Can you trust online reviews?
It seems there's a review website for everything these days. Holidays, restaurants, builders, doctors and of course fitness equipment. But can you trust what you read? Is the reviewer telling the truth? Or do they have another agenda?
Let's stick with fitness equipment and look at why there are so many. For example, if you search for 'rowing machine reviews' on Google, you find at least 50 websites devoted entirely to the subject. This is because it's possible to make money from a review site by referring visitors to retailers who will then pay a commission for every sale. This is known as affiliate marketing and is used by millions of website owners.
This site works on this model and I'm totally open about the fact that we receive commissions for sales referred by us. I alone spend at least 12 hours a week researching, gathering reviews and testing some of the machines myself - and I don't do this just for the fun of it, even though I love every minute :0)
But of course this is open to abuse. If I write glowing reviews about every rowing machine we've tried on this site then it could lead to more sales. But would you trust a fitness review site if every machine they've tried is 'great value for money', 'a quality rower', or 'the best we've every tried'? No of course not. But it doesn't stop many websites doing this.
Another trick is for websites to reproduce the manufacturers blurb and just add a few comments. Lazy, but also quite dishonest if they've not actually tried the machine themselves. Of course I read online reviews such as Amazon and fitness forums, but we never post a review here unless at least for other owners or reviewers have tried the model and reported back.
And you certainly won't find top scores on all of the models we've tried here. Check our views on the Sunny Rower, the FitBill F.Row and Stamina Conversion for examples that we say what we think! I could have easily said flattering thinks about these rowers to make more money, but I'd rather say it how it is and keep my reputation.
But it's not just review sites that can be a little 'economical' with the truth. Some unscrupulous sellers may invent or pay for individuals to post positive reviews on their models. Of course this is nothing new, it's been done in some form or other for centuries.
The same companies may post negative reviews of competitors machines. But you can usually spot a pattern for this sort of practice. You'll see the majority of reviewers giving a model four- or five-stars, but then a much smaller percentage of one-star reviews that are totally different to the others and may sound very dismissive and even abusive. This is usually a sign of dirty tricks. The inverse is true of fake good reviews.
So to conclude, how do you know if the reviews you read are accurate, unbiased and honest? Try this checklist.
There are a number of great fitness equipment review sites written by enthusiasts and experts whose only aim is to inform and advice (while earning some extra income). But sadly there are many that are not. Check for the signs above and you'll avoid the dishonest reviews and hopefully find exactly what you're looking for.
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Roy Palmer is an athletics coach, teacher of The Alexander Technique and a rowing fanatic.