The Review Site User’s Bill of Rights

November 22nd, 2019

The Review Site User’s Bill of Rights

  1. The right to freely compare products
  2. The right to read reviews from users like you
  3. The right to read reviews from real people
  4. The right to do research without being treated as a “lead” the first time you visit a review site
  5. The right to know where reviews come from
  6. The right to know that what you see isn’t affected by what vendors pay
  7. The right to know that “experts” you engage with are actually software experts, not conversion experts
  8. The right to know who gets paid and how
  9. The right to know about conflicts of interest
  10. The right to share your story

Why do Review Site Users Need These Rights?

Like any new phenomenon, the rise of review sites for business software offers much promise – and a lot of potential pitfalls. In the past few years, as both a customer of review sites and (now) a marketer for one, I’ve seen plenty of both. 

On the good side, I’ve seen an increase in transparency from vendors who understand that letting buyers get the full picture benefits everyone. I’ve seen buyers start to rely more on the opinion of software users like themselves and less on analysts who lack a user’s hands-on perspective. I’ve seen marketers discover that truth sells and embrace more fully the voice of the customer.

There have been downsides, though – just as the documentary Billion Dollar Bully showcases the potential downside of consumer review sites, business technology review sites can have issues as well. I’ve been spammed by a vendor minutes after reading reviews of that vendor’s competitor on a review site, despite never having submitted any information. Peers of mine have felt pressured by tactics that force them onto a hamster wheel of high-velocity, low-quality review generation just to maintain the “momentum” needed to stay in the upper right quadrant of a grid. (That creates a perverse incentive to avoid suppressing fraudulent reviews, too).

In a market that should be based on truth and transparency, the users of review sites often have little insight into how the review site makes money, how “real” the reviews are, and what factors might affect which reviews they see.

So, after talking with some users and peers, we’ve crafted a Review Site User’s Bill of Rights.

The Review Site User’s Bill of Rights

1. You have the right to freely compare products without giving up your firstborn (or your valuable information). Sure, it’s common for review sites (or any site) to ask for some information in exchange for a downloadable asset of value, and we’re all aware of what trade we’re making there. But you shouldn’t have to log in just to read reviews, and you certainly shouldn’t have to pay for an analyst firm subscription just to get the full story from other users. 

2. You have the right to read reviews from users like you. Some review sites are 100% anonymous – you can’t really call it peer insights if you can’t see whether people are actually your peers. Some users will want to keep their information private, but you still have the right to know that they’ve been vetted as a real person and as an actual user of the product (more on that in #3). Beyond that, you should be able to at least know a bit about their role, company, and industry to ensure that their feedback is relevant to you.

3. You have the right to read reviews from real people. The screenshot below is from a review site. Look close – that’s actor Jake Gyllenhaal! Not sure why he lists his name as Jean Carlos… but you’ll be relieved to know he’s a validated reviewer and a verified current user of this B2B product, according to the review site. I first saw this on August 15th, 2019, and it’s now November. 

You have the right, plain and simple, to trust that you’re reading reviews from real people, not scammers. Yes, review sites offer incentives, which doesn’t skew results, but will attract scammers. So you have to have a process to remove them. (That’s why, at TrustRadius, we reject 26% of reviews).

A fake B2B review written by someone using a photo of Jake Gyllenhaal.

4. You have the right to do research without being treated as a “lead” the first time you hit the review site. Look, we all understand cookies, retargeting, and the fact that review sites need to make money just like any business. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to deal with the fact that buyers are in the market and vendors are intent on reaching those buyers.

When I browse a page or two on a review site and immediately get outreach from multiple vendors saying “we saw that you were in the market…” we seem to be misunderstanding the concept of “buyer intent.” When I submit information on a review site to get a price quote from one vendor and immediately find myself being targeted by all the others, I feel like my trust has been abused. The right way to do this involves ensuring that the interests of potential buyers and vendors are aligned.

As a review site user, you deserve an experience that weights your interests in a balance with those of vendors. Not one that plays these audiences against each other.

5. You have the right to know where reviews come from. Are there incentives in play? Was the review sourced organically, or was the user sent by the vendor? Has the reviewer written tons of other reviews, or only one? None of this should be hidden from you –  it should all be, at most, a click away.

6 You have the right to know that what you see isn’t affected by what vendors pay. One monetization path is to treat a review site like an ad platform, presenting results in a rank order based on what vendors pay per click. That may optimize revenue for the site, but it means that, as a visitor, you’re being merchandised to rather than informed. Any promise of neutrality is gone, and you’ll be steered to the most profitable product for the site operator, rather than the one that best fits your needs. 

7. You have the right to know that any “experts” you engage with are experts in giving advice about software, rather than experts in turning you into a lead. Buying technology is complex, and you may indeed want to engage with the site for a helpful consultation. But what if you submit a request for pricing or to talk to a consultant, and the result is a phone call from someone who’s clearly a lead qualification representative? It happens, but it’s not helpful to the site visitor, and it’s deceptive.

8. You have the right to know who gets paid and how. If the reviewer was paid an incentive, you should know that. Additionally, how does the review site make money?

  • Do they sell ads – and if so, are they clearly identified as ads?
  • Do they practice ‘traffic arbitrage’, capturing traffic and selling it back to the vendors as leads?
  • Are vendors paying for preferred placement?
  • Are vendors pressured into sourcing reviews with the implication that they will generate better placement in analyst reports and Quadrants?

You have a right to know, and the information may not be reliable if the site isn’t willing to disclose it.

9. Closely related to that, you have the right to know about conflicts of interest. Can a person who works for a company write an objective review of that company’s product? Great hypothetical question. Pragmatically, I wouldn’t trust that review. So your review site needs to at least disclose conflicts of interest, and probably ought to reject those reviews, even if they’re well-intentioned.

10. You have the right to share your story. You won’t agree with every review – this is about honestly sharing perspectives and experiences, not about any one reviewer having a lock on the truth. But you have the right to share your perspective, too. If you’re a user, you have the right to leave your own review, and not have it hidden because the vendor didn’t like it and paid the review site to hide it. As a vendor, you have the right to comment on reviews if you think reviewers miss an important point.

Know your review site rights!

Know your rights! You maybe using a review site as a free user, but your presence as a member of that community provides a great deal of value to the review site, to other buyers, and to the vendors who engage with the site. So look at review sites carefully and skeptically, and ensure that they’re serving your needs and treating you with the respect and lack of pay-to-play bias that you deserve.