honest with your readers and point out the bad with the good.

A Cowboy's Wife on June 10th, 2008

While I agree with Andy, I do believe that advertisers are hoping to buy your opinion. I NEVER promote something that I don’t approve of. Many of my readers are SAHMS like me and can’t afford to waste their money & time on crap. I have always made it clear to advertisers that my reviews are MINE and all pros and cons will be pointed out.

I’m a HUGE fan of that OIOPublisher plugin. Freakin’ love that thing. It saves me sooooo much hassle!

By the way, I merged my blogging with cents into my A Cowboy’s wife blog…if you feel so inclined to do so, would you change the link on the t-shirt page to the one that’s in the signature:) PURTY PLEEEEEEZE.

Gyutae Park on June 10th, 2008

Hey Lori,
I agree with you but do you ever run into trouble where advertisers disagree with your “cons”? I’m a big fan of OIOPublisher as well – great stuff.

As for your link, sure I can do that for you. Make sure you 301 redirect your Blogging Cents blog to Cowboys Wife to preserve SEO value!

A Cowboy's Wife on June 15th, 2008

Thanks Gyutae! I do run into that problem but I explain the that my readers trust me and that I absolutely will not comprise that. Some like it, some don’t. You can’t please everyone;)

I did do a redirect to my “A Cowboy’s Wife”. Hopefully some of those readers will follow me too:)

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Adam McKerlie on June 10th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

If you’re not honest to your readers they’ll stop reading. One of the things that readers demand is honestly. If you tell them a products good, they’ll go out and try it. If it sucks they’ll think less of you. I’ve done a couple negative reviews and the advertisers are never happy, but I almost always get more comments on those ones than the positive reviews.

Gyutae Park on June 10th, 2008

Hey Adam,
Thanks for the comment. I definitely agree with you that honesty comes first and foremost. However, it’s interesting that you flat out write negative reviews after accepting payment. Do you ever get instances where advertisers demand a refund? What’s your perspective on that? I’d be interested in knowing more about how you handle those situations.

Adam McKerlie on June 10th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

In my review agreement I state explicitly that a review can either be positive or negative. I probably get less offers because of this but it saves me if I don’t like the product I’m reviewing.

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Gyutae Park on June 10th, 2008

Interesting.. I guess advertisers can’t really come back and hold a negative against you since you had all the terms written out like that. Have you ever run into trouble with that at all?

I prefer discussing terms privately on a case by case basis because the possibility of a negative review can easily scare away potential advertisers.

Collin - Feed Flare on June 10th, 2008 Subscribed to comments via email

You said it in your first paragraph, if you want to give value to the people who are buying reviews from you or reading them ,then you need to be honest with them.Reviews can have negitive points in them along with good points, just hype up the good points and have the bad ones kind of blended into the post this way to are still being honest and positive.

What I have done, in some cases is emailed the person back giving them a chance to fix something before I posted about it as well. I have done this doing blog reviews and I tell ya, every blogger i have done this for has liked my review that much more because I helped them before everyone even knew about it. Its all part of the service I think!!!

Gyutae Park on June 10th, 2008

Hey Collin,
Great suggestion. In fact, I’m going to try doing that out in the future. I think engaging the advertiser into the process helps them to appreciate the review more – all while building a good relationship.

Jay on June 16th, 2008

Hey, I was one of those who read it on my Google Reader and I was laughing cause I thought your honesty was great.

Luckily for me, the reviews that I have done weren’t bad ones so I didn’t have the problem you ran into. Though, I sometimes feel I make the product sound a LOT better than what it actually is.

But what was the conclusion if you don’t mind me asking? Did you refund them? But I think from now on you should write something in the beginning of the post like “This is a paid review and it’s entirely of my own opinion…” or whatever… something similar to what Tyler Cruz does.


Jason on June 17th, 2008

For me, people buy paid reviews for feedback mainly… that is feedback of the blogger, and his/her community.

I saw the review you’re talking about, and kind of agree (although I have produced information products of my own, I hate the IM mentality) with you being brutally honest about the product, but I can also understand the viewpoint of the advertiser – no one wants to pay $xx or $xxx to get flamed (or having no positive outcome).

What I do, and what I recommend doing is letting the advertiser know what your review will be like – nothing major, just (for example) “good, but some negative points” , “complete rubbish” or similar. It will take you two minutes but save you a chunk of time with you not having to write a review about a product that you think is utter sh*t and then deal with refund requests when the advertiser wants his/her money back. 🙂

m.dinesh on July 1st, 2008

I agree with Jay that honestly is the great thing and we should stick to it,
But if we stick to honesty in writing paid reviews, it does negative impacts coz if we get a review order and if we don’t like the product/website and we stick to honesty and write a review negatively, the person who asked for the review may never come again, and it will even have a negative impact on the future reviews too.

So better write it positively even though we don’t like the website/product.


“The problem with paid reviews is that advertisers always want and expect a glowing response.”

I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve bought paid reviews and I can’t stand the hyperbolized sunshine up my ass reviews that some people make. They go as far as to lie about the product. I’d rather some healthy criticism.

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