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.