Product Reviews – Is Honesty Good Enough?
This is my second blog post about product reviews in the past two weeks and it’s part helpful information and part rant. I’ve written before about how creating a blog that features product reviews as a prominent part of your content can be a great way to draw visitors to your site as well as a great way to make money online. You write about products that people are interested in buying, you review them honestly, and your visitors can decide if they want to buy them or not.
It’s possible to make money from reviews of products that you like as well as products that you think are terrible. If you like it and think it will benefit your visitors, then by all means, provide a link that will make it easy for them to buy it. If you don’t like it, and let’s be honest – not all products are great, then you can provide your visitors with a link to an alternative product that will help them. You can say something like “I don’t think this product is all that helpful, but if you’re interested in a similar product, you might want to try this one.” This system works great most of the time, but sometimes, even honesty can get you in hot water.
When Honesty in Product Reviews Fails
As I’ve mentioned before, I try to be honest in the product reviews that I write here. I think honesty works best, for several reasons. The most important one is this – people may forget who suggested that they buy a product that they liked, but they’ll always remember who encouraged them to buy junk. That’s why I keep my product reviews as honest and as accurate as I can manage. If I like a product, I’ll tell you why I think it will help you and why it offers a good value. If I don’t like a product, I’ll tell you why I don’t like it and if I can, I’ll offer a suitable alternative. 99% of the time, this works well, but there’s one thing that can get in the way of even the best of intentions:
Threats of lawsuits.
I first put this site online some seven months ago, and while I knew what it was I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, I wasn’t sure how I planned to make money from it. While I made up my mind about what product(s) I should primarily endorse in order to help people make money online, I went ahead and worked on the content, of which 50% consists of product reviews. I alternate between product reviews and helpful or informative blog posts, partly because I think people get tired of reading the same kind of content over and over and partly because I get tired of writing the same thing over and over.
It took me a while to find a product to promote here that I thought represented a good value to my site visitors – something that wouldn’t cost too much and something that would genuinely help people learn how to make money online. How long did it take? About three months. For the first few months the site was online, I wasn’t making any effort to make money from it. I was just creating content, offering useful blog posts alternating with product reviews, both positive and negative.
As it happens, most of the product reviews I write are negative ones. Why? Because I review products in the make money online niche, and most of those products are either overpriced, make ridiculous claims about earning potential, offer tired ideas that don’t work anymore, or border on the illegal (think MLM). There are good products out there and I try my best to find them, review them and recommend them, but they’re kind of scarce.
As it happens, one of the product reviews that I wrote during the first few weeks the site was online (and long before I had any affiliate links or banners on the site) was for a product that I thought was expensive and offered unrealistic expectations about how much money you could earn with the program. I wrote a negative review of the product, because I honestly believe that no one will benefit from buying it. That was it; the original review simply said the product was “not recommended” and offered no alternative.
When I did finally decide to recommend a product on my site, I amended that particular review to recommend a product that I thought would be more helpful to people who were interested in that particular product. And there that review sat for several more months, until the creator of that product happened to do a Google search for his own name and found my review that said his product was “not recommended.”
At that point, he posted comments on my site accusing me of intentionally writing a negative review of his product for the sole purpose of promoting a different product instead. He called me names, questioned my motives, attacked my business practices, and finally, threatened me with a lawsuit if I didn’t remove the negative review from my site.
My inclination was to do nothing, as none of his accusations are true:
- At the time I wrote the review, I wasn’t promoting any product on this site.
- I don’t have to fabricate bad product reviews; there are too many bad products out there to ever make that necessary. If I were going to fabricate reviews, I’d have more incentive to make up good ones, as genuinely good products are scarce in this industry.
- The guy has an affiliate program for his product, which is expensive. If I thought his product was any good, why would I pass up an opportunity to promote it and earn big commissions, rather than give it a negative review and recommend another, less expensive product?
I wouldn’t. Like anyone else, I’m in business to earn a living and I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to recommend a good product to people in order to steer them to another product that paid substantially less in commissions.
Anyone giving ten seconds of thought to the matter would understand this, but in this country, people love to litigate and they know that hiring lawyers is expensive and fighting lawsuits, even frivolous lawsuits, is time consuming and costly. I have no way of knowing if this guy actually intended to sue me or not, but after consulting with my attorney, we agreed that the best course of action was to remove the review from my site, just to avoid the hassle..
That’s a pity, as the review was an honest one – the product really isn’t very good and really is misleading about how much money you can earn using methods that don’t work all that well anymore. On the other hand, that particular product review was one of the least-viewed reviews on this site, and was averaging only about 10 page views per month. In all likelihood, most of those page views were coming from the product creator, who seemingly spent time on my site (thanks!) that he could have better spent improving his product.
What does all of this mean? It means that if you’re going to write product reviews and you live in the United States, you should keep them honest and never attempt to mislead your site visitors. They will remember if you steer them wrong. It also, unfortunately, means that even if you write honest reviews, you’re going to have to occasionally deal with misguided threats from angry product creators and perhaps the occasional threat of a lawsuit. If that happens, you’ll probably just have to remove the review and move on.
Their threats may be misguided, but you must take threats of legal action seriously.
Fortunately for those of us who write product reviews in the make money online niche, there’s no shortage of products to write about. Unfortunately, most of those products are terrible, so the threat of legal action is always there if you honestly describe a terrible product as terrible. It goes with the territory.
One other thing – the people who contact you about such matters are often going to be rude and angry, and perhaps unreasonably so. Difficult as it may be, it’s always worthwhile to try to remain polite and professional throughout. Why? Because you’re running a business, and that’s the way it’s done.
At least that’s the way I try to do it around here.