Paid Reviews – How To Maintain Your Integrity As a Blogger

This post was guest blogged by Steven York of, a blog about marketing, SEO and web development.

If you’re trying to make money online then paid reviews are a big part of your world. Often people will be willing to pay you for your opinion (and quite importantly, the backlinks) but a question I’m sometimes asked is how do you actually handle the situation?

Reviews can be quite a lucrative past-time; especially to begin with. It’s quite tempting to bend over backwards for people who are willing to pay you for your opinion (especially if you don’t get many reviews) because good reviews spawn more. Writing a glowing review of “Product A” will likely bring more business. Don’t forget that the vendors want positive exposure.

Reviewers Integrity

This is the single most important aspect of reviewing a product or service – your integrity. I’ll be using a specific example that’s happened on my website as a case study. Integrity is always giving your opinion whether it’s positive or negative. Integrity is not allowing the vendor to put words in your mouth. Here is my guide to providing a review that maintains your integrity as a blogger.

1 – Always Express Your Real Opinion

You need to make it very clear for vendors that they are paying for a review of their product or service. They are not allowed to dictate the tone or wording used, nor are they allowed to censor your opinion. Quite often vendors will try to tell me to explain that “this product is the best at [x]” and “it’s main advantages are [y]”. You shouldn’t say a product is “the best” unless you truly believe it is; your readers will respect your honesty.

2 – Dedicate Some Real Time Towards the Product or Service

Too often I read “sponsored reviews” where the author has quite clearly poked around with the system for 5 minutes and read the FAQ and decided that was sufficient to write the review. Someone is spending their marketing budget on your opinion and you need to give them their money’s worth. Your review won’t be useful to anyone unless you are actually familiar with the product/service and the only way to do that is to use it. Speak to the vendor – they’ll normally hook you up with a free account so you can offer a better review.

3 – Never Shy Away From Criticism, Just Be Constructive

I’ve never used a system that deserved a 100% positive review; so don’t be afraid to offer constructive criticism. If you think the user interface isn’t intuitive enough then say so and explain why you think this. Never just say “this system sucks” without offering the vendor something to work with. “The user interface was confusing, introduction of a breadcrumb would really aid the user journey” is better than “the navigation is poor”.

4 – Respect The Vendor’s Wishes (Where Applicable)

If the vendor wants a specific backlink then there’s normally no harm in doing so (unless it’s blatent keyword spamming). It’s surprising how being lenient on link-text can appease a vendor who is unhappy about your criticism. I find that you can maintain integrity while being understanding of the vendors SEO needs – so be negotiable on backlinks.

5 – Don’t Be Swayed By Promises of Future Business

This is something I’ve dealt with recently (see below in “case study”). Users who represent a whole line of products may purchase one review and drop the hint that if you do well, more reviews will come your way. This is an easy way for the vendor to persuade you into doing a misleadingly positive review under the premise that more business is sent in your direction. For this situation see #1 – even in the face of more money *always* express your real opinion.

Case Study

I was paid to review an email marketing application a while ago which I didn’t like. I felt that this particular piece of software was inferior to alternatives on the market, so my review stated clearly that [the product] was “entirely outclassed by web-based solutions such as SendStudio” (which John uses for his newsletter incidentally). Somewhat cruelly I linked to Interspire’s competing product in that review… I offered constructive feedback and gave my readers the information I felt they needed.

A few months later the same vendor returned to me and paid for another review with a different application and requested that I don’t link to competing products again – which I agreed to. However the application I was given to review was dire. Despite the vendor offering 5-6 future reviews I decided to maintain my integrity as a writer: I explained that the software didn’t work, why it didn’t work and how the vendor could improve it. I have not heard back from them since.

Upon hearing this story friends were surprised that I didn’t “sell out” for the sake of some extra money, but what you have to ask yourself is “what’s the point in writing for an audience if you’re going to lie to them?” Without readers your blog is nothing and to me that’s worth more than the $500-600 I think I’ve lost. Sure being painfully honest in reviews isn’t the best way to make money online but I value my readers more than a few paid reviews and I’d like to think most other writers would agree.

73 thoughts on “Paid Reviews – How To Maintain Your Integrity As a Blogger”

    1. Krsto says:

      As always, it is by far the most important to state your real opinnion.

    2. i am agree with you John. Blogger usually trap to be coward, they don’t wright straight and clear again. they forget they paid for review, so they can also writing objective and promoting the product by their utility and quality. ➑
      there are many blogger, is write ‘nothing’ than co-pas the sites and product description. πŸ˜•
      i think thats not good for blogger future…. πŸ˜‰

      ya… ya… ya…

    3. I have seen Even John commenting in his review post something which seems to me purely wishful expression of words in exchange of money. Thats very bad John.

  1. xanete says:

    I agree with. Normaly the sincerity is the best way. I’m from spain, and there is a typical phrase that says “Se pilla antes a un mentiroso que a un cojo”, that could be translated as that it is easier to catch a liar than a lame person (It’s a literal translation ;);))

  2. Bryan says:

    Nice article. Integrity and not doing it just for the money is getting rare.

    1. I see it all the time, and it’s pretty easy to spot when someone is just writing the review for the money. I may have been guilty of this in the past, but honesty is always highly valued.

  3. MoneyNing says:

    This is always something that’s easier said that done πŸ™‚ On a side note, I never understand why advertisers will ask for an honest opinion when they can at least ask for the benefits only. We all say “review”, but it’s really about promoting your product and not for the review. If they really want a review, they can approach someone like John privately.

    Any product or website will have flaws, so it’s like putting what’s bad about any product on their own landing page.

  4. Robert says:

    All good points. I agree that selling out for money and always giving a positive review doesn’t work. Soon enough, people won’t trust your reviews because you’re giving glowing reviews of every product or website. Being objective is better, because people will look at your critiques and notice that they are true when they consider and try out the products you reviewed. The result is that they will trust your reviews more, and they will remain loyal readers.

    1. Seopher says:

      That’s my point; it’s also a double edged sword.

      – it’s hard to get lots more reviews when you’re so brutally honest with your previous ones
      – you’ll lose respect by lying about the excellence of the product

      Many people will have a price they can be bought at, but I think realistic reviews are more important than a quick buck.

  5. Bryan says:

    Good article. Finding folks that have integrity and aren’t in it “just for the money” is becoming increasingly difficult.

  6. Reviews should be written as “reviews” and not “press releases”

    1. thats what i mean…
      reviews not press release πŸ‘Ώ
      hahaha… press release…
      try to start blogging whit love
      not to rich instant

  7. fucc says:

    i agree….but there is always the other face of the medal: paid reviews are penalized by google. also you have lost 1 point in pr…

    1. Seopher says:

      True, it’s because you can still argue that you’re selling text links this way. It’s just part of your arsenal for making money online; it’s the individual’s right to decide whether to use it or not.

  8. natespost says:

    Like Paul Harvey, the radio guy, only get paid to endorse something that you not only LIKE, but USE yourself. Takes away any bias, and will come across as sincere, because…well, it IS.

  9. John Call says:

    In my ReviewMe there is a request (for $5.00) to review a city tour company. All I have is their URL. How do they expect someone to do a real review when all they have is the URL and have no real way (I’m not in that town) to know about their product?

    1. Krsto says:

      I hope you rejected that offer… I would give them $5 just to stop buggin’ me!

    2. Terry Tay says:

      Basically, what they are looking for is a lifetime backlink for $5 which will come in the form of a posted review, with their URL added of course. Although, you won’t really be reviewing the tour company with this “review” obviously, so it should be labeled as more of a $5 ad posting.

  10. Webmogul says:

    What’s ironic is that a lot of people already think that doing paid reviews is a compromise of one’s integrity. BS. As John implies, doing a dishonest review is a compromise of your integrity. If you want a true honest review you might want to make sure that your software at least works before submitting it.

    As a software developer, I know how things can go wrong during that critical moment (we call them demo demons) when showing it off, but at least attempt to have it stable before hand.

    As a final note, if you aren’t willing to accept a bad review, don’t submit one.

    1. Seopher says:

      I’m a web developer so I know the demo-demons well. Although sometimes it takes a very special user to find them – occasionally that is the client themselves.

  11. natespost says:

    Exactly…..when I hear Paul Harvey do a paid review on air, I feel 100% sure that he both uses and likes the product.

  12. It’s more important that the advertiser of the review is matching your audience then that the review is not related to your blog’s topic! It’s nice that you get paid $250 for a review, but if it’s not related then I personally see it more as short-term revenue.

  13. At the end of the day, if you don’t feel you have the integrity to offer an honest opinion on any particular product, then you shouldn’t be reviewing at all. Ultimately, not only are you cheating yourself and your readers but also the person paying you for the reveiw

  14. Terry Tay says:

    Great post Steven!

    It’s important to maintain your integrity. When making a review, find all the good things and mention those, then point out the negatives that could be improved.

    It will show if you are not being truthful and are just hyping a product to please a client who purchased the review. I think it even looks better on the product or website that is being reviewed when an honest review is given, pointing out the negatives as well as the positives.

  15. This is rather coincidental. I wrote about this very subject in the Footprints in Cyberspace, Are you following bad advice from False gurus article (Google it).

    Good points here that I obviously agree with.


    Daniel McGonagle

  16. Great post. It’s important to handle paid reviews honestly and appropriately.

  17. Always love the guest Bloggers. This is advice I try to live by.

  18. This is really a valuable article on the intricacies of proper reviewing. Your inputs are so pertinent and applicable. It shows your integrity in not selling yourself to questionable accounts. Thanks for the post. God bless you all.

  19. Good tips. You have to maintain integrity, even if it means you lose some money in the short term. Damaging your reputation isn’t worth $500 to $600.

    1. TheQuickBuck says:

      Bingo. It is extremely important for your visitors to respect your opinions/recommendations, if you are using paid reviews as a revenue source.

  20. natespost says:

    Good point, affiliate commision, about the long term. If people know your review means nothing but you got paid $XXX.xx for it, as time goes by, fewer people will buy/sign up for the product/service you reviewed. This would definately effect the amount you could charge for reviews.

  21. natespost says:

    Sorry, I meant affiliate confession!

  22. Jake Cohen says:

    I think that it is really great how you maintained your integrity even with 500 dollars on the way for lying. You offered some great tips, much obliged…

    — Jake Cohen

    1. TheQuickBuck says:

      I don’t think he’s actually giving up anything by refusing to be disingenuous. People buy reviews for links and referrals. If your visitors don’t trust your reviews, they will be less likely to visit a site, purchase a product, etc., that you recommend. No sales/visits as a result of a review means you will see very little repeat review business.

  23. Ecko says:

    Yes, I totally agree with this. Sometimes some bloggers just write paid review in purpose of getting quick cash. Then they write whatever they want without considering the quality of the writing.

  24. I think from what we’ve seen of Michael Kwan’s reviews, he follows number 1 pretty closely.

  25. Rob says:

    Hmm, it seems that a lot of people do write their reviews just for the company. This is a very nice post that helps tell the truth. People need to post there honest opinion about things. It’s just not right not too.

  26. natespost says:

    $500+ a pop would tempt most people to write glowing reviews for any schmuck that threw down the cash. For John, it’s probably easier to stay neutral since this is chump change to him.

    1. David Chew says:

      If is worth the price most people will just have a review.

  27. Trevor says:

    Great information! Integrity is important πŸ™‚

  28. Saam says:

    It is always important to express true honest opinions rather than polite remarks which mask the actual response you may get from reviewing a blog or website. Although it is customary in American culture for people to be polite over expressing their true opinions, it definitely is not looked down upon to give true honest remarks for a product or service. Good post Chow.

  29. Tom Beaton says:

    Great to see you have such integrity. I do read way too many positive reviews, but then you would hope people with a crap product would not use the review tactic as they know it would backfire.

  30. Simon Lau says:

    It’s always better to write honest fair reviews than to make a sponsor shine. In the end, a bias review takes away from your credibility and readers won’t return to your site if you’re writing nonsense. No readers = no sponsors = no money.

  31. Moshe says:

    I think you have listed the best guidelines that one can offer for a system that inherently is problematic. The fact is that the system creates an inherent incentive to put on rose-colored glasses when givin a review. The allure of more money or more business looms in the background (and, as you pointed out, also in the foreground).

    I wonder how long such as system can last? I suppose if there are enough people like you out there who will tell it like it is no matter what then the system has some hope.

    Not only that, but it may even discourage people with inferior products from paying for reviews – thus letting the better products get more attention. One can only hope.

    Either way – nice post, nice tips and a nice story.

  32. I absolutely agree with the points…

  33. tantan says:

    Thanks for the tips John! πŸ™‚ I just starting on paid review business, it’s really help me.

  34. How to Blog says:

    Great pointers and a good read for us newbies.

  35. David Chew says:

    Nice post and most of it is true. :mrgreen:

  36. Robert says:

    Moshe, good point about how an objective review will discourage individuals with inferior products from asking for a review. That way, the better products get more attention. That’s interesting how the market for reviews engineers that type of result. The best products get the publicity while the inferior product owners are forced to improve their stuff.

  37. To maintain your integrity as a blogger, you should also offer valuable content in between reviews otherwise your current readers will think you’re just in it for a quick buck and they’ll unsubscribe…

  38. Integrity of your posts is very important!

  39. Krsto says:

    Just so you’d know, I am giving a free review on my blog if you place a link to my page anywhere near the top of your page…

  40. natespost says:

    John, have you ever turned down a review, or given a really bad one?

  41. Krsto says:

    I’ve seen a review on AndrewTalk and it seemed pretty ugly to me…

  42. Charles Lau says:

    Maintaining your integrity while writing reviews of websites can be really tough. I was once faced with a review to write which I can see how bad the person is in his website. In the end, I wrote a pretty bad review for this person and in the end, he never comes back. And because I am doing video reviews at the same time, the browsing experience clearly reveals how bad his website is and I can’t help but to let the cat out of the bag about this website.

    I just hope that the people who are asking for reviews from us know that they are asking for an opinion from us here. And if you have done a very good website, the review may become a very good advertisement for you instead. So, if you know that your website is not well-done, you should be doing your best to get it up and running first before asking for a review.

    A review should be one which shows the website owner what he don’t know. If the website owner don’t know what he don’t know, and the reviewer is showing it out to the owner, a good website owner should be positive enough to fine-tune it properly. I learned my lesson when I asked for review from Kumiko in the past.. And I am still working on it till today…

    1. Krsto says:

      Many people believe that ReviewMe is just a better form of linkback. It’s not. I think one should never order a ReviewMe if he doesn’t care about blogger opinion. John’s reviews are so god because he gives time to them. He won’t just put some copy/paste F.A.Q. or About us, instead he gives a full pleasure…

  43. jimsvarkey says:

    Having good integrity will really pay off later on. I have seen that a honest matter of fact review will give me more offers than mere praising of the product. πŸ’‘

  44. Robert says:

    John, a good future post might be listing your top 5 most favorable reviews and your bottom 5 worst reviews.

  45. Travis T says:

    Wow, I would love to have an RV like that. Hopefully my website, link below, will make me enough money to do that someday. πŸ˜‰

    reliable and affordable web hosting services

  46. Some great information! It’s correct that you should always give your own opinion about things and speak the truth. People read your stuff and follow you. If you say one day so and the other day you say the opposite, people become suspicious and question how much you are an authority in a certain field! πŸ™‚

  47. natespost says:

    I’m with robert, 3 comments above.

  48. geomark says:

    Knowing a blog will rip up a weak product should encourage making the product ready before buying a review. Then the review becomes sort of like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval, back before they sold out.

  49. Robert says:

    Another idea for a post, John. How about looking at your unfavorable reviews, and going back to those products or services to see if they were improved according to your suggestions. That would be an interesting analysis to see how a review (like yours) with a lot of traffic influences the improvements of products on the market.

  50. Jordan says:

    interesting… πŸ˜•

  51. Jordan says:

    Very interesting…how does one do a back link. That’s what I want to know. Because I’m knew to the whole Blogosphere.

  52. Nice work John. This tutorial is great for people who think that payed reviews are the most important thing in the world.
    Keep Up.

  53. Chip says:

    Good points there. Be yourself.

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