Expert Review Sites Are Experts, But At What?

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    Being the Vice President of Sales for a SaaS company exposes me to many things, one of them being review software review sites, like Capterra, G2Crowd, GetApp, Software Advice, Appvizer, and more. According to the sites themselves, their purpose is to provide the means to “discover the best app to grow your business.” They tell the shopper that they “do the research, so you don’t have to.” They also solicit reviews by other “users of the product”—some of which are validated, and some are not. I will say more about that a little later.

    Do they do the research so you don’t have to?

    The review site concept is not exclusive to technologies. Recently, I was in the market for a new mattress and wanted to see what other people thought. So, I did what most people do: I turned to Google and searched “best mattress brands.” What I found was interesting; eight of the ten sites listed on the first page of my Google results were touting themselves as the experts on the topic and wanted me to believe that they were tops at determining “the best mattresses of 2019.”

    The sites had very clever names, like “Sleep Cupid, “Sleep Help,” and my favorite name: “Sleep Sherpa.” Here’s an example from Sleep Cupid:

    Sleep Cupid Best Mattress 2019 Expert
    Screenshot from Sleep Cupid website

    Where’s the line between review and sponsorship?

    Software review sites do the same thing. They spend a lot of money and energy in order to convince you, the SaaS/software customer, that they are the definitive expert. Like any e-commerce site, they invest in their site’s structure, SEO, search, and display ads. But here’s the problem. Their primary—and in most cases, their only—revenue stream comes from the very app publishers and product manufacturers that they are reviewing.

    If a company wants to be listed at the top of the chart or be “recommended,” they must pay the review site directly.

    Which brings me back to my mattress search.

    I was impressed that Sleep Sherpa had a disclaimer at the top of their site. It stated: “This post contains affiliate links, which means I receive a commission if you make a purchase using these links.” While I am sure that other review sites place this statement somewhere on their pages, no one was as upfront about it as Sleep Sherpa.

    Sleep Sherpa Best Mattress 2019 Review
    Screenshot from Sleep Sherpa website

    Can review sites also be “experts” on software?

    The answer is clearly: “No.” These “experts” are only expert at marketing, SEO, and Google search results. They are extremely good at maximizing revenue streams and getting reviews from the companies that pay them.

    In fact, these sites are selling you, the shopper, to the publishers and manufacturers of the products.

    While the endeavor is not new—and not even necessarily unethical—it is misleading. If a review site is telling you that it “does the homework, so you don’t have to,” then it should do the homework. But these sites don’t do homework. They list the products that manufacturers and publishers pay them to list. And by doing so, all of their recommendations are tainted.

    So, how do you find genuine recommendations?

    There are a few ways.

    1. Seek review sites whose product recommendations are not part of the company’s revenue model. These sites do more than recommend products—they often provide news, opinions about current trends, and coverage of an industry or vocation. They almost always include a description of how and why they made the recommendation.
    2. Find white papers on best practices, such as “How to Buy…” or “The Future of…” articles
    3. Look to publisher marketplaces. Most (if not all) larger software publishers will have a list of other software companies that they recommend. is a great example. So is HubSpotXeroTSheets, and others. If you are using a CRM or accounting software, go to their marketplace and look to see who they list as partners.
    4. Your best bet? Do the homework yourself. Ask the companies you are considering the following questions:
    • Why do you think you are the best solution for me?
    • How are you different from your competitors?
    • What are your services and support options?
    • Where are your teams (all of them and not just sales) located?
    • What are other ways I can benefit from using your product?
    • What is the lifetime cost of the product?

    In the end, using a review site will help you discover companies you may not have heard of. But it is still up to you to do the homework.