If you are a new review blogger looking for free swag, you need to slow down & realize review blogging is work, hard work. Companies don't mail you out products for free. They are trading you a product for your review. They expect you to try out their product, take pictures of it & how you use it, write a review that includes information about the product and your thoughts, and then promote that review. It's only worth it to the company to work with review bloggers IF they get something out of it: new customers.
There are also a few legal and technical aspects to consider. The IRS, the FTC, and Google all consider review products compensation for your review. Therefore, you are required to claim it on your taxes, disclose your relationship with the company, and nofollow your links.
What's the Nofollow vs Dofollow debate about?
Don't know what these mean? You're probably using dofollow links, because all links are dofollow unless coded otherwise. If you've ever gotten paid for a link/post and didn't nofollow it, you are violating Google's TOS. This can come back to really hurt you later when your PR (Google Page Rank) drops from 4 to 0 overnight. To make a link nofollow, you can either handcode it (my recommendation) or use a plugin. The code for a nofollow link is <a href=”http://whateveryoulinkis.com” rel=”nofollow”>Your Link Test </a>. Many of the plugins will turn ALL of your links into nofollow. For a great resource on when & why to use nofollow, check out the Latina Blogger's article.
Do I need to claim this box of goodies on my taxes?
Generally, the answer is yes. I recently had the opportunity to speak with a tax professional that has worked with product reviewers before and asked him every tax question I could think of, with help from a few other bloggers. Instead of going over the whole thing again (it was quite long), read our full conversation & my summary on Product Reviews & Income Tax.
To keep track of my review products & make tax time easier, I created this Review Products Received spreadsheet. Feel free to “Save a Copy” and personalize it for your own records.
Do I need to disclose every product I receive?
This is an unclear area. Some bloggers choose not to disclose anywhere on their blog and assume people understand the connection, even though this is a violation of the FTC's Endorsement Guidelines. The confusion comes when trying to decide WHERE to disclose and how often. Should you have a disclosure page? How often should you link to it? The FTC put together the following video to help you decide how to handle disclosure on your blog.
Once you've decided how you are going to disclose, I recommended using the tools at DisclosurePolicy.org to create your personalized disclosure policy. Once you've created your policy & put it on your blog, don't forget to provide a way for your readers to find it!
Besides these legal and technical issues, there are a few ethical issues to consider. Occasionally, I run across a review that is less than 200 words long, has one stock image, or is copy/pasted from either the sponsor or another review.
When is it okay to use a stock image?
When the sponsor provides you with one or grants you permission to use one. Using an image from another website without permission is a violation of the photographer/designers copyright. And you can be sued for it! Generally, you aren't going to get sued for using your sponsor's photograph but they aren't paying you to use their photo. Consumers read blogger reviews because they want to see a REAL person using the product. If they just wanted to see what it looks like in the package under perfect lighting, they'd go to the sponsor's website. When you receive a product to review, take dozens of pictures. Take pictures of it just sitting there & take pictures of it being used. Remember, your photos don't have to look like a professional took them, but please make sure they aren't fuzzy and the product is the focus. A messy background could distract, but don't worry if you have a kiddo that insists on holding their new toy while you photograph it.
For one, copy/pasting someone else's writing has another name – plagiarism – and is illegal. For some people, copyright is a little confusing. It is not necessary for a person to say their work is copyrighted. As soon as you post something, it is protected as YOUR work. For more information on copyright laws and how they affect bloggers check out these 2 great articles: 10 Big Myths about Copyright & Copyright Law: 12 Dos & Don'ts
Need another reason not to copy/paste? The Google Gods! No one knows exactly what Google classifies as duplicate content, but I'm sure they have a magic formula hidden somewhere. Sometimes it's necessary to include a quote or paragraph from a sponsor's website. When you do this, make sure to clearly mark it as such (blockquotes work great for this) and make sure it is a SMALL portion of both their page and yours. A great way to make sure you won't get dinged is head over to Copyscape and run your post through their premium search before posting. I use it whenever I post evergreen content and once I know it doesn't match any other site, I add that url to my batch search. Once a week, Copyscape combs the internet looking for people that have stolen my content.
What should I do if someone copy/pastes my post?
Start by sending them an email. They could just be confused on what all is considered copyrighted. Most of the time this simple step will take care of the issue. If not, check out this great article for more information on dealing with stolen content.
What if I didn't like the product/service?
You have a responsibility to both your readers and your sponsors to publish an honest review. You won't always like every product you try and even products you love may have a feature you would like to change. Admit it to your readers. Some bloggers won't publish negative reviews because they believe “if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all”. While this works for some, I prefer to write my post and then email it to the company. They can choose to have it published or not. In most occasions, they will try to work with you – just like customer service does with a paying customer.
Can you get away with not doing any of these things? Sure. There are blogs that receive a product from a company, throw up a stock photo with a couple paragraphs from the companies site and a few dofollow links. Eventually, it will catch up to them though. Like many things in life, it pays to do things the right way from the start.
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