Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Grammarly responds to my claim that their website is misleading

This post is part of a four-part series on Grammarly.
  1. Grammarly: Misleading website kills my desire to learn about their service
  2. Grammarly responds to my claim that their website is misleading
  3. Grammarly: Impressive response to complaints reignites my desire to learn about their service
  4. Grammarly responds to complaints about not disclosing their pricing
Additionally, you'll find my review of Grammarly for English-learning purposes here.


Last week, I wrote a post entitled "Grammarly: Misleading website kills my desire to learn about their service", in which I complained about Grammarly leading me to believe that I'd be seeing grammar corrections when all I in fact got was statistics about grammar corrections, and that they took my email before letting me know that I'd have to pay to do anything more.

To Grammarly's immense credit (and in contrast to Rocket Languages, who opted to ignore complaints about their astroturfing campaign), they were quick to engage me on this, both in the comments of that post and via email. Most importantly, they indicated a willingness to remedy the issues that led to my complaints, which they believe stem from a misunderstanding, and are currently working on doing so. They hold—and, given how open they have been in engaging me, I have no reason to doubt—that they are not being intentionally misleading. All in all, their communications with me have left me with a positive image of the people behind Grammarly.

That said, even if unintentional, I remain unchanged in my opinion that their website as it stands is misleading. And I don't seem to be alone (see here, here, and here). The pattern doesn't seem to be limited to their website, either; check out the ad below:


I also note that my earlier blog post on Grammarly is currently the number one result on Google when you search for "Grammarly price", and that can't be a good sign.

After the jump, I've gathered all of my communications with Grammarly together so that you can make your own call on this. It's a long read, but you'll get some great insights into the thinking that led them to make the site what it is.
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Date: April 29, 2010 6:39:56 AM JST
Subject: Your blog post about Grammarly.com

Dear Vincent,

I am a co-founder and board member of Applied Linguistics LLC, a company behind Grammarly.com. Greg Carpets brought to my attention your blog post regarding Grammarly Web site, and I decided to contact you to apologize for any inconvenience and aggravation you experienced.

First, a disclaimer – this message is in response to your blog post, and is not a part of Grammarly.com’s interaction with you as a potential client. The message is not promoting any commercial product or service, and therefore is not considered a “commercial message” for the purposes of CAN-SPAM act. No one from Grammarly will contact you with any commercial offers, as per your request.

I am very sorry that you found the Grammarly Web site misleading and irritating. We will review the Web site and will make sure that the messaging and the process are more transparent to avoid such misunderstandings in the future. What I would like to clarify is that what happened was a result of miscommunication, and not a deliberate deception of any kind.

What Grammarly advertises is free evaluation of text for issues with grammar or possible plagiarism. As you could see, these checks are indeed free and require no registration – as indicated in your blog post, you did receive a report with assessment of grammar and originality of your text without paying anything or having to sign up, so the promise was fulfilled. What you saw after receiving the free report was an advertisement for a premium level of service, which includes help in correcting the detected mistakes, automated grammar tutoring, citation generator and other tools. We are also working on offering other add-on services, such as human proofreading and on-demand sessions with human tutors – these services will NOT be free either. As Grammarly’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy state, the Web site does not sell any information about its visitors and claims no ownership or rights to the documents submitted to it, so the only way it can support itself is by offering premium services on top of free ones. It is only natural that a free service has to advertise something commercial to support its existence.

Case in point – every major bank in the US has or had at some point advertising of “free checking accounts”. Does it mean that ALL checking accounts are free? No – there are always upgraded checking accounts available for a fee. Does it mean that, after signing up for a free checking account, you do not have to pay for ANYTHING related to using your checking account? No – there are usually additional fees for included services and myriads of additional services banks try to sell you on top. Still, people trust banks with their savings. You can find more examples of this, well-defined and legitimate, business model here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freemium. Please do not find the link or anything I said above patronizing – I am just not familiar with your background in business and marketing.

I believe the main reason for the misunderstanding was that you found no value for yourself in the free component of the Grammarly Web site (assessment of the quality of a written document and summary report), so you dismissed this free service as non-existent. It is important to understand that your view is not representative of the view majority of Grammarly visitors have. Thousands of repeat users return to Grammarly Web site every day, and over 90% of them are not using anything but the free functionality and see no need to register. If the free component of Grammarly were non-existent, worthless or misleading, why would all these users keep coming back to use it? Just to illustrate my point, I am attaching a Visitor Loyalty report from Google Analytics showing what percentage of all visitors visit the site more than once (for full disclosure - the “Count of visits” number represents all visits from the same visitor, not just the visits during the reporting period, and the stats include visits to previous versions of the Grammarly Web site, which were not different in regards to split between free and paid features):
Here Max included a chart showing some stats on Grammarly's visitor loyalty, showing "most visits repeated" for the period from March 28, 2010, through April 27, 2010. Below he asks me not to post this data, so I will not. But to sum it up, it shows that a good percentage of Grammarly's visitors are loyal visitors, but it also shows that there's a nice chunk of them that have only visited once or twice.
As you can see, the Web site has a rather loyal following, which would not be possible if most people shared your initial impression of it. Apparently, a large share of our visitors find ability to quickly gauge the quality of a document at no cost a true and compelling value proposition.

Let me assure you that we value your opinion and will revise our messaging to be more upfront and clear about the boundaries between free and premium services. I am fairly certain that even after the revision, Grammarly will still advertise a free component and have one or more premium services available and actively promoted. This is a model that works for us and for most of our clients, and this is what we have to do to be able to continue helping hundreds of thousands of people with their English grammar.

I also wanted to offer you an upgrade of your Grammarly account to the Premium level (at no cost to you), so that you could have a better look at the premium features that Grammarly offers. But before doing so, I just want to make sure that you would not perceive it as an attempt to bribe you or to trick you into becoming a paying client. If you agree to accept it in good faith, I will be more than happy to do so for you.

Please fill free to publish this message if you’d like to do so. I would only ask you not to share the access statistics screenshot for competitive reasons.

I also instructed Greg to add more clear opt-out instructions to his emails to clients. His email to you qualifies under “Transactional or relationship content” classification of CAN-SPAM act, which does not require explicit opt out link. Nevertheless, you made a good point – it is in everybody’s interest to make it easy for our visitors to let us know if they just want to be left alone. We are definitely not in business of spamming people, and contacting people that explicitly do not want to hear from us would be a waste of our sales team’s time.

Once again, I apologise for any trouble Grammarly caused you. Grammarly is valued by its clients, and it is important for us to not give our clients any reasons to be unhappy with the service.

Thank you for your understanding

Best regards
Max Lytvyn

P.S. If you do not want to receive any further email messages from me, just mention it in your reply to this message.
Not long after receiving Max's email, "Grammarly Team" responded in the comments of the earlier post:
A representative of Grammarly personally apologized to the author of the blog for the misunderstanding, and the company is taking measures to avoid similar issues in the future.

But what exactly was misleading? The site promised free grammar check without registration, which was provided. The user did not have to register or pay to evaluate quality of his text. The advertisement of the premium level of service that the user saw after the free check is the way for the web site to finance itself and make its existence possible. The advertisement of the premium level of service specifically mentioned that registration was necessary to proceed and did not promise anything for free. The price of the premium service was also displayed upfront – before the user had to make any commitments. All of these statements are supported by the screenshots the blogger provided.

It is no more misleading then a free consultation by a dentist or a mechanic. In both cases checking for problems is free and correction of the problems is available at a cost. Both are legitimate business practices. More than that, unlike a free consultation by a dentist, which is useless unless a patient buys further service, free evaluation by Grammarly has value on its own. A free report from Grammarly lets users see if their text is good enough or needs more work, and it gives users a choice to edit the text themselves or to purchase a premium service to get help with editing. And if a user chooses to edit the text without help from Grammarly, the user will not need to pay or register, and will still be able to evaluate the edited version of the text to see if his/her corrections helped.

So, users do get the promised free evaluation of their texts without registration, they are then offered an OPTION to employ Grammarly premium service to help with corrections or to continue using the free service as many times as they want to see if they were successful in correcting their texts on their own. Users do not have to pay or register unless they CHOOSE to employ premium services from Grammarly, available at a price displayed upfront. Where is the deception? Yes, the free product helps sell the premium service, but so does practically every free product out there.

Thousands of users repeatedly use free Grammarly reports without buying the premium service, proving the value and legitimacy of the free service. Many buy premium services and stay subscribers for a while. Some use on-and-off tactic, where they use free reports until they really need help with a particular document and then sign up for the premium functionality just for that document. These are legitimate and logical uses of the product. In fact, many users asked us to offer human editing and tutoring services in addition to what’s available, and no one expects those to be free either. So our users want us to have the free service they actively use, and they want us to introduce even more premium services on top of it. The model works and receives user approval practically every minute.

What is not logical is lashing out at a business for attempting to sell an extra service to the users who took advantage of a free promotional offering. Yes, with software, lines between free and paid are less obvious, and we will take your feedback and will do our best to make these lines even more clear in Grammarly. But how much further do we have to go if you are still unhappy after you 1) got free service as promised; 2) saw the price and terms of usage for a premium service before even having a chance to commit to it; 3) could leave the site at any time without owing anything; 4) received a 7 day free trial offer for the premium service as a courtesy follow up; 5) received a personal apology from upper management after complaining (including free unlimited access to the premium product features as compensation for your worries)?
My first reply to them was a short reply to the above comment:
@Grammarly Team: Thank you very much for the detailed reply. I did receive an email from Max Lytvyn and am preparing a reply to him right now (and will post our emails in a subsequent post).

Let me just be clear that I have no problem whatsoever with your business model. Both Max's email and your comment above make mention of the same thing, but that is not at all what brought my complaint. Indeed, I encourage you to use whatever works best for you.

My problem lies in the fact that the messaging on the site can lead you to think that seeing corrections doesn't require registration, when in fact all you can get without registration is a report that tells you whether you need more work or not. This falls quite a bit short of allowing you to "proofread to perfection" with "no registration required". The messaging can create an expectation that you'll be getting one thing on the free side of freemium, but you get another. That is my issue.

I leave the rest to that subsequent post, but let me just say for now that I think you guys are doing an excellent job of handling my complaints.
I then replied to Max:
From: Street-Smart Language Learning
To: Max Lytvyn
Subject: Re: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 1, 2010 4:30:32 AM JST

Max,

Let me just start off by saying that I very much appreciate that you and your team took the time to provide detailed responses to my post, both in your email below and in the comments on the blog. I also appreciate your apology and even moreso Grammarly's willingness to improve in response to complaints such as mine. I have to say that you're team's handling of this has managed to completely flip my previously negative impression of Grammarly.

That said, I still think that the website, as it stands, is misleading.

As you can see in the screen capture on my blog, "Get Started Now!" is right below "Check your writing for grammar, punctuation, style and more" If I hand you a page of my writing and ask you to "check it" for me, and then you only hand back me a separate a page that says, "You got 10 things wrong", can you really say that you "checked my writing"? Perhaps we can agree to disagree on how that is to be taken, but how about "proofread my text to perfection"? How do I get any closer to "perfection" without knowing where the errors are? With the wording you've got there, I think a reasonable visitor may expect to see at least part of a corrected text, and not just stats about what was corrected in the background.

Of course, you can certainly try to split hairs here. "Well, the button only says you'd get started..." "We did check it, we just didn't show it to you..." My guess is that it is not your intention to do that.

You note in your email below that I "did receive a report with assessment of grammar and originality of your text". Where does it tell me that I was going to receive a "report"? Right around that big "Get Started Now!" button, I see "proofreading", "checking", and "coaching", but I don't see any mention of a "report". Or of "assessment". All I saw was wording that led me to think that I would be looking at the errors in at least part of the document. And, regardless of the intention, that feels a lot like a typical bait and switch.

Although you are right that I found no particular value for myself in the free component of Grammarly's website, that is hardly what led me to write the post. If I wrote a post about every website whose free service I didn't find particularly useful, I doubt I'd have time to write about much else.

As explained above, the wording on your site leads to an expectation of seeing at least some errors, whereas all you end up seeing is statistics about the errors—and then you're prompted to "sign up" without ever being told that you've seen all there is to see without paying. This disparity between the expectation generated by the wording on Grammarly's site and what you end up actually getting is what I still think is misleading, and it is what led to the post.

While I can't pretend to know your users better than you do, I would imagine that there are others who have had a similar reaction, and I'd further guess that they're mostly in that chunk of visitors who've only visited one time in the screenshot you provided. I know that there's at least one person with a similar reaction on Twitter (http://twitter.com/#search?q=grammarly) and the other commenters on my blog seemed to agree. If you've already found a few on the internet I'm sure there are more out there who haven't bothered to write anything about it. I believe there's some loose statistic floating around that says for every one person complaining about a tech problem, ten more are suffering from it. I suspect something like that is what's going on here.

I will be interested in seeing how you revise the messaging, and I hope that my further explanation in this email might be of some use to that end. If you make it clear that, on the free end of freemium, all you can get is a report, that alone will neutralize most of my complaint. By doing that, it should be clear that anything beyond that point is part of the registration process to be a paid user, so that would also neutralize my complaints about how my email was collected.

As I said on my post, I cannot put a good word in for your service until I'm comfortable that my readers won't be misled by the messaging on your website. Once I reach that point, however, I would be more than happy to accept a free upgrade of my Grammarly account to the premium level so that I can provide a review of your service to my readers (no guarantee on a good word, but I will definitely give it a good faith review). As I said on my post, your service looks quite promising, and, as the majority of my readers are from non-English speaking countries, I think it would be of great interest to them (one such Japanese reader can be found in that Twitter search link above).

Lastly, I do intend to ultimately post these emails, as I'm sure you guessed or read in the comments on my blog (leaving out the access statistics screenshot will not be a problem). If this is heading where I think it's heading, this looks to me like it's going to be a textbook example of how to handle a grumpy blogger, and I'm guessing that my follow-up posts will show just that.

Thanks again for your message, and I look forward to hear from you soon.

Regards,

Vincent
Max's reply came quickly:
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Subject: RE: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 1, 2010 6:27:36 AM JST

Hi Vincent,

Thank you for taking the time to write such a detailed response. We will definitely take your thoughts into account. Unfortunately, what we can do without ruining the Web site as a commercial enterprise is has limits. For example, we cannot remove the free component – majority of our paying clients became paying clients after generating a number of free reports over a course of several days or sometimes months (that also differentiates our product from bait-and-switch – our “bait” is valuable enough for people to come back, and such returning visitors clearly have no false expectations). If we remove free reports completely, such users will have no reason to return to the site, and we will lose them as clients, basically cutting 2/3 of our revenue.

We also cannot advertise only what’s covered by the free functionality on the main page – after all, since we are paying a lot of money to get a new visitor to the Web site, it is important to give each user full information about our products in those 3-5 seconds of a visitors attention that we “purchased” with our advertising.

Where we can improve is setting the expectation upfront that some of the product functionality requires signing up and paying. I think this would be the best area for improvement. There is still a limit to what we can do – the more information we provide about pricing, terms and conditions, the less information we can provide about the actual value of the product, and the more clients we will lose because they just move on before understanding what we offer. It may seem exaggerated, as our site is not text-heavy, but the reality is we only have few seconds and 10-15 words to get a visitor interested, or he/she is gone.

Another issue that we unfortunately have to keep in mind is “competition”. There is a number of unscrupulous Web sites and software vendors claiming to provide grammar checking software or services, while in reality either using their Web sites to collect and misappropriate documents of their users for use in “content farms” or selling software that does not really do anything of value (I am not naming these vendors, but you can easily identify them – look for “Terms of Use” saying that the site/software owns all documents submitted to it). We have to fight through this clutter and through the skepticism these vendors create around computer-based grammar help, and to do so, we have to be rather aggressive in our messaging and promises.

We also found that getting users to check something and letting them see that Grammarly actually finds grammatical issues is the best way to show that Grammarly is not a fake – software that does not really have advanced technology behind it cannot replicate this approach. But there is a limit to how much information we can provide in such free reports without devaluing the premium level of the product. In fact, the little that we have now is enough for majority of our users. They keep coming back and checking documents, but never buy anything. We are fine with that, as long as some percentage do upgrade. We experimented with time-limited free trials, and ended up with people opening one trial account after another to no end (most do not even realize it is piracy). We will keep looking, and may come back to the time-limited free trial model, but will have to ask users for a credit card number of a phone number just to make sure they do not abuse the service by opening dozens of free accounts.

So, to sum it up, we strive to be transparent and upfront, and will do what we can to be better at this task, but to continue its existence our product and messaging has to fit a certain mold, dictated by Web culture, market, competition, and user behavior and preferences.

Thank you for your feedback.

Max
And my reply:
From: Street-Smart Language Learning
To: Max Lytvyn
Subject: Re: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 1, 2010 3:05:20 PM JST

Hi Max,

Thanks again for another long response.

Before I get into what I am suggesting, let me quickly run through what I am not suggesting. I am certainly not saying that you should do anything to ruin the website as a commercial enterprise; clearly that would benefit no one at all. Nor am I saying that you should remove the free component; the fact that you have a number of users making use of that service and that they often enough become paying customers certainly shows that it has value, both as a free service on its own and as a marketing tool. Nor am I saying that you should only advertise what's covered in the free portion on the homepage; it's very understandable that visitors to your site need to quickly "get it" before they wander off to some other part of the net.

What I am saying is that you need to draw a clear line between the free service and the payment process. It is not made clear that the only thing you get as part of the free services is a report, as opposed to the actual errors on which the report is based. It is also not clear that "signing up" means you've entered the payment process and that you've left the "no registration required" part of the services. What irked me most about the process was that Grammarly took my email before I realized that I was in the payment process. It was this that led me to mistake Grammarly for one of the unscrupulous websites that you describe below.

Let me suggest two simple changes that I feel would resolve the issues that led to my complaint. First, I would suggest changing "Sign up now" at the top of the report to "Subscribe now". In the context of a website, "signing up" sounds like it is free, while "subscribing" is definitely paid. That would clearly mark the line between where the free services end and steps to becoming a paid user begin.

Second, on the "Create your Grammarly account" and "Enter your billing information" pages, I would suggest adding one of those progress bars that are very common on websites as you're going through the payment process. If the progress bar simply showed that "1. Create your account" was followed by "2. Enter your billing information" (perhaps before "3. Make your writing error-free" or the like), that would make it very clear that the page on which you're entering your email is the start of the payment process.

While I would also love to have it made clear earlier that the only thing you're getting for free is a report, had the above two suggestions been implemented before I visited your site, I would not have written that post. And I don't think either of those suggestions would break the mold dictated by web culture, the market, competition, and user behavior and preferences.

I also fully encourage you to do everything you can to better set the expectation upfront that some of the product functionality requires signing up and paying. I note that on the homepage there's no mention of free, pay, subscribe, etc. While I actually did assume from the outset that your service wasn't completely free, the Twitter search link in my previous email provides you with an example of one person who did think it was completely free. I would say that a few very simple wording changes would resolve this, without needing to dilute the message about the product that you need to convey in the short time you have with most visitors.

Thanks again for the detailed response.

Vincent
After writing that, I came across a Grammarly ad on another website that led me to write an additional short follow-up email:
From: Street-Smart Language Learning
To: Max Lytvyn
Subject: Re: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 2, 2010 11:07:57 AM JST

Hi Max,

While on another language-learning website, I came across this:


I think the combination of "free" + "now" in respect of "correcting writing mistakes" in this ad will lead people to think that you can get corrections immediately for free, rather than just a report.

Vincent
Shortly after I originally put up this post, Max let me know that they are working on some changes:
From: Max Lytvyn
To: Street-Smart Language Learning
Date:         May 5, 2010 9:39:40 AM JST
Subject: RE: Your blog post about Grammarly.com

Hi Vincent,

Thank you for detailed suggestions. It is so nice of you to be actually willing to help instead of just arguing your point at any cost (something that happens too often in the blogging world). Your suggestions sound very reasonable, and I will make sure most of them will be implemented or equally effective measures will take place. The changes involve redesigning some graphical and HTML elements, and will need to be vetted by a number of people, so it will take some time, but the process already started. The same applies to the ads you mentioned. The text of textual ads was already changed, and we are working with a studio to design new banners.

I will keep you updated on the progress, if you’d like.

Thanks
Max
And here's my last quick reply to him:
From: Street-Smart Language Learning
To: Max Lytvyn
Subject: Re: Your blog post about Grammarly.com
Date: May 5, 2010 1:35:12 PM JST

Hi Max,

It's really my pleasure to try to be of assistance. If I complain about a product, and the people behind that product engage me as Grammarly has done, I'll always be happy to do offer my suggestions as to what can be improved, for whatever they're worth. Indeed, more so than any suggestions that I can come up with, I think Grammarly quickly acting to remedy issues like the one I raised is what really deserves commending here.

I see from the comments that your team already found my follow-up post covering our correspondence up to this point. I will update that post with these emails shortly.

And I would very much like to be kept updated on the progress. Once the changes have been made, I will of course follow up on my blog.

Regards,

Vincent
And that's where things stand; Grammarly is working on some changes, and I'll get back to you once those are up.

Update: Grammarly made changes that largely resolve these complaints. See here.

This post was updated on the same date it was posted to add the last two emails above; on May 12, 2010, to link to the post covering Grammarly's changes; and on May 22, 2010, to include links to all posts in this series on Grammarly.

24 comments:

  1. Their first letter reveals their attitude to be along the lines of "If it's not illegal, we have no problem doing it."

    Their other letters continue in that same vein, including some faulty logic. They basically said "If we were shysters, we wouldn't have loyal customers. And we do!" ... Heh. Right. Remember the saying "There's a sucker born every minute"? Yeah.

    Their ad clearly says 'free grammar checking' and at the same time advertises being able to correct your mistakes. They counter by saying that banks offer free checking as well as non-free checking that has more features.

    Here's the catch: The banks clearly advertise those accounts as being what they are. They don't advertise free checking and promise 10% interest right next to it, only to find out that the interest doesn't apply to free accounts. In fact, if they did, they've probably be sued for false advertising. (Whether that lawsuit would win might be a different story... But it could.)

    I don't mind paying for services that have value for me. However, I do mind paying people who think that tricks like this are acceptable.

    P.S. I also like how tell you that you found no value in their free service... And have absolutely no problem with that. That should be a huge red flag for them... They are saying "Our candy doesn't taste good." ... Why give it out if it's not going to attract people? It's not like you aren't their target demographic. You (and your readers) very much are.

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  2. I'm a bit surprised that the company put their name on the comment left on your last post. And asking "But how much further do we have to go if you are still unhappy after..." when you had not yet written your reaction to those things?

    Anyway ~ I think most everyone would read "grammar check" and believe they were going to get actual corrections for free. And like you, if I had seen the initial report followed by 'create an account', I would have been bummed that I had to give my email after all but would have still assumed I was going to see those corrections after signing up. Details about the paid services definitely need to come *before* they collect your email & other information or else it just feels underhanded.

    While I would personally find no benefit in the free grammar report, the plagiarism check would be useful in many situations, and I could see people returning to the site again & again to use that aspect of the free services. That could definitely skew the statistics, if there is no way to tell which part the return visitors were interested in.

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  3. Please try reading Vincent’s post again, as your comment shows poor comprehension or an intention to mislead readers.

    The loyal user base of the free Grammarly service was mentioned as an argument supporting the existence, value, and thus the moral right to promote this free service. Calling these loyal visitors "suckers" is not warranted - they all tried the free service and saw the paid component of Grammarly. They made informed decision that paid version is not worth their money but the free service has value to them. There is no way they can be under the impression that they are getting more than they are, especially after using the product repeatedly.

    Regarding not being worried about Vincent not being interested in our free service - we are worried, and just like any business, we want the entire world to want our products. But, just like any other business, we realize that we cannot be everything for everyone. This especially applies to the free service, which is intentionally limited in its functionality and attractiveness to give people a reason to upgrade.

    Also, before calling us shysters or tricksters, please consider this - even if some people get confused for a moment, what do they lose from it or what do we gain? It takes them few seconds to discover the cost of the premium product, and they have full information before they commit to anything. There is no trick - no one ends up with an unexpected bill or any other liability or commitment. The free component requires no commitment, and there is no way to buy the premium one without seeing the price and terms of subscription and explicitly agreeing to the terms! What is misleading here, it is your comment that creates the impression that Grammarly tricks people into thinking they get something for free and then sends them a bill – I am sure at least one person reading your comment will think so. But this is clearly not true.

    The only "trick" is that our visitors see the free part before they see the paid one. But this is an acceptable business practice - not only legally, but also morally and socially. It does do damage.

    Also, regarding the text on the banner – we already changed the wording to “English Grammar Checker” (it will take some time for changes to propagate). But we have not written the ad copy in the first place. The wording placing free and premium features in the same sentence was suggested by a major Internet advertising company, who just followed a classic advertising template (e.g., “Free eye exams – see clearly now”, “Free stock market advice – trade like a professional now”). But there is no conspiracy, and we gain nothing from people who click on these banners with incorrect expectations – they get fully informed before giving us anything, and we end up paying for the cost of the click, and for traffic and computing resources spend on serving these visitors, so it is in our best interest to make sure they are in fact true potential buyers.

    Finally, yes, we will make changes based on Vincent’s insightful recommendations. But let’s consider for a moment what net effect these changes will have. Will users that need our free service stop using it? No – it is not the goal of the changes. Will users that need our paid product stop buying it? No – they know exactly what they are paying for before they buy, so these changes are irrelevant to them. The only thing that is going to change is that users who do not need any of our products will realize it faster and will spend few seconds less time on our Web site. How “huge” is our fault if this is the remedy? Yes, a clearer messaging will save some of our visitors some time, but we would have done much more of this “evil” if we wrote a wordier description of the product. Yes, Vincent had valid suggestions and pointed out a good area for improvement, and we are already taking actions, but please do not blow this out of proportion.

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  4. The previous comment was related to William's post.

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  5. The free service really doesn't appear to be useful (in my opinion at least), and yet it is popular. I can't reconcile those two things in my head.

    Anyway, I was wondering about one of the testimonials at the site. Megan, a technology blogger from Canada, was very impressed by Grammarly. As she's a tech blogger, I imagine she must have written a blog entry about Grammarly. Bloggers are always looking for things to write about after all. There's no URL unfortunately. It would be interesting to read her blog.

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  6. @dangph: I think their free service is much less useful to a language learner, who won't be able to efficiently revise his or her own mistakes, than it is to a native speaker, who probably can take care of many of his or her own mistakes once they've been flagged. A native speaker could put his document in there, see the error stats, revise, and then put it in there again, and then repeat the whole process as many times as necessary. By doing this repeatedly, you could gradually improve your document. That would be free but much less efficient than seeing the specific errors (and could also be part of the reason why their free service is getting decent use). Knowing is, after all, half the battle, and Grammarly's free service certainly lets you know that there's something wrong, even if it doesn't let you know what is wrong.

    I suspect that this is blog of the tech blogger Megan from Canada mentioned in Grammarly's testimonials, but she doesn't seem to have blogged about Grammarly at all.

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  7. "fill free to publish this message"?
    Maybe Max should pony up for the premium service...

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  8. @Tony: Haha, nice catch. Given their product, I'll bet Grammarly checks and double checks everything that goes out the door. But I suppose you can't win 'em all...

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  9. Interesting issue. I am doing some preliminary research on freelance writing on the web, and came across a reference to Grammarly as a tool for content analysis. Went to the website and had the same experience as you (although I did't follow up to such an admirable extent).

    As the company's respondent noted, it is a fairly common type of advert - promising something for nothing as a lead-in for paid services. The respondent says he finds no harm in it, but I would disagree. I would think it would mostly backfire ON THE ADVERTISER.

    Personally, when I get sucked in by this kind of borderline deception, I tend to develop an attitude, and no matter how valuable the resource may be (and this is questionable, because why would they have to stoop to this type of advert otherwise?), I will not fork over any cash. Why would I pay a trickster? He'll just trick me again.

    This reaction probably accounts for a lot the one-time hits on the Grammarly website. It certainly accounts for mine. If you consider that all those hits are potential customers actively seeking the resource the company is marketing (like me), then the "harm" the company is doing is to themselves...they're turning off potential customers by their shady marketing techniques.

    Classmates.com engages in a similar deception. They solicit your information for a 'free account', presenting themselves as a website where you can connect with old schoolmates. Not until they have obtained your contact data do they inform you that to get information BACK from them, you have to pay. Their free service consists of sending you emails that inform you "someone" wants to contact you. But you can't find out who it is until you fork over the dough.

    No harm done? Maybe not, but you're not getting my $$$!!

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  10. @Aunty Borg: I can't stand Classmates.com, and Grammarly's similarities to that when I first visited the site were one of the things that led me to get so annoyed.

    That said, Grammarly has already made some changes that largely resolved the complaints for me, but the fact that your comment comes after those changes has been made tells me that perhaps they still have some work to do, as I'm sure they don't want to be another Classmates.com.

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  11. OK, Vincent, bottom line; let's cut through all of this crap. Is it a good service? Does it give you what you need after you pay for the service? Yes, it is misleading, I thought I would see what was wrong and didn't. I just got the report like you said. They also say use it free for 7 days. Well, if I can use it free for 7 days, why do you need my credit card? I don't have a problem paying if it gives you the end results. Can someone please let me know before I spend money that I don't have on crap. ML in Louisiana

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  12. The crap, so to speak, has already been cut through. See my review of Grammarly here, and be sure to check out the comments as well.

    The seven-day free trial is something I haven't checked out yet, but they mentioned that before. They said they wanted a credit card to prevent people from using free accounts without end.

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  13. Thank you for your post. That is what I wanted to know. I could not get to that point on my original search. Sorry, crap was my frustration of wanting to know if it was worth it or not. What I did was put my credit card information in and it showed me all of the errors. I corrected what I felt needed to be corrected. I had 80 going into the check and came out with 95. I did change a good bit of what was recommended and was excited to see there is software out there that can help me. After checking my paper, I went in and told it to cancel my subscription, which it did. It appears I still have the 7 free days to use. Overall, I was happy with what I got. I'd rather not pay the high price if I can find free software online that will do the same or better. I'm going to check out the site you recommended. What I don't like about grammarly, is that you have to buy a subscription instead of a one time software fee.

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  14. Glad I could be of help, and thank you for your comments on the 7-day free trial!

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  15. I want to cancel my subscription. But I waited quite long. I have to pay , Can you help me delete my account as soon as possible or IMMEDIATELY !!!

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  16. You are an educational service company and it pains me to see you indulge in swindling your customers. I for one opted for the 1-month only option. 1 - M O N T H. That was till I realized that you have a fine print in the reams of terms that you mail that says despite me signing up for a 1-month price, I had to unsubscribe, else you would keep billing ? Why call it a 1-month plan then ? It would be better for Grammarly to line up the streets like beggars if making money anywhich way is their motto.

    I'm disappointed and sad to see how far people, even in educational services will go to make a fast buck. I can understand you steep charge if you deem your product is that good(which I beg to differ on). But swindling ? Shame on you !

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  17. Hello streetsmartlanguagelearning team,
    I am trying to contact the grammarly billing department with a billing concern. I searched your correspondence with grammarly.com trying to find their email address.
    The problem I have with grammarly.com is no one responds to the phones and messages that I have made, therefore I would appreciate Max or Greg's email addresses. Thank for your help.

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  18. whitesmoke has a version for A ONE TIME FEE of 79.95, that offers more than Grammarly (20 dollars a month) after much searching I found it,...

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  19. Very good Vincent. I had the same feeling as you had about grammarly site. Thanks for the detailed follow-up .

    JPrabhakar

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  20. The problem with grammarly is a) privacy confidentiality of checked text ensuring that nothing is stored  b) no one responds to  phones and messages 

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  21. can you lend me your account?

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  22. I'm a neurotic review seeker these days.Before I purchase anyting online,check,check,check! This one was both insightful and entertaning!

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  23. Stay away from grammerly!!!! Crappy customer service crooks who do not return my emails, calls after receiving my money. Don't worry I am contacting my bank, BBB, and my attorney general..They are currently being reported for fraud!

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