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Can paid blog reviews pay off?

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Call them the middlemen of the blogosphere: Web sites that facilitate payments to bloggers to post reviews.

Unheard of 18 months ago, these sites that match bloggers with advertisers are growing in number. Among the better known are PayPerPost.com and Review Me.com. Later this month, SponsoredReviews.com, a product of 360 Enterprises, will make its debut.

As breaking through the clutter online becomes more problematic, blog reviews are seen as a way for advertisers to monetize their Web site traffic, generate viral marketing and get some much-needed feedback on how their products are faring in the marketplace.

These new sites broker payments to bloggers to review products in their posts. The bloggers are required to disclose that they are getting paid to post the reviews. None of the sites allows marketers to review copy before it is posted.

"I like it when nice things are said about me outside of my own site," said Anthony Arrigo, president of Starry Night Lights, which markets outdoor lighting products.

In the last few months, Arrigo has paid between $40 and $100 each for four separate reviews that have appeared on blogs associated with ReviewMe.com. After each review was posted, Arrigo said he noticed a "big spike" in his Web site traffic.

"They were generally favorable, but not 100%," he said, referring to the tone of the reviews. "A couple of them had some good comments and all of them recommended some things on how I can enhance my business." Roughly one-third of Arrigo's business is b-to-b.

JP Richards, a consultant for Go Big Network, one of the largest online communities designed to help facilitate funding of start-up companies, said Go Big has paid a total of $460 for six reviews that have run on blogs within ReviewMe.com's network.

One particularly positive review, he said, had a link to the Go Big Network site; that review, in turn, sparked three additional reviews. The various blog postings "have enabled us to infiltrate a key market of tech-savvy people who read blogs but may not have heard of Go Big Network," Richards said.

ReviewMe, which debuted in November, currently has in its network 5,500 bloggers, who have written approximately 750 paid reviews. Advertisers browse ReviewMe.com's marketplace of blogs and purchase reviews from what they deem relevant bloggers. The bloggers must write a minimum of 200 words per review.

ReviewMe.com uses an algorithm to determine a blogger's value. It charges advertisers $40 to $500 per post. Once a review is completed, ReviewMe.com splits the revenue equally with the blogger.

"We have purposely recruited quality bloggers, with great reach, and we give them the flexibility to write an honest review," said Patrick Gavin, president of Text Link Ads, which created ReviewMe.com. "It's a creative way for advertisers to get content on an area of a Web page that is not a banner or a display ad but actual copy."

PayPerPost has in its network 14,000 bloggers, including "high-traffic bloggers and low-end, smaller audiences from social networks," said Ted Murphy, founder and CEO. "Our focus is on real people who don't necessarily blog for a living but are passionate about a particular subject." PayPerPost's bloggers concentrate on technology, marketing, health care, entertainment and finance.

"The attraction to b-to-b marketers is that [our network] exposes someone to a product on a more personal basis, and that can influence their purchasing decision within their own company," Murphy said. "We're rewarding people with higher quality blogs with higher-income potential, but we're not ignoring smaller bloggers." PayPerPost pays rates ranging from $5 up to $2,000.

Criticism from peers

These sites are not without their critics—namely other bloggers who question the sites' credibility.

"In the current incarnation, they won't work for marketers—and can put bloggers in a difficult position and make them feel like they're selling out," said Scott Kirsner, a blogger and technology journalist, who has written about such postings for the San Jose Mercury News.

However, he added, "Over time, [such sites] could evolve into something that works for bloggers and advertisers as long as payments are properly disclosed."

Jeff Jarvis, who blogs on BuzzMachine.com and is an associate professor at City University of New York's Graduate School of Journalism, said: "I'm in favor of people making money off blogs and advertising. The issue I have is, when you try to buy someone's voice, you own that voice; and it affects the veracity of the conversation. … When advertisers buy ads, they don't buy the editorial voice."

Jarrod Hunt, founder-CEO of SponsoredReviews.com, said, "It's surprising that critics are still sticking to that point about disclosure," Hunt added. "Their argument is based around the notion that we're going to be deceptive, and that's just not an issue."

One blogger who posts on behalf of ReviewMe.com said payments by advertisers do not cause any undue influence.

"All I have to do is write at least 200 words and say it is a sponsored post, and then I can write anything I want—positive, negative or neutral," said John Chow, who blogs about Web marketing on www.johnchow.com.

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