How can you tell whether you can trust online reviews?

trust reviews

A question I’ve been asking myself again and again over the past few years is “how can I tell who’s reviews I can trust”? I no longer need to think about that in relation to sex toys but whenever I research anything that isn’t a sex toy, I face the same problems as anybody else. It’s difficult to trust anything online these days. So many websites with fake reviews, lists of products that the writers have never tried, niche marketers only in it for the money. Then there are are problems with safety and ethics to take into account.

Independent toy tester alliance

Later on in this article, I’m going to present to you the alliance of independent sex toy reviewers, a group of bloggers that I personally trust when it comes to sex toys. Before I get to that point, I’d like to explain in a little more detail what problems exist online when it comes to researching products in general. I want to explain to you why certain problems exist and what I see as an insider to the affiliate marketing industry.

To skip to the list of trusted blogs in the independent sex toy tester alliance, click here.

You can thank the concept of “passive income” for your online research struggles

passive income

“Passive income” is now such a well known phrase that unlikely people among my real-life friends have started referring to it. In my opinion, the concept of passive income has started to mess up the internet. It isn’t passive income itself that is the problem but more the unethical means some people will use trying to achieve it.

So what is passive income? For most people, passive income is any online business model that allows them to set up a piece of content, then earn money from that thing on a perpetual basis with no further hours of time / effort required. The less effort required to set up whatever business model is involved, the more attractive it is to new people wanting to try it.

Affiliate marketing is one such “easy online business model”. It requires a huge amount of work to do well but requires surprisingly little effort to do badly. Reviewing and recommending things is one of the most popular ways to utilise affiliate marketing to generate passive income. That’s why everyone is having such a nightmare lately researching products online.

You can also thank dishonest companies buying positive reviews

There are companies out there who buy positive reviews and other who entice customers to leave five star reviews by offering to refund customers for their purchases. Every week I see dodgy company representatives in sex toy forums and on social media offering people free toys in return for five star reviews. This is a huge problem with websites like Amazon, which is why I don’t personally trust any reviews I see there anymore.

What makes a review website trustworthy?

Here I’ll be exploring some things that for me indicate whether a review website is legitimate or not. To be completely honest, some of these things are based on mistakes I’ve made but other things are what I’ve seen. There are pitfalls to be avoided here too!

Does the website have other content apart from reviews / recommendations?

If someone like me was uncaring, it would be incredibly easy to accept too many products and limit the quality and depth of reviews. Whenever I ever see a website that only has reviews on it and they’re only a few hundred words long each, I need to look for other signs of trust.

I’ve taken on too many reviews occasionally and then regretted it afterwards because I also enjoy writing other kinds of articles. From an insider’s perspective, the situation is sometimes difficult to avoid. When a blogger’s viewing figures and ability to generate sales get to a certain point, companies want to continually send products. Some of us have to close our review queues just to maintain the ability to properly test things before publishing.

Does the website only have stock / catalogue images of products?

If you see only stock and catalogue images of products… it means the reviewers probably don’t own the products that they’re talking about. It’s also possible they don’t have the skills to take good photographs but in my opinion, if people start a review website, the least they can do for readers is learn the basics of photography. I trust a reviewer with poor photography skills far more than one who uses catalogue images.

Some fake reviewers try to be clever, so it isn’t always easy to tell when they don’t own something. There are people who will use photoshop to change the backgrounds of a stock image for example, to give the impression it’s sitting on a table or whatever. I’ve also had images stolen from my website and photoshopped to look different. I watermark my images and disable right clicking but that isn’t always a guarantee that people won’t try to steal them.

If you look at the source code of some web-pages, very lazy affiliate marketers sometimes don’t bother changing the names of their images. For example, a website that stole images from me actually had “screenshot-date-time.jpg” as the name for the images they stole!

Does the website only review a select few brands?

Some websites are genuinely reviewing products but they only focus on certain brands. This can be a warning sign that a reviewer is personally involved with a brand too much or that they’re focussing too much on high commission affiliate programs.

I’m not against high commission affiliate programs and I sign up to some myself. It’s just always odd if review website has a narrow focus on only a few brands. It suggests that the website is more about making money than providing value to readers.

Does the website only contain positive reviews?

After a reviewer gets a certain amount of experience, they will usually screen products before they accept them for reviews. For example, I have a good idea of what works for my body and I know certain signs of quality when I read marketing information and look at product photos. However it’s normal that at least a small amount of average or negative scores pop up on review websites.

Even though I’m careful, I still get products that slip through my pre-screening net that I end up disliking. Occasionally this is because I incorrectly thought I would like a product. Other times, I miss red flags when I’m pre-screening products. Amazingly, some companies persist that I review something for them even after I tell them that I don’t think it would be a good idea; in such cases they might get a bad review simply because they ignored my warning that I probably wouldn’t like their products.

Are the website’s reviews too positive?

If someone is a reviewing a sex toy with a battery life of only 30 minutes and they don’t mention that, it’s potentially a sign that they are ignoring obvious drawbacks. Another possibility is that they didn’t test and research it properly.

Legitimate criticism of products is important and all good manufacturers value constructive criticism because it helps them improve their future products. Reviewers that tell white lies or try to hide problems with a product are doing everybody a disservice.

Is the website using dodgy gendered keywords?

This is more specific to the sex toy industry but one other thing you can look at is the quality of the keywords that the website you’re looking at is using. If you’re seeing ridiculous phrases like “male masturbators” and “sex toys for women” being written, it’s very likely that the bloggers behind the website are only in it for the money. The reason is that gendered keywords are more popular among consumers than non-gendered alternatives at the moment. That’s one of the things sex bloggers are fighting to change, because using gendered language excludes a lot of people who want to use these toys.

We can’t just blindly accept everything that a keyword tool gives us, particularly when it comes to sex. What this boils down to is whether you know them or not, there are people in the world who don’t follow traditional notions of gender and sex. Owners of sex toy review websites have a responsibility to lead the way to more inclusive language and marketing.

The invisible things you don’t see that indicate trust: backlinks

A backlink is a link that points from an external website. Backlinks are very important online because they indicate the authority of a website. Search engines like Google count the number of backlinks any website has and ranks those websites accordingly.

There are websites that try to trick the search engines by using unethical means to build links. Before 2012, such websites would do things like spam random forums, join link farms and directory websites. Now that would get one kicked out of the search results, so more elaborate methods are being used to generate backlinks.

The most popular sex bloggers on the internet took up to 8 years to get 1000 referring websites linking to them. A new website that generates that many backlinks in one or two years is very suspicious.

Skyscraper technique = spam

Methods like the skyscraper technique are promoted by SEO marketers online as though they are acceptable backlink generating techniques. In my opinion, it’s usually just a more modern form of spam.

The skyscraper technique involves researching a topic online, gathering all the keywords one can for that topic and then reading all of the articles from the top results for those keywords. Then the goal is to create a piece of content that is more complete or a page that’s better illustrated than all the other articles. The skyscraper technique is almost entirely to do with competition rather than providing value to the reader.

The more sinister side of the skyscraper technique is that many niche marketers try to reach out to other websites to request that the other website changes a link they have to point at the niche marketer’s website. “Hey I noticed you have a link to an article on xyz. I’ve actually written a more thorough account of that so perhaps you’d like to link to mine instead?” I don’t care which way they word that kind of thing, if anyone sends messages like that, they are participating in black hat SEO.

What is black hat SEO?

There are two broad kinds of SEO (search engine optimisation). One is referred to as white hat SEO and the other black hat SEO. You can think of them as good and evil.

White hat SEO is a legitimate way of optimising a website for search engines. For example, doing basic things like making sure to write good heading titles and providing invisible text to describe images etc. Even using keyword research tools is an important part of white hat SEO.

Black hat SEO are any techniques that aim to gain unfair advantage. There are several kinds of black hat SEO; unnatural link building (gaining unfair advantage), copying content that doesn’t belong to you and attacking competition. I’ve already talked a little about unnatural link building and copying content is an obvious misdemeanour, so let’s focus on attacks.

My own website has been attacked several times. There are many ways that someone can attack a website using black hat SEO. One method is to point lots of spammy backlinks at a website, another is to deliberately create duplicate content from the website and another more sneaky attack is to try persuading other website owners to delete their backlinks to the website being attacked. All of these methods are designed to get a website kicked out of the search results or to make their position within search results descend.

Most website owners that reach a certain level of popularity will have to deal with one or more black hat SEO tactics at some point or another. The sad thing is, it’s almost impossible to find out who initiated those attacks. It could be other niche marketers that want to take you out of the search results for competitive reasons, it could be businesses that don’t like a review you published and who want to make sure potential customers don’t read what you wrote. It can even be mindless spam robots hammering your website for no particular reason.

Independent alliance of sex toy testers

As you can see from all of the information I provided above, it is very difficult for people online to know who they can trust. Even if someone has detailed knowledge of all these things, thinking about it all every time one visits a different website is tiring. That’s why an alliance of trusted blog owners, each holding the other accountable for its content and promotion is so useful.

This alliance is between independent sex toy testers and sex bloggers who have mutual trust for one another and hold each other to a set of minimum standards to ensure authenticity, safety and the avoidance of discrimination. The alliance is decentralised, meaning that each person is in control of their list and the way that they present the alliance. What I personally love about the decentralised model is that each member of the alliance can focus on their individual specialities in knowledge and put emphasis on their own connections within the alliance. The lists of blogs each of us manages isn’t ordered by the most popular people or by who has the most backlinks… it’s ordered in whatever way each individual chooses it to be.

A group of us formed this alliance because we recognised that it has become a problem for the public to research anything online. With so much advertisement, marketing and false reviews online, we understand that it is difficult for the public to know who they can trust and who they can’t. We don’t want sex toys to be difficult to research, which is why we have made the effort to form an alliance among people we see as peers rather than competition.

This isn’t just about genuine reviews, we all recognise the importance of inclusivity, therefore none of us genders sex toys. We have different backgrounds, cultures, genders and sexual orientations, but our standards for trust are the same. 

Each of us is responsible for our own website. We are not a collective and do differ on opinions outside of the criteria we ask each other to meet when it comes to being a part of the alliance.

Each blogger among us meets these minimum standards (in both their blogs and social media):

  • All products recommended by the blog are body-safe.
  • All shops recommended by the blog are safe.
  • All blogs respect the diversity of genders and do not gender sex toys as “male” or “female”.
  • All blogs are written by people who are passionate about the subjects they cover, not by people who are only trying to make money. Many of us make some money but it isn’t the main reason we write.
  • All of the writers in our alliance show honesty and authenticity in their reviews.
  • All of the writers of the blogs in our alliance can demonstrate that they genuinely own ALL the products that they review and recommend.
  • All writers are genuinely knowledgeable in their subjects. They don’t copy their content from elsewhere or “regurgitate” external content.
  • No blogs in the alliance contain discrimination, hate or material intended to shame / exclude.
  • No blogs in the alliance use questionable, unethical or uncompetitive methods to build links and advertise their website. In short – we are genuine bloggers.

How do websites join the alliance and who is in charge?

To join the Independent Sex Toy Tester Alliance, you can send an email to the admins at sextoytesteralliance(at)gmail(dot)com. The admins will get back to you and put a vote to the other members on your application as soon as possible.

This is a democratic alliance. We vote on who joins and who gets removed. The only way websites join is by a majority vote. Each member of the alliance has 7 days in which they can vote on new applicants, after which, the applicant will be notified on the decision.

If the admins think you meet the alliance’s minimum standards, your blog will be referred to our internal group. If the vote isn’t in your favour, you will be sent a polite rejection email from the alliance’s general email. You need to understand that even if the person you contacted wants you in the alliance, your application may still be unsuccessful if the majority doesn’t vote you in. We specify that in the hope that you won’t blame the original person you contacted or pester them.

If your blog is voted into the alliance, we will ask you to write a post like this one with a list of the other members of the group. We will provide you with more specification when you are accepted. After your post is live on your website, you will be a full member of the alliance and will be added to everyone else’s lists.

Although the alliance is democratic, certain people among us have a more administrative role than others. The administrators of the alliance help everything run smoothly and some have technical roles that everybody else benefits from. For example some people run servers, perform technical verifications of backlink profiles, deal with new applications etc.

Other websites in the sex toy tester alliance

If you’re looking for other sex toy reviews or other content on sex, these bloggers are all good and trustworthy sources of information. I cannot add you to this list unless you are a verified and voted in member of the alliance.

The list is in alphabetical order and for those that I already know or follow, I’m writing a short description. I’ll try my best to get descriptions done for more people eventually!

List last updated: 5 May 2024.

A fellow Brit, Amy Norton has been testing sex toys for quite some time too and has a great way of presenting her reviews in a simple way here. Amy also took part in one of my French connection interviews and was one of the first people to join and contribute to forming this alliance.

Dildo Or Dildon’t

Girl On The Net is a force of nature. She isn’t only a sex toy tester, she makes audio porn, writes personal posts about sex and has even written two books you can buy on Amazon. I did an interview with her for my French connection series here.

Piph has a huge and beautifully designed website full of good advice on sex and toys. She was also one of the first people in the alliance and gave us all encouragement and feedback as we were setting it up. Piph has also been involved in the community for a long time and has helped many of us during our early years. A very respected source!

Miss Ruby was one of the first bloggers I ever followed. Even before I became a sex toy tester myself, I trusted Miss Ruby’s opinion whenever it came to researching sex toys for my own partner. Since becoming a blogger, Ruby has been very kind to me and helped me understand a lot! She has a great series of posts on how to begin a sex toy blog and has written several essays on standards within the sex toy industry. Ruby happens to also be the first person who got involved in this alliance with me and helped a lot in defining what it would all mean.

Molly Moore has been blogging since 2010 and has a huge amount of content on her website. She writes toy reviews and also manages the yearly list of the top 100 sex blogs. Molly is also the director of operations for Eroticon, an annual conference that takes place in the UK.

August is a transmasc sex toy blogger who writes honest reviews and has a particular focus on inclusivity when it comes to gender. As one quote on their website puts it “gender and genitals are not the same thing”.

Nikki Nelson Writes

Obsession Rouge – This site!

Rose has been blogging and reviewing sex toys since 2014. She is also very actively involved in the sex blogging community and is a great help to all of us.

Grace is an Australian sex toy tester and I’ve been following her work for a few years. She’s a great source for sex toy reviews and also writes some really interesting and unique advice articles.

Spices of Lust

I followed Cy’s website Super Smash Cache before I became a sex blogger myself and read her opinions on toys while shopping. I love the artsy style to her blog and it’s grown so much since I began reading it. The reviews are brutally honest so I highly recommend you check out the website.

Jay and Tess are Dutch sex toy testers. Jay has been a big help in the formation of the independent sex toy tester’s alliance. He also got involved early on and set up the communications that we all now use to organise ourselves. If you understand Dutch then you should check out their website – you could use Google Translate too.

Witch of the Wands

Fantastic Frost

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