why brands get their paid reviews wrong

As a professional blogger who has many reviews ranking on the first page of Google, I’ve been working with brands for years now. From small mom and pop brands to the largest multinationals, from PR agencies to freelancers, I’ve worked with all kinds. And more often than not, I’ve been dismayed at how brands approach paid reviews. Here are some things that brands can improve upon if they want more value for their money.

Sending a Sample is NOT Payment

This has been a tussle for the longest time between a reviewer and the brand. Sending a sample or product for a review is not payment. The blogger spends a lot of time in trying, photographing and crafting a review for your product. That time has to be paid for, not to mention you have to pay for the platform where you wish to showcase the review.

Planting ‘Honest’ Reviews

A person can smell a planted review from a mile. Trust me. If you think that you are paying a blogger and hence must demand a positive review then you have got the whole paid review wrong.

You pay for the review only because you want an accomplished blogger to share their honest views on their platform. If your product needs changes then that feedback will do you good instead of stymieing it and passing off something you wrote as a review. Honest reviews that deliver value to the target audience are more appreciated and work better for the brand in the long run. That is not to say that the brand must intervene if the review is unnecessarily rude or seems overtly biased.

Why They Must Pay

Payment=compensation for blogger’s time and effort to put up a credible review. It does not imply an advertorial. A blogger aligns their carefully built reputation and credibility when endorsing your product.

You are paying them for their knowledge, for their integrity and for the access they provide to a targeted, engaged audience. In short, pay them for the value they bring to your brand. And please offer cash not vouchers or product samples. I wonder if brands offer television channels who air their ads vouchers. Then why should the same ethics not apply to bloggers? I find it ridiculous that there are expectations that bloggers should review something for free.

Not Understanding Numbers

These days we can buy followers on almost all social media channels. Statistics must be analyzed from an all-round perspective. I see a number of PR agencies just looking at numbers and not understanding what they mean.

What is the use of social following of thousands if there is no engagement? Check a blogger for how the posts do, the number of comments, the quality of comments, how high do similar blog posts rate? This review I did for Flintobox is among the highest viewed posts on my blog with thousands of page views and counting. Can you imagine the world of good it did to the brand? This is a very highly rated review on the food blog on google’s first page.

Not Targeting Correctly:

I’ve noticed brands goofing up a lot in this regard. I own two blogs and the older one which is a personal blog is very highly rated as it is older and more acclaimed. My food and fitness blog is relatively younger and in its 4th year now. But this blog has climbed exponentially in the past months since it went self-hosted.

Recently I did a review on the blog that went viral. It ranks on page 1 of google much higher than other blogs in a similar domain. There are many other posts on this blog that have climbed the search engine ranking in a short time. But still a lot of food brands/food products still insist on getting a post done on my main blog. The targeting is much more valuable when on the food blog but they do not understand. Look beyond the numbers. Understand them.

Not Investing in Relationships

Just like every other phase in life, building a relationship with a blogger/influencer works well for the brand.

There are brands I’ve worked a number of times with over the years and it is a mutual win-win as the credibility of the blogger’s own experience rubs on to create positivity for the brand. If the blogger sees you as genuine, then the reviews are even more sterling.

Not Sending an Intelligent Pitch

First of all, get the name of the blogger right and do at least skim through the blog before you praise their work. Dear Influencer/blogger reflects that you have not done your homework correctly.

Remember that most good bloggers receive a number of pitches daily and sometimes a bad pitch gets deleted immediately. Know what you want from the blogger. Most bloggers can give you out-of-the-box solutions if you’d share what you want from the review.

Not Paying on Time

This leaves a very bad taste in the mouth of bloggers when they are made to run around for their hard-earned money for months.

Please have clear payment policies and stick to them. A brand may not realize but a single tweet or social media update may mar their reputation just because they don’t pay in time. Word of mouth from a credible blogger counts for a lot.

Do-follow Links and Disclaimers

Many brands erroneously ask for do-follow linkbacks that will eventually hurt them with manual actions taken by google. The blogger can lose their high ranking if they have many do-follow links which are for paid/sponsored posts.

So be cautious before asking for such links. Also don’t ask the blogger to not tag the post as Sponsored post or put up similar disclaimers. It reflects upon the integrity of the blogger and the audience will feel cheated if they read a sponsored post in the garb of a normal post. Best to have it out there.

Finally, know what exactly a sponsored post/review with a credible blogger will deliver for you. It will help you generate buzz, give you good search traffic for years to come and will help your brand when the blogger’s honest experience helps their community to make an informed choice about your brand. It is imperative that the brand choose a blogger wisely. It helps to browse their website for other reviews to understand the quality of their work.

Hopefully these tips will help both the PR agencies and the brands they work for to handle their reviews more optimally.

Do you have any thoughts to share or points to add here?

Pic courtesy: Rawpixel.com on Shutterstock

59 Thoughts on “How Brands Get Their Paid Reviews Wrong?

  1. I agree with pretty much all your points. I’ve never understood this need for brands to ask bloggers to write for free. Why and how do they get away by asking for this?

    I’m very picky in my evaluation of brands to work with and while that may mean I get fewer paid opportunities, I am fortunate that I get to work with some really reliable brands. I’m all for transparency and being clear that things may be tight on the bootstrapped front but expecting freelancers to work for free is not done.

    Thanks for this post, Rachna.

    • Sigh! I guess as many other commenters have pointed out and as you and I have experienced, it is also a fault of some bloggers. Those who short sell themselves and work for a freebie. Somewhere brands then feel it is okay to treat everyone similarly. That said, we’ve worked with many professional PR agencies and brands as well.

      This post was aimed at making the brands aware of what they must expect from a paid review/post and how to make the right judgments. Hopefully they will not let their money go down the drain. Thanks for reading, Shy.

  2. I agree with all your pointers here Rachna. But you know what the problem is – the bloggers themselves.

    Of course not all of them, but there are quite a few of them out there who write a post in exchange for a sample or a product. I know “popular” bloggers who write painfully detailed posts in exchange for a nail polish or a purse. Getting things for free is what payment means to them. When there are bloggers with quite a good reach doing this, why would brands want to pay?

    I do not write for brands often but when I do I quote my price and negotiate only if the brand/person is worth it. The reason why I do not do this much is because I know bloggers who are willing to write a 1000 word article for 500 bucks. An article a day for them adds to their pocket money at the end of every month. People like you and me suffer the loss here.

    Brands go get their paid reviews wrong, no doubt about that. But there are in fact quite a lot of bloggers out there who help them get it wrong and also encourage it as a matter of fact.

    • You hit the nail on the head, Soumya. Bloggers are a large part of this problem . Yet there are many professional and ethical bloggers around who will rather refuse the work but not work for pennies or free. Also the brands must realize that a good blog that really gives them what they are looking for will never work cheaply.

      It is best that brands first understand what they need from a campaign. They must also understand that each blogger brings something different to the table and can’t be painted with the same brush. I find many brands very ambiguous with their goals and very confused with their implementation. I hope brands pay more attention to the paid content that they want.

  3. This reminds me of so many brands who thought I would do everything for free. I couldn’t have put it better than you, Rachna. And the fact that you are saying this with your experience means that every blogger faces this and it’s high time brands take this seriously. Freelancing isn’t free and being a blogger doesn’t mean it doesn’t take effort and research to write posts. It will do brands a world of good if they pay heed to these points you mention here

    • Thanks, Nabanita. While some brands you and I have worked with are extremely professional and pay what you deserve, there are unfortunately many PR agencies out there who have a very haphazard approach of working and unfortunately it reflects very poorly on the brands they work for.

      Hope more brands read this and better their act.

  4. I didn’t know what paid/sponsored reviews were, but after reading your honestly written post, I now do.
    Thanks for helping me learn something new today.

  5. Oh man, if I get started on this I will not stop. So let me just say, I agree with you 100%. Brands need to learn to respect bloggers, their opinions, their words and value their opinions. That is why the brand approaches the bloggers in the first place.

    I also agree with Soumya, Bloggers need to respect themselves first.

  6. The problem is, most brands assume they’re doing bloggers a favor. And that the blogger is waiting desperately to post a review of a free sample in the brand’s own words. 🙂 Sadly, part of the problem is the blogger. Too many do not have the guts to say “no” for fear of losing out. Losing out on what? They do not even look at the rationale behind what to accept and what not to.

    I’ve voluntarily done reviews of services and things I liked in the past, of my own volition, but now I’ve stopped. The best I’d do is a book review out of the goodness of my heart. Otherwise, it is stupid to be bullied by a brand.

    Well said, Rachna.

    • Over and over again, we realize how bloggers harm their own cause. Like you, I have written for free for brands I love/causes that are close to my heart. But that offer is not open to a brand which approaches me to review and write about them. These days, I just send a curt no. Another thing that really gets my goat is how they haggle. It is as if they are haggling for extra coriander and chillies from a vendor. Really!

  7. Helpful pointers for newbies who want to earn some moolah through their blog. Most of us underestimate our reach and end up short-selling ourselves.

  8. I am lucky 🙂 I am not that good that people want my reviews so Yayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy 🙂


  9. I totally agree with you Rachna, bloggers are the reason for these freebies exchange offers.
    And don’t even ask it about books, beta reading and reviews. We are expected to do everything for free. As if the author is not going to make money from his or her book!

    I too am very choosy for and have refused anything free or in exchange of.
    Very insightful article, I am always learning when I visit you.

    • Thanks, Interpreet. Oh yes, books. Most authors think they are doing you a favor by sending you a free copy and then they expect a positive review. It’s put me off book reviews for good. Glad the article was helpful for you.

  10. I could not have put it better myself 🙂

    Well written and handy pointers for newbies trying to get on the bandwagon too.

  11. Very logical post, totally agree with you.

  12. Very forthright and real,as usual :)))

  13. Nice post , i agree to what you wrote , But brands are not ready to pay money and products both for reviews , seems they are doing favor to us by sending some samples , i never agree to a free post as it takes lot of time and effort to come up with a good review or post . Wish things become better for us and we get what we deserve for our hard work and time spent .

    • You are right, Ghazala, but I guess we must not work with brands who don’t value our work. I never do a free post now as you rightly mentioned that it takes a lot of time and effort to do one.

  14. I learned so much from this blog post! I dare say I could start doing paid reviews and all on my blog, but I’m going to bookmark this blog post for when I actually do so!
    There are so many things I can start doing right away, like getting better engagements and followers, building my brand and credibility and practising how to write a good review.
    Thank you Rachna! ?

  15. I couldn’t have said this better than you! You’ve just pointed out my woes. Brands take bloggers for granted because a majority of bloggers allow that to happen. I have more rejected mails than accepted because no one wants to pay for a review, they just want you to satiate yourself with a free product while you put your time and work in it.

    I suggest we make this post go viral so that it helps brands understand their mockery of our talent.

  16. I totally agree with this. I have done product reviews in exchange of products where it made sense e.g. a baby craddle. It was really a wonderful product to review. I politely deny to do it for the products which are not of my use and not worth my time.

  17. It’s only a professional that can present it so well, Rachna. I believe a PR firm must pay dignified money that goes with services offered. Just read a PR company offered 100 bucks and how insulting it is. I think PR must respect their writers and shouldn’t ask for materials before hand. As a journalist, it’s my pet peeve and refused to give my work for vetting.

    I normally don’t carry paid stuff on blog for the simple reason it might dilute my philosophy of writing or companies trying to control what I publish.

  18. Agree with all the pointers you shared. It’s sad that PR agencies believe that blogger’s work is not worth paying in cash. Have learnt many things the hard way, but glad of the learnings!

  19. Very well articulated, Rachna. I agree with every single thing that you have mentioned here.

    Even people here in US feel that payment = positive review, when payment = compensation for time. I don’t know why this is so difficult to understand for them? I mean that is how everything else works anyway. Why should this be an exception.

    P.S. As of yesterday – your site loads for me. My husband cleared cache and reformatted parts of both my desktop and laptop. 😀

    • First, I have to say that your P.S. delighted me. I have been missing you here on the blog. So glad that is sorted.

      You are exactly right. I don’t know why it is hard to offer money to compensate another for their time, expertise and effort.

  20. Hi,

    This side Linda, You mentioned the right post, Really appreciate this article. Best Wishes for the Future..!!


  21. Those seem like such common sense pointers yet the brands get it all wrong. The no-payment bit is such a sore point.

  22. Great Pointers Rachna, of late there are so many of these digital companies too. Their requirements are confusing and they are not clear about the requirements or the pricing. Its so difficult to work with these intermediate digital companies too.

  23. I am considered a snob as I’ve said no to so many people. Free, vouchers, interview, link backs, awards – not for me. I have written some terrible reviews too, but I got good money for that. However, I learn from my mistakes. Now, I work where I feel I am comfortable or I feel I can justify the brand or product.

    About number game, well, people should buy apps to see fake/bought followers. Also, there is one software which calculates engagement. Many brands use it.

    • I would not expect any less from an accomplished blogger like you. Like I’ve said earlier l respect you both as a person and a professional. I hope that brands and PR agencies get smarter and can separate the wheat from the chaff.

  24. Well said Rachna! I am yet to explore the commercial world of blogging:)

  25. Oh so I can comment here too? All praises for this post and for your entire blog Rachna. Would glad to stay in touch with such a worthy soul. Thanks a lot 😀

  26. Great! Rachna Ji.
    I am very glad to visit your blog. I would like to follow this blog.

  27. True Rachna! Not getting a right pitch and addressing us as dear blogger is such an take off, that I turn them down immediately even before considering further.
    There are some brands who think their product itself is so much more worth than our review and keep repeating that our product is expensive.
    Some brands go a step further and ask that they need the review to stay on the site for a lifetime. Now! they pay for the present DA and would love to have a perk everytime we grow.

  28. The first time I received an email requesting my service to do a sponsored post for them, I was happy. They wanted me to do it for free and what did I know other than to accept the offer as I thought who and why should anyone pay for me! As I learned more about the sponsored posts, I learned to ask for deserving pay for my time and effort. This post clarifies a lot of doubts, Rachna. I should have read this then. 🙂 I got an email last day asking for posting their content as a guest post on my site written by professional writers it seems. What do you think about such services? Do you have any experience in that regard? It’s from eyeaffiliates.com

  29. Agree with all the points and most comments! Engagement is way better than sheer numbers. Targeting has to be done right. That said, I wonder how few bloggers are ready to write for a small amount that amounts to nothing. That sets the bar too low for their own hard work, demotes others. Happy 2017. Cheers.

  30. Having never written for pay on my blog, all of this was very enlightening. I receive frequent offers for paid guest posts, links, and reviews, but have always ignored all such mails.

  31. Now anyone being approached to do paid reviews on their blog for a pittance can direct the PR firm to this link.

  32. Hi rachna good article thank u so much for sharing. good work keep it up.

  33. It’s the content that matters most rather than the brand being featured on a blog. Based on your experience Rachna, you have offered a positive and specialist feedback on what makes a brand work. Giving peanuts is not the correct approach and time for brands to offer something concrete. I don’t know much about since I don’t feature brands and the ones that I do are free for friends.

  34. I love how methodically you have broken down the problem. I get surprised how the PR representatives tell that they do not have budget for bloggers. Then, why approach bloggers at all. I remember once asking one very pushy lady, if she was making those consistent calls to me for free. 🙂

  35. You make some very fine points. Hopefully the brands are listening

  36. Even I don’t understand why companies give you sample of product or vouchers instead of cash payment. Blogger has spent a lot of time in writing a review, crafting the details, presenting it. Only if they are paid will there be any incentive for the blogger to review the product of the company. Also I completely agree, honest reviews, even if critical of the product is good. A company is there not just to make sales of the product they made but also improve it and see if they can improve their product further for a customer. They have to understand from the users of the product, how the product fares, that’s how they could build customer loyalty. Companies can’t expect reviews from bloggers for free, that’ cheap.

Do not leave without commenting. I love a good conversation :).

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