On December 1, 2009, the US Federal Trade Commission instituted new rules on using testimonials and endorsements in advertising. I believe these rules are a good thing and in theory they should substantially improve the honesty of the ads we see online.
There are two issues that matter to this Web site, so far as I understand them:
- Online ads can no longer just quote testimonials or endorsements from the happiest customers and add a little footnote that says “Results Not Typical.” Instead, the ads need to tell what the typical expected results would be and the advertisers need to be able to back up all claims with hard evidence.
- If anyone endorses a product and gets paid for it, then they need to let people know.
About My Own Ads
As I said, these are great things. They do mean, of course, that before the law went into effect, I carefully reviewed my own Web site to make sure that I’m as squeaky clean as I know how to make myself.
The big problem for me is that it’s very hard to measure the effectiveness of the products I sell. I have used testimonials from satisfied customers in the past for some of my products. I got these by sending out a blanket email to my customer database for a given product and asking for endorsements. Or by emailing people who read my e-zine. Or by emailing groups of writers I know. Then whatever endorsements showed up, I used.
It should go without saying that this is likely to get comments from mostly happy people. Unhappy people just won’t answer.
If you think about it, it’s extremely hard to do a meaningful scientific study to find out how effective a product on “how to write fiction” is. It can take years before a writer gets published. And that writer will have learned from many sources. How can you possibly assign credit in any meaningful way?
I simply don’t think anyone can find hard, empirical evidence for the effectiveness of a “how to write fiction” course.
Because of that, I’ve removed all the testimonials and endorsements that I could find on my sales pages. I believe they’re all gone. If you find one, let me know. My site has a lot of pages.
In time, we’ll see some case law about this FTC regulation, and it will become clearer if there is any sort of fuzziness allowed with testimonials and endorsements for products like mine. Maybe someday I’ll reinstitute them. For now, just to make sure I don’t unintentionally violate a regulation, I’ve done what I could to remove them.
About My Own Product Recommendations
From time to time, I mention a book, an e-book, a software product, or some similiar product sold by somebody else. Generally, these are things I’ve bought myself and have found useful. In a few cases, they may be substantially similar to a product that I already use, such as my shopping cart system, which integrates in e-newsletter capabilities. Since I only need one such product, I may mention similar ones that I have never bought, if they appear to be about as good as the one I did buy. It’s even possible I’ve mentioned a product that I’ve never bought but which looks like it would be worth the money if I had a need for it. I don’t remember if I’ve ever recommended a product like this, but it’s perfectly possible.
Some of these products have “affiliate programs” which pay a referral fee. Some of these products don’t have affiliate programs. I try my best to mention products I think are useful. This is a judgment call on my part, and I try not to be swayed by the existence of an affiliate program. I expect that nobody would buy something solely because I mentioned it or included a link. I expect that you will use your own common sense on whether any product is something you want.
Amazon has an affiliate program and I joined this program a long time ago. Apple’s iBooks store has one too, and so do B&N and Kobo. You should assume that any book on this Web site that links to Amazon, iBooks, B&N, or Kobo will include my affiliate code and that I am getting paid for the referral. If this bothers you at all, then please don’t click on the link. Instead, just open a fresh web browser window and go to the retailer of your choice and search for the book. That will ensure that nobody pays me for the referral.
Likewise, if you see a link to any other product on my Web site, there is a reasonable probability that I belong to an affiliate program. In some cases, I do. In others, I don’t. If you have any doubt at all, you should assume that I am an affiliate of the program. Again, if that bothers you, then open a fresh web browser window and find the product yourself using Google. That will ensure I won’t earn any money from your purchase.
Finally, in some cases, people have given me free copies of their book or product to test. If I think it’s useful to writers, I then may mention it on my site with a link. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened. It’s hard to remember exactly which products I’ve received free copies of, but I’m certain I’ve got a couple of free copies of books from people. I do remember that after I went through the free Simpleology 101 course and then bought the Simpleology 201 course and did a guest blog about it, the Simpleology guy noticed my guest blog post and gave me free copies of the other products he had, including Simpleology 301.
Some products that I’m an affiliate for include Tom Antion’s e-book Click, the shopping cart system KickStartCart, and the Simpleology courses. All of these work well for me. None of them is perfect. None of them is for everybody. You should use your own good sense in deciding whether they’re of interest to you.
If you believe that my recommendations are biased by my belonging to affiliate programs, then you should suitably discount my recommendations. Again, I encourage you to do your own due diligence before you buy any product. Different people are different, and what’s good for me isn’t necessarily what’s good for you.
Randy Ingermanson, Ph.D.