Five Lessons learned after several WordPress paid product reviews

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An obvious marketing strategy to promote our WordPress Nelio A/B testing service was to get as many external reviews of the product as possible. We soon realized that quite a few of the popular WordPress news sites only do paid reviews. Fair enough, we tried to gauge the size and profile of the audience of each site and chose some of them for a paid product review. In the end, paying between 200-400 USD for a paid review should get you a good ROI considering the huge (theoretically) impact of that review for your business, shouldn’t it?

Well, not exactly. In hindsight, the result of those all paid reviews have been extremely disappointing (minus one exception detailed below). These are some of the things we have painfully learnt in the process. Some may seem obvious (now) and if I had to earn my living with a WordPress news site I’d probably behave the same way myself. So, the goal of this post is not to say they are evil but to be a warning for new WordPress developers excited to get the word out of their new products and ask them to reconsider where to spend their (probably little) marketing money.

  • It’s extremely unlikely that you’ll get your money back from direct purchases coming from the review page. In fact, in light of this, now I understand why some of these sites are quite explicit regarding their lack of interest in affiliate programs. One says “99.99% of products and services I review using affiliate links fail to recoup the time, energy, and cost, that I invest in the review”. Clearly, they are the firsts to be aware of the limited number of sales you can expect thanks to the review.
  • You may think that at least the review will bring you tons of visitors that even if they don’t buy right now they may buy in the future. Sorry to disappoint again. Today there are too many bots and fake accounts to have a reliable view of the real audience of a site so the actual visitor flow will be much more ludicrous than you imagine. To give you an example, one review only brought 11 visitors to our site in the first days after the review, while the review itself was liked and retweeted plenty of times making us believe it was being a great success. A closer analysis of the last 50 retweets revealed that, in theory, the review could have potentially been seen by 721,625 people (result of adding the number of followers of those 50 twitter accounts, overlappings included) but many of those accounts were just fake ones. So, from a potential impact of more than half a million people to eleven actual visitors!
  • Many reviews are outsourced to copywriters. Be careful with this if you were eager to pay for the review because the site owner was well-known in the community and you wanted to have him/her personally checking your product.
  • All reviews will look the same. Not a big surprise I know, but this means that the additional benefit of having more than one good paid review are minimal unless you make sure the followers of one site do not overlap much with those of other sites already with a paid review of your product. You could use the SEO argument (more links, better positioning for your site) but I believe Google is smarter than that.
  • Many reviewers will not even take the time to try your product or just do the minimal enough to take a couple of screenshots different from those you provide yourself in the docs. We know it because Nelio, being a service, monitors the number of experiments created by every user. We’ve had reviews where the A/B testing experiments depicted in the review were stopped before getting any significant number of visits just because the reviewer didn’t want to waste time on that. This has a negative impact on the review since readers are missing this part of our service and may even have the impression that getting significant results requires thousands of visits (hint: it doesn’t) and therefore decide our product is not a good fit for them.
  • (and an extra one) Almost none will provide any useful feedback. Another very important motivation we had to do paid reviews was to get some hands-on honest advice from expert WordPress members. Well, that didn’t happen either.

Again, I understand why things happen this way. With the current average review prices, for their business model to work well, the time they can devote to the review of a product is minimal so only shallow reviews will be done with the sole purpose of getting you a couple of additional links to your site. This may work for some of you (just make sure to understand what you’re paying for; some sites have the option of sponsored posts where you pay to write your own review of your product, if you only want the review for SEO purposes this could be a good alternative) but this is not what we’re looking for so we’ve decided to stop paying for reviews.

Fortunately, every rule has an exception, and ours was WPMayor. We had lots of technical discussions and feedback from Jean Galea during his review and that helped us to improve our product. Moreover, his review is the only that had a positive ROI so far. So, if despite all I said, you still want to try a paid review to promote your WordPress plugin, theme or service, at least hire him!

Featured image by Sebastien Wiertz.

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Jordi is a former member of Nelio, now leading a software engineering research group at UOC.

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