If you’re currently a blogger, you’ve likely heard about the FTC blogger guidelines that kicked into action this month. If you haven’t heard about them (which would surprise me) it’s basically that you need to disclose free swag you get when you post about it on your blog or in other social media settings. Am I worried about the FTC rules for bloggers? In short, no. I personally don’t think the rules are fair but they’re not a big concern of mine. While the FTC guidelines have kicked off some major online protests and I know some bloggers are worried, it’s not a big deal when the guidelines are laughable at best and totally questionable at worst. Plus the internet is a big ol’ place so good luck policing it.
However, on the bright side, what I do think bloggers can take away from the new guidelines, or what I hope they take away from this, is the opportunity to write better reviews. I’ve had a major issue with blog reviews for a good long while. Most reviews do read as if all that matters is that the blogger got free goods, and that, in my opinion is not what a review should read like because it doesn’t help me out when I read it.
Typical reviews I read:
“It’s good” – “I love it” – “You’ll love this book” – “It bites” with zero reasoning are typical things I read in many reviews. Guess what?”It’s good!” doesn’t help me make a decision. I don’t know you. I don’t have any reason to trust you and if I read “It’s good” at your blog, I need a little help to figure out the “good” part.
I hate when I read a glowing review that sounds like the blogger was simply excited to get a freebie, then I look back and every review that blogger has ever written is glowing. I’m very leery of this because if you like each and every product you get it looks fishy. I’ve written well over a hundred reviews and almost none of them have gotten picture perfect scores, and it’s not because I’m being overly harsh. Many products could use some work. There’s almost always a con to go along with the pros.
What many blog product reviews do:
- Offer the name of the product and product features.
- Give opinions without any reasoning to back up said opinions.
What blog product reviews should do:
- Give your readers the tools they need to make smart purchasing or usage decisions.
- Offer opinions that are backed up with the reasoning you used to come to said opinion.
- Deliver facts as clearly as possible about the product.
- Offer both pros and cons when appropriate.
- Have a format that’s similar across the board.
What you can do to make your reviews reader FTC and reader friendly:
In terms of the FTC issue and to make readers feel more confident about your reviews, you should have a disclosure on your blog. You can look at mine, which is pretty basic, generate a disclosure or take a look at a super slick genius disclosure by John Chow for ideas. You can also simply browse your favorite bloggers and see what they have to say in their policy.
If you don’t want a solid policy, or are writing a blog for a client where you don’t have the option of a solid policy, you can place a quick blurb in your blog post. For example, my pal Peggy recently reviewed some bags and simply noted in her post, “FYI: I received one set of bags at no charge for review.” Another way around this is to link to your disclosure. For example, at the bottom of every post I write for my own blogs or a client blog I post the following, “See my green product rating system and green product rating criteria.” This blurb links to my review criteria and disclosure policy.
You should have some review criteria in place – at the very least in your head but at best a written policy. My own review criteria is extensive, but I review green products which people are leery of anyhow, so I like to cover all the bases. Your criteria doesn’t need to be so in-depth.
Your reviews should have a basic format. Especially if you write a lot of reviews, a general format will help your posts flow better and allow your readers the luxury of knowing what to expect. For example, I always use a 5 tree rating. I don’t change it up and use ten stars one day, a “Great Job!” the next, and an “A+” on another day. I want my readers to understand my reviews. This is also useful for companies. Before I let a company send me a product for free I send them a link to my review criteria, that way it’s their bad if they send me a lame product that only gets 2 trees. I did warn them. Solid review criteria makes you look more credible and readers will be more likely to trust your opinion.
Write your reviews as if people will make important decisions based off of said review. People do search for reviews so that they can decide about making a purchase. If you’re writing glowing reviews simply because you get free stuff and you’re oh so glad about that, someone out there might buy a product that’s not suitable for them, not be happy, and decide you’re not worth reading anymore. One great place to read how a helpful reviews should look is CNET. I always visit there before buying a tech product because not only are their reviews in-depth, but they list pros, cons, reader opinions, and the reviews are the same across the board (i.e. easy to handle).
Do you have a disclosure policy and review criteria in place?