This guest post is by Ray Maker of DCRainmaker.com.
Product review posts are in many ways the core of what blogging is about—the ability for all of us regular folks to express an opinion about a product, be it good or bad. Every day, tens of thousands of product reviews are written on blogs across the world, and often, on just one product alone, hundreds of new opinion/review posts are written each week.
The goal of most folks when they write a review post is to share their opinion with the world about the product. But how do you differentiate writing a review post that only sees a handful of eyeballs, from ones that see thousands of readers every day—and in some cases ranks even higher than the manufacturer’s own product page?
Know the product like nobody else
The single biggest difference between writing a product review that’s just so-so, and writing one that kicks butt is demonstrating an in-depth knowledge of the product. A product review that is written by someone who understands the product inside-out will organically attract more attention than one written by someone who’s just stumbling around.
If you understand the product inside and out, show off that knowledge. If you don’t, then learn it quick! When people search the Internet for a review of a specific product, they’re looking for detail and coverage of the product. What they aren’t looking for is a short blurb with a few “Four out of Five Stars!” icons tossed in. If they were looking for that, they’d just check the ratings on their favorite online retailer’s site instead.
No, when they look for a product review, they’re looking for unbiased feedback from knowledgeable experts in that field. The most popular product review sites for any niche are written by folks that understand the product and every little detail about it. While short “I just opened up the box”-type reviews have their place, one has to realistically understand that place won’t be at the top of search engine results.
Speak from the perspective of someone new to the product…
If you review products often, you can easily get into the rut of thinking “my readers already know what I’m talking about.” And while this may actually be true, you have to step back and look at what your end-state target audience is.
In many cases, it’s not only your regular readers, but also everyday people searching the wild blue yonder trying to find information about that specific product. And in many cases, they know nothing about that product or its genre. If I were to go out and buy a new camcorder today, I’d likely be starting from scratch to find out what’s a normal feature, and what’s a totally cool unique feature.
In thinking about it from that angle, you should always introduce functionality within a product as if the person never knew it existed. The benefit to doing this is that you not only explain that piece of functionality, but also teach your reader something new. This is critical. Users who find blogs educational will almost always stay around for more. If they don’t learn anything new, they’ll simply wander elsewhere and not come back.
…And from the perspective of a longtime user
In addition to approaching a product from the newbies’ standpoint, it’s also important to delve into subjects that long-time users of the product or product series will find useful or educational. You can do this in a number of ways, but I find the easiest way is to simply talk about the evolution of a given feature from product to product. By doing so you illustrate not only your understanding of the product, but also your understanding of past products within the same line/genre/niche.
Longtime users often come to product reviews looking for a fix for “their issue.” This is generally an issue that’s caused them deep annoyance for a period of time. It tends to be the one and only thing they’re hoping to hear has been fixed or solved. By covering these key desires of previous generations of products or competitor products, you’re no longer just another reviewer, but someone who truly understands the product they’re reviewing.
In short: know the product pains, and address them.
Don’t use PR marketing material
There is no quicker way to turn off readers than regurgitating canned PR pieces from a manufacturer. Not only can the average human detect it, but search engines do as well. People immediately gloss over anything that looks like either PR text, or PR images. I always shoot all of my own images. While my photographic skill varies between barely functional and decent, readers know they’re real images that show off how the product works in the real world—not carefully crafted pictures photo-shopped in the best light.
Speaking of PR, be careful with what you keep of products. In my case, I have a pretty clear policy that anything I test goes back to the company. I generally poke at it for about 30-45 days, and then once I publish my review, I send it back. Often I’ll end up purchasing another copy of the product to be able to answer questions about it over the long-term. Just remember, most readers can quickly see whether or not you’re praising a product simply because you got it for free. Using those PR snippets never helps that case, either.
Research the living daylights out of it, and don’t make mistakes
If there’s one thing that folks know about my reviews, it’s that they’re both complete and accurate.
I spend inordinate amounts of time ensuring that every detail is correct. When I proof my reviews, I often sit back and read them from the perspective of a nit-picker. As such, I ponder every little detail. Is that 100% accurate? Should there be a caveat noted? Are there fringe cases where someone might disagree? If so, address those issues. By addressing edge cases and tiny details up front, you address concern within the reader’s mind about review accuracy. It also helps to drive the key tenant of product reviews that I touched on earlier: showing in-depth knowledge of the product.
And while I try to avoid making mistakes, it’s certainly possible that in my 60-80 page reviews, they occur. I always include a little snippet that simply says “If I’ve written something that doesn’t quite jive, just let me know and I’ll research it and get it fixed”. We’re all human, and reminding readers of that puts everyone at ease.
Show off what the product can do with examples from your other posts
I’m told one of the biggest draws of my blog is that when folks find a given product review, they’re given information not only about that product, but about how to use that product to its fullest potential. I do this of course within the product review itself, but also by providing comprehensive links to relevant content throughout my site.
I have numerous other articles and posts that explain what a given feature does, even if it’s not product specific. If I’m talking about how to use that feature, I’ll give a brief introduction within the review, but then I’ll direct folks to another post for an equally in-depth post on that specific feature. This has the added benefit of increasing page views and reducing bounce rates. And remember one of the other key pillars of a good review—educating? Well, by introduce readers to other educational content, and they’ll find your blog even more beneficial.
Do communicate with the company
This is one step many folks overlook, which is puzzling to me. I usually make a point of circling back to the company that made the product, and having a brief conference call or email exchange to discuss both the pros and cons that I found while reviewing the product. Why would I do this? A whole bunch of reasons!
First, doing this creates a bridge between my readers and the company—a great way to funnel future feedback to them … or from them.
Second, in some cases issues I found aren’t really issues, but things that can be solved a different way. This is information I can then pass onto readers, helping them out should they encounter the same problem, and increasing your value as an educator.
Third, people just want answers. While complaining and making a racket about a problem is fun for a while, it’s not what makes for a good long-term readership draw to your site. By talking to the company you can often understand the “Why” of an issue, and get realistic answers on how that decision was made. Even if the issue can’t be fixed, at least folks can understand the reasoning—and then independently decide for themselves the validity of it.
Reply to post comments with answers
I spend a fair bit of time not only immediately after I post an in-depth product review—but also for months and years—answering peoples questions about the product. This shows that I’m still involved with the post and niche, and that I care about helping them out.
Do this, and readers are far more likely stick around with you and see what else you have to say. In addition, this back-and-forth discussion tends to answer questions that others are searching for, once again helping to drive up PageRank on your product review posts.
Search out forums with questions
As you’ve read countless times on ProBlogger, the easiest way to build support for your blog is to invest in your niche’s community. But “investing” doesn’t mean that you partake in seagull-style forum link dropping. It means that you look for questions on forums that you spend time in and answer the question there. Once you’ve fully answered the question there, then include a link to relevant off-site content if and only if it’s relevant.
Folks can easily see through link-dropping, but by answering the question fully and then mentioning that additional reading is just a click away, you truly contribute to the community, instead of just bettering your own blog.
Communicate to relevant media outlets
Last but not least, if you’re reviewing a product that’s new on the scene, sending a quick note to relevant media outlets and popular sources of information in that niche can be a great way to spread the word. I generally send a quick note letting them know I’ve published something new and that it may be of use to their readers. And then I leave it at that.
In the same way that you on your own blog have a vision for what would be published, they do as well. So respect the fact that every review you post may not be exactly what they’re looking for, and don’t pester them continually—that’s not good for you long term.
Last but not least, with any product review it’s important to write a summary or wrap-up. That’s what readers skim for. While I write 60-80 pages of stuff on most of my in-depth reviews, I understand that at the end of the day people skim to the end of the post. Be sure to outline the pro’s and con’s there. Summaries also help to gel together longer reviews into concise opinions—after all, that’s why the reader came to your site in the first place.
Do you write product reviews on your blog? What tips can you add to this list?
Ray Maker is the author of DCRainmaker.com—a blog dedicated to extremely in depth product reviews of sports technology products (have you ever seen a 61-page product review?). In addition, he writes about his running/triathlon training as well any other interesting things that float his way. You can also follow him on Twitter at @dcrainmakerblog.
“Product review posts are in many ways the core of what blogging is about.”
Not sure I agree with this. But never mind.
This article came at the right time. I’ve been thinking about to starting to writing reviews on photography products. Thanks Ray!
well i consider reviewing a NEW product by comparing it with other already known/popular products helps a lot to visualize it.
i have searched the internet many a times looking for reviews which had comparisons with other popular products, it helps me in deciding whether to go on with the purchase or not..
Well Soubhik this holds true only in cases where their is an existing competitor for that particular product. But what is there is no competition at all.
Ray thanks for the informative and engaging article. I have always struggled while writing product reviews. One tends to be biased sometimes while doing product reviews.
I never use the swipe files or other content generated by the product’s creator in reviews I write. Instead, I purchase the product (unless I’m lucky enough to get a free review copy), use it myself, then write a review based on how I see that product will benefit my audience. It’s really the only way to write a successful review.
The other thing that can come in really handy is if you can get the product’s creators to come in and supplement your comment replies. That shows that the owners of the products support your review as well.
The biggest thing when reviewing anything is to look at the product with an unbiased view. If the product sucks, say so. If it is amazing, say that. If the product is inbetween tell your readers (and the company producing the product) how to make it better.
@Ray: Thanks for writing such awesome article, very informative. & @Darren: Thank for sharing this mann..You Rock! God Bless..
These are all great points and I have to say that I think the first point is the most important. If you don’t know the product then there is no way that you can write a good product review. For a review you need to write useful information for people to share it and recommend your review to their networks.
One thing I’d recommend is to come up with a negative, even if it’s only one. Next, write about how the product has that one thing wrong with it but you still recommend it because it makes up for that negative aspect with a hundred positive ones.
This tactic works because people view it as a comprehensive and fair review.
Definitely fixed up some errors I’ve made in the past. Funny how your old mistakes look silly in the face of new evidence. Thanks for the post!
This is a really good guide for writing reviews. I feel exactly the same that you should never review something you haven’t actually messed with for at least some amount of time.
Very useful article for me, as my blog is about reviews.
I agree blog is good way for business development.I am a jewelry manufacture and also soucing agent in Yiwu,China.I open blog to tell people my business.And I also get some business from blog.It is also a way to introduce ourself.
If you want purchase from yiwu,or other city in China,I can be your helper here.My mail:[email protected]
fashion jewelry,promotional gifts,stationary and etc.
I just wish some of the many “make money online” blogs would read this.
Many of the product reviews I see going round are astonishingly poor! The same people who bang on about “adding value” and “being trusted by reader” churn out reviews that seem to have taken 5 mins to cobble together. It’s almost like they are just trying to cash in on the affiliate scheme. Surely not!
Product reviews are great and invaluable to potential buyers but it is so obvious when bloggers are blagging it and don’t quite know what they are talking about!
This is what I struggle with the most. I have a really hard time writing a review about a product I don’t know. And lets face it, with a slew of affiliate sites, it’s nearly impossible for me purchase every single product – so I am often reading reviews and specs, and trying to come up with my own unique version of it.
Great post – this really is a comprehensive guide to reviewing products. I’ll definitely be referring to this when I post my reviews. I’m amazed at how in-depth your reviews go – I just visited your blog and already benefited from your latest Garmin review =)
Great article! I shall print this out and read before I do any product review. :)
I think the goal of most folks who write reviews is to earn some extra bucks.
This can also be achieved if you review a not-so-good product and don’t recommend buying it. For those who want to buy the product anyway you still can put your affiliate into the review. As you can be affiliated with every product out there, there is no reason not to be honest about it. This is the cool thing that is misunderstood by many.
From my own experience I can say that making tutorials (be it written or with video) how to use a certain product is much more effective than a mere review. In my case it has certain advantages: the vendor noticed me and I don’t have to pay for the product and we can work together closely. They even listen to my suggestions for updates etc.
I’ve read so many product reviews that were mediocre. Clearly, the author had no personal experience with the product but instead were attempting to drive traffic to their website.
The quality of your posts and reviews will reflect in the quality of your blog and online business. If you’re going to write a product review, it’s a good idea to buy the product so that you can give your readers an honest and extensive review of it.
One of my most popular blog posts was about a product review that I had done for the Power Balance Bracelet. People want to know whether or not a product is worth purchasing.
Good post.Thanks for sharing reviewing techniques with us
Excellent roundup of the important points on writing a product review. There are far too many reviews about that are simply a rehash of the manufacturers. Now, I’ve never seen a 60-80 word review so off to take a look at your examples. Thank you.
I have done few product review in the past but this article change the wavelength of my thinking , Thanks.
Great tips, I would also add that if you keep on saying how everything is perfect, it might look suspicious. If there’s a bad thing, tell it, if there ain’t, then say there isn’t anything bad that you have noticed.
Thanks so much again for a great article and tips, I had been writing reviews on my blog for a while and this has helped me make them even better! Thanks. Ann
Mine is a personal blog, so I make a personal connection to any review. When I reviewed FiberChoice fiber products, I had a chance to tease my husband for his refusal to take any fiber. He claims it will make him drive like an old person – in his words, “Drive a Buick.” When I was contacted to write an informational post on concussions, I referred to my favorite quarterback, Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers, and his concussions during the past season. My readers read for the personal sense, so any reviews must have a personal connection.
I tried to write few amazon product reviews such as, film or book but got no success or made any sale. I think what I missed in my previous reviews was “it is too short!”.
This post has confirmed me that I need to write more details on each product I want to promote.
Your posts have tought me so much so far! This is another great one. I also try to be as minutious with my blog posts as possible. I do make-up reviews quite randomly commenting. But now you have really given me good advice and I will be doing my reviews more thoroughly and thoughtfully.
This is amazing advice…I get tired just thinking about all of the research that has to go into an extraordinary product review but it is obviously well-worth it!
I write book and comic reviews. I’ve been racking my brain on ways to make them better, so this was perfect timing! After reading this, I think the best way to write a review would be to ask yourself, “What would I want out of this product?” and then answer your own questions.
The books I review are read purely for pleasure, so it’s a little tough sometimes to tackle it from a technical point of view. Does anyone have any tips for writing book reviews?
As a new review blogger myself, Ray’s article has given me new things to think about. It is most important to try and think about things from the other persons point of view when reviewing a product. Sometimes thats hard, but with practice it should get easier. Thanks Ray..
WOW Ray! I just had a look at some of your review posts. You’ve certainly inspired me to up my game. Thanks for showing us ‘how it’s done’. I was about to dive into writing some reviews and now I think I’m going to tackle them with a lot more depth.
On a personal note I’ve now added your blog feed into my Google Reader.
Spot on. I received great feedback because I talk in details about the product like nobody else. Sadly, many reviewers simply copy paste a product’s features from its official product page and treat it as a review.
and like you, I take my own product photos. Consumers want to see the products from different angles and not pure photo editing from the official vendor
Thanks for the heads-up with the traffic. Our reviews our good (I believe) but not our traffic.
I have just started writing reviews, and I’ve been looking for ways to drive traffic. I haven’t exactly done very well on the traffic portion of my business, so I am definitely thankful for articles such as these. Thanks! :)
This is something that I can do because I like shopping on/off line for products. After reading this post I’ll probably start a product review blog.
Thank you for the fantastic post!
I actually just started a blog which focuses on reviewing affordable grocery and household items found at Target stores – it can be hard to tell when it’s “safe” to buy the generic version of a product, so I thought it might be helpful to try to sort out the lemons for people.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but shouldn’t the type of product being reviewed have a strong influence on your approach as well? Some things are just more subjective than others – for example, an electronic device can’t really be reviewed in the same way that a frozen pizza would be.
Great article and a popular topic for bloggers! I sometimes combine my own photos with ones provided by the company in the review. I don’t review anything I do not already own or have purchased or have been given to review. I just attended the Harry Potter exhibit in NYC as press for the blog and no photos were allowed so I had to use the stock photos they sent me. My blog is not mainly for reviews but I like to share new products/companies I may come across with my readers. A good review takes time, research to make it good but it is worth it in the end!
Just did a post on this actually. The worst thing is the unbox review that is presented as an indepth, functionality review. I wish people reviewed products after having the chance to actually put them through their paces.
thanks for the great write ! Amazon definitely has so many products to sell. It is literally endless ! Your ideas about how to write articles pertaining to this is excellent!
Thanks for the post! I am working on Amazon product based review sites. This post is very helpful for a newbie like me to kick off with my own review.
Very useful post. I will send it to my writer :)
Thanks, your new regular reader :p
Great post, and not just the article but all the comments have been very helpful. I am creating my own review sites and agree with most of what has been said here. But keep in mind, there are different types of review sites out there, some want to keep a totally independent position and not endorse or be affiliated with review products, where as some the whole point is to provide information on products they like and want to steer traffic for affiliate commissions – in which case I’m probably not going to review a product unless I believe in it. As long as the appropriate disclosures on are the website, there is no right or wrong approach.
What are your thoughts about reviewing products you use in your job? Say for instance you work in IT and you want to review a product you chose and use in your day to day job?
I think it depends. If the product is applicable to your blog – than certainly, it makes sense. Especially given it would appeal to the audience of your blog knowing that you use it ‘for real’ versus just using it in a generic testing sense. Given your blog is about Mac Admins, then I think pretty much anything you use in a day to day setting would absolutely make sense. Enjoy!
What a refreshing and useful article on how to write product reviews. Thank you! I guess the thing that is missing from this is how this is commercial? If I am going to spend my time writing a well researched, balanced review, then the least I expect in return is to retain the article I am reviewing! I wouldn’t pay money to send the item back, then I would be out of pocket.I don’t get paid to write the articles – maybe that is the difference?
A non-expert can write an excellent review so I disagree you need to know the product “inside and out”. For example if a publisher sends me a book to review, I don’t need to do a PhD thesis on the text before reviewing it on my blog. I just need to tell people what the book can do for them, what information it contains and what information it doesn’t.
Same thing when they send me on a cruise. My readers don’t need a cruise expert (whatever that is) – they want to hear if the food was good and what there is to do at the ports-of-call.