I thought I would make a quick little post about why I don’t write many e-reader reviews about all the products I’m discussing throughout my website. Plus tips on spotting fake online reviews.
What are Product Reviews?
On the off chance you don’t know, product reviews are, in theory, the honest opinions of a consumer or customer or anyone who has used the product.
Say, using my website as an example here, I purchased a new Kindle Paperwhite. This is actually true, in case you’re wondering. Now, after using the device for a while, I decide that I love it or hate it, whichever, so I write about my love or disappointment with this product on the website I bought it from (i.e. Amazon) or I blog about it or whatever. Many sites have star rating systems so the people can simply rate their favorite purchases as 5 stars and their duds as 1 star, without leaving a review.
Now, another potential customer is thinking about purchasing this e-reader and decides to check out product reviews. They then decide to buy it (or not) because of the positive or negative response of real, valid people who tried the product before this hypothetical customer.
What’s Wrong with Product Reviews?
Nothing, in a perfect, HONEST world.
Sadly, especially in the digital age, this is not the case. People lie. Businesses pay people to pad their product ratings. Authors encourage people to give fake 5-star reviews, which could be friends or family or their fans who feel an obligation to do so because they enjoy one book and REALLY enjoy the author’s personal Facebook more and just want to help them out. Or maybe your mom published her first cookbook, so you get every member of your family down to the third cousins once removed to rate the book, trying to help your mom. Or maybe you got a free Advanced Reader’s Copy and you’re grateful or feel obligated to rate it highly.
Perhaps someone on Facebook or Instagram or their blog decides to review a popular product they have never seen or tried and decides to recommend this product to their readers.
Alternatively, people give fake negative reviews because of outrageous expectations regarding customer service. Or some poor struggling independent author offends someone because the beloved family pet died in the book (pretty sure Old Yeller doesn’t have this problem). Maybe an author’s political stance just drives someone into starting a smear campaign and gets their friends to create fake accounts and rate that poor author’s books as 1 star with hateful reviews.
Or heck, some people can’t be bothered to review anything negative and just 5 stars everything because they don’t want to be mean to the author. Another person can’t even stand themselves so rates everything 1 star because it’s a form of anonymous bullying. Other people just like to stir up drama.
The Reason Why: Money
If you exclude the negative reviews by cyber bullies and people looking to create drama or the too nice people who don’t want to upset an author, the truth is that the fake reviews are all about money. More positive reviews or ratings means that people are more likely to buy it.
On a site like Amazon, more positive reviews equal higher ranking and more visibility, which leads to more people buying that product.
For bloggers and affiliate marketers and other influencers, if a well-known blogger rates something as amazing, their readers are more likely to buy it, which earns them a commission on that sale. This is not a bad thing, by itself. Real estate agents and car salespeople earn commissions. The concept has been around a long time before the term affiliate marketing came about.
With the anonymous nature of the Internet, it’s very easy to praise this super expensive mattress as the one you sleep on every night and freaking love when in reality you crash on a pullout in your parents’ basement.
Product Reviews are for Potential Customers!
Product reviews are supposed to be a way to help a consumer buy or avoid that product. It’s not to make an author feel better or avoid hurting their feelings. It’s not supposed to be a forum to bash your local organic hemp weaver because you don’t want to pay for their time to create a custom piece. This is not supposed to be a way to pay back a company that gave you free laundry detergent to try.
It’s not a way to pitch a complete false and misleading if not straight out lying recommendation to your readers to earn a couple of bucks.
Product reviews are honest opinions based on experience with that product. Or they’re supposed to be.
How to Spot a Fake Review
It’s usually very easy, actually. It’s not foolproof, because some people are really good. But it’s easy if you pay attention.
There’s nothing wrong with monetizing your site with affiliate marketing. Great way to earn extra income writing about what you love.
Look at the reviewer’s profile or other reviews. If they continuously write all 5-star reviews or all 1-star reviews, stay away. Excepting NYT Bestselling authors because a lot of them ONLY rate books they truly love but don’t comment on books they dislike because as a huge bestselling author, their opinions carry a lot of weight and none of them want to crush aspiring authors.
Look at the type of reviews they do. If they attack the seller or authors personally on Amazon or similar sites, and there is a sudden rash of similar behavior over a short period, with no actual mention of the product, it’s likely cyberbullying.
If it’s a blogger, but they always recommend products or services, beware. The reverse is true too. If they negatively review everything, except one or two products they’re constantly hinting and linking to, beware!
Use your gut. If the website or blog feels like a used car sales pitch, you might want to do more research. Check the link URLs. If it has an ID in it, it’s an affiliate link. A shortened Amazon link, then it’s probably an affiliate link. If they only have glowing recommendations for their affiliate programs and claims to have done personal research, beware. Some excellent products might not have an affiliate program or might not accept sites easily, but if they recommend products from non-affiliates too, that’s a good sign. If they offer get-rich-quick schemes, obviously, this is a scam.
Look at their profiles, check out the Facebook page, etc. If everything tries to promote something, double beware. ESPECIALLY IF THEY CLAIM TO TRY ALL THE INSANELY EXPENSIVE PRODUCTS. If they claim to have bought and tried 17 TV models and reviewed them unless he or she works at an electronic store or gets loaner TVs or something. If a blogger is doing 30-day trials of acne products and posts the reviews daily without a team to help review, be skeptical.
Look for transparency. Ask questions. If they give choose affiliate programs carefully, that’s an excellent sign. Find influencers who you feel are honest. There are reasons they stick around. And never, but never fork over money for a concept without knowing what exactly you’re going to be getting in return. Don’t buy memberships to services you don’t understand just because of crazy promises.
Why So Few Product Reviews?
First, it’s a question of honesty. I may be new to my readers, but I don’t recommend products I haven’t used or researched diligently. I won’t ever rate something highly for money I don’t believe in. There are some affiliate links and some non-affiliate links. But I write what I want. People don’t come back to liars and scam artists.
Secondly, it’s financing. I can’t afford to buy 17 different e-readers to try for you all right now. Sure, some bloggers are offered free products for an honest review, because it’s against TOS of freaking every retailer to give compensation for biased reviews, but I have yet to hear of a Kindle version of trial sized shampoos or sample kitty treats or free ebooks.
Secondly, it’s logistics. I’m a one-woman show and to put out content, I can’t spend ages fiddling with a zillion e-readers.
Third, I have experience with the apps and email lists, and state when I do. I have experience with the newest Paperwhite, which I just might do a review on. But the rest, I give you the information about different options so you can make choices. I say that too. How can you trust me if I toss product promotions down your throats and claim to know everything about every e-reader ever?
I use affiliate links and I use non-affiliate links. I make posts with no product links, affiliate or not – like this one!
My promise to you is to give you the basic information about e-readers and accessories and apps and whatever else I come up with. I will review anything I actually tried out or bought or researched. I don’t think I will ever do sponsored posts, but if I do, I would only choose products or services I personally believe in.
If I add ads, it’s going to be companies I believe in, even if I don’t know the product.
I want to build trust with my readers and I can’t do that by lying or promoting everything. I’m monetizing my passion, not writing just to drive purchases.
If I missed anything or you want to share your experiences, leave me a comment or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.