alex sysoef

The Dangers of Building Review Sites

Reviews on the Internet can be a tricky thing. Most Internet marketers assume that writing a review is always regarded as sharing a personal opinion, and chances are good that you’re reading this post from a country that values free speech as a right. But with organizations like the Federal Trade Commission involved, you have to be very careful any time you promote a product or service on your blog.

It’s not just your reputation as a blogger on the line if you make a mistake, but your very livelihood. Worse, you could face fines or legal repercussions should you falsely promote a product for personal gain. So what are the dangers of building review sites, or even hosting a guest review on your blog?

The Federal Trade Commission

The FTC publishes a set of guidelines periodically on endorsements (which you can find here) that outline exactly what you can and can’t do when you endorse a product or service. But there are a couple of general rules that can help you adhere to the guide quickly when looking at your own website.

If you receive some form of compensation for reviewing a product, this should be disclosed at some point in the review. For example, you might be contacted by an advertiser that offers to pay you each time you write a positive review of their product on your site, instead of buying banner advertising. This should be mentioned in the review. This works the same way if you receive the product for free, and expect to continue receiving free products from the advertiser in exchange for positive reviews. Of course, simply receiving a free product with no strings attached because the company hopes you will provide a good review does not necessarily require a disclosure that you didn’t have to pay for the product.

For the sake of honesty however, you might decide to mention that the company provided that product or service to you at no charge. The disclosure can be as simple as — Disclosure: I was compensated to provide this review on behalf of [Insert Company].

But anchor text is a whole different story. Just because you link to a site does not mean that you are reviewing their product. If you receive no monetary compensation for linking to a review site, such as including a link to a wireless Internet site using anchor text like compare CLEAR 4G, like we did here, you’ve done nothing wrong according to the FTC.

To sum up the FTC Endorsement Guidelines, remember these three simple rules:

  • Don’t review a product that you haven’t tried.
  • If you receive some form of compensation for trying a product and didn’t like the product, don’t pretend like you did.
  • Don’t support or make claims that can’t be backed by research or scientific proof. If you can’t prove that a product will help you lose 60 pounds in one week, for example, don’t say so in the review.

The FTC is particularly careful about any product that consumers put in their mouths, such as pills or food. Be absolutely certain that you can back up every claim that you make about a product before endorsing it. As you will see in the next section, the repercussions for making false claims about a diet pill can be severe. Once you start reviewing weight loss or similar products, you begin treading not just in FTC territory, but FDA territory as well.

What Can Happen if You Violate FTC/FDA Guidelines

It’s unlikely that you’ll face a fine for forgetting to disclose that you were compensated for providing a positive review of a product. It’s even more unlikely that you’ll face prison time. However, making false claims about a product or service is a whole new ballgame, and you can face very serious consequences for doing so.

Two famous fraud cases have been reported in the last year, both involving dietary supplements. One man was sentenced to 20 years in prison for allegedly making false claims about a diet pill that promised to help users shed nearly 50 pounds in a month. His claims were supported by an unlicensed Mexican doctor, when they were even remotely supported at all. Prosecutors also claimed that the man received substantial monetary benefits for providing the false reviews, making as much as $10 million in four years.

Another famous infomercial guru named Don Lapre was also indicted for allegedly making false claims that prosecutors claim defrauded hundreds of thousands of customers for millions of dollars. These infomercials made claims involving a product called “The Greatest Vitamin in the World.” The FDA simply charged the man with making claims that were not supported by evidence, and indicted him of 41 counts of fraud. He was later found dead in prison of a self-inflicted wound.

In general, avoid making substantial claims like “this is the best product in the world” or “this product will change your life” if those claims cannot be supported by evidence. A good rule is to simply avoid hyperbole in your statements.

Your Website’s Readers and Trust

Legal trouble is not your only worry when using reviews to monetize your website. Your readers trust that the information you provide is honest and accurate — that’s why they read your content. If you continually review products that you haven’t tried, or promote products that you don’t like yourself, you risk losing your readers’ trust, and losing traffic and conversions.

To avoid losing trust in your audience, try every product before providing a review, even with sponsored reviews. If your advertisers are not willing to let you try a product before allowing them to post a review or advertisement, it might be time to find new advertisers. Best of all, you can make the claim that you try each and every advertiser or product that goes on your site before publishing information — which can help you earn more trust and conversions.

Focus on products that really fit your audience’s interests. In other words, don’t simply send out email newsletters loaded with every advertisement you can secure. This can actually hurt your conversion rates more than it can help them. Readers can usually tell if you honestly think a product or service is worth their time.

Remember, some bad points in every review show that you are impartial, and don’t necessarily mean that they won’t buy the product. There are negative aspects to even the best products and services in every niche, and things like a low selling price or overwhelming positives can still make a product worth its price.

Guest Post By: Mitch O’Conner is an online marketer and writer. When he’s not busy testing sites, generating traffic or writing content, he enjoys spending time with his wife and kids, watching TV, playing games or going camping.

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14 Responses to “The Dangers of Building Review Sites”

  1. Great advice! Now I just hope those greedy affiliate marketers will read this and take note. I’m so sick if looking for reviews on Internet marketing products and services just to find more and more self-serving affiliate reviews with no real truth to them whatsoever. Thanks for sharing Alex!

    • Alex Sysoef says:

      Yeah, reviews are a great way to earn but I believe it works well only when honest opinion is provided

      • Exactly. It’s hard to find honest websites that offer real opinions. One guy I follow, Swiss guy named Shane Melaugh, he’s got a reviews website where he reviews IM products, WP plugins, video tools, keyword tools, etc. and he’s real and up front about his experience and the value of each product he reviews. We need more affiliates like you and Shane!

  2. Gerard York says:

    Before buying a product I normally look at the reviews and to be honest, I have noticed something recently. It’s not only that now more and more websites are giving reviews but basically it’s like everyone seem to be sharing the same opinion! What is actually happening is that only few people are really reviewing the products and the others are simply re-writing the reviews and making a living off it. This is so sick because in the end, you do not get a clear and honest review!

  3. Ahmad Wali says:

    Hello Alex, first time on your blog. I couldn’t agree more, but I have seen more and more false review websites are coming into existence. Also, how can someone review a product or service without testing or trying it out.

    • Alex Sysoef says:

      Unfortunately, a lot of times they do 🙂 My personal problem – I review a lot of product but only a very few I want to write about on my blog. There are plenty of gems worth sending email about but writing review requires a lot more effort, when it is done right.

  4. Paul Salmon says:

    I always read reviews before I buy a product. The unfortunate thing is many reviews make the product sound like it is the greatest thing since sliced bread – and an affiliate link is included to make the sale.

    I prefer to be honest with the products that I review. If I find an issue with the product, then I mention it in the post and let the reader decide if they want to buy the product or not.

  5. Anish G. says:

    Yeah. Building a review site can definitely be tricky. But I think you’d be completely fine as long as you do your due diligence in inspecting the products’ specs, pros and cons thoroughly.

    One great thing about reviewing is, if you come across a crappy product and write a negative review (specifying ALL the cons of the product, that is), and direct your readers to an alternative good product that does the same job in a much more efficient or better way – your conversions will be unbelievably high! (Assuming you target the right audience, of course).

    P.S. the 20 years-in-jail for false claims news story surprised me a lot. Yeah, he made some big mistakes, but oh my goodness, TWENTY years? Holy cow. He sure got in some deep s**t.

  6. Danny says:

    I agree with you entirely. A lot of blogs tend to post poor reviews, either where the person hasn’t bothered to actually try the product properly, if at all, or is providing a bias review in one direction or the other. I mostly look at major review sites instead. If you’re going to build a blog based entirely around reviews, you really need to have a niche, first.

  7. When it comes to marketing online, building an affiliate review site is one of the easiest ways to build up a consistent income. However, review sites can be extremely difficult to manage, if you don’t do them properly, and they take some time to get right.

  8. Picking the right niche is extremely important. Building an affiliate review site on toilet paper probably wouldn’t be a good idea, since most people probably won’t be buying that online. When choosing a niche, you need to identify the common problems within a certain niche, and review products that promise to solve those problems. Some niches will be more profitable than others.

    For example, people looking for advice to save their marriage after an affair will be more likely to spend money for products than someone looking at shower curtains. Both could be profitable niches, but one will probably get a higher conversion rate to sales than the other.

  9. The Federal Trade Commission has put out guidelines covering how to properly set up your affiliate review site, which you should read and understand as well. Too many people are doing reviews of products that they have never seen, and are giving people a false idea of what they are buying. Make sure that you follow these and all other legal regulations when building your websites. These are there to protect the consumer from scam.s. if you are building scam sites, I can’t help you anyway.

  10. Bethany says:

    Affiliate product reviews are probably my most favorite thing out of all the things I’ve tried in MMO. Having said that, I have to wholeheartedly agree that you MUST provide real value. I finally settled into reviewing products I’ve either tried and want to get myself or have gotten and found them to be awesome, all in a particular niche that I’m very passionate about. It makes it easy for me because it’s kind of an online community I’m a part of anyway, and it just feels more honest anyway.

    Which is probably the point – just be honest. I saw a blog comment the other day where someone was lamenting that she tried to do Amazon product reviews and only made one sale in a year. I looked at the site and the reviews were not really reviews, all she did was pull photos and descriptions of products from Amazon. I’m surprised she was surprised that she hadn’t made money.


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