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Rock Hard Thighs and Cold Hard Cash: Robb Sutton Spills His Tawdry Review Site Secrets

Posted By kellydiels 26th of February 2010 General, Pro Blogger Interviews 0 Comments

guest post by Kelly Diels

When I was wondering how to create an effective, money-making review site, I thought of Robb Sutton.

Robb Sutton’s review site, Mountain Biking by 198 “pulls in thousands in review product every month” and in the last 15 months has received over $100,000 dollars worth of review product. He’s also got several other sites, including a coffee review blog, and oh yes, makes a pretty decent living as a ProBlogger.

That is, when he’s not hanging out with the likes of me and telling me all his secrets.

Kelly Diels: Robb, tell me all the dirty details about review sites.

[looooooooooooong pause. Isn’t it a little early in the conversation to have offended him?]

Kelly Diels: Robb?

Robb Sutton: I’m here. Sorry…was just closing up a few things. Now you have my 100% attention.

Kelly Diels: You know a girl likes that.

Robb Sutton: Yes, they do!

Kelly Diels: I mean, so I’ve heard. Tell me, dahlink, how you got started with review sites.

Robb Sutton: Well, it all started with an idea that had nothing to do with reviewing product, ironically.

Kelly Diels: Go on…

Robb Sutton: I had this idea that I was going to have a trail review site for mountain biking that was all user submitted content. About 5 minutes into the process, I realized that you can’t have user submitted content without traffic. So I started a blog where I reviewed parts, bikes and other related products and that took over what was the user submitted part. Basically, I used it as a traffic generator that became the model for Bike198.com.

Kelly Diels: So you’re inadvertently brilliant?

Robb Sutton: I fell into it…I like to think of it as a progression. I had some experience being on the other side of the fence in the corporate world, so I knew how to quickly adapt that to blogs.

Kelly Diels: How did you get your pretty mitts on things to review?

Robb Sutton: Well, back when the industry had no clue who I was, I relied on current contacts and cold contacting through emails and phone calls. Now it is a combination of them finding me and me finding them.

Kelly Diels: Do you work with PR companies, or companies directly?

Robb Sutton: I work with PR companies, directly with manufacturers, distributers and some retailers.

Kelly Diels: And for those of us who just got really scared, what does that process look like?

Robb Sutton: Typically, I send out an email explaining who the site is, what we do and what the process is. I then include examples with some simple search engine and site stats. If it is a smaller company, you pretty much get to the right person right away. A lot of times through that email and you are off and rolling. For larger companies and some smaller ones, a follow up call is required to get in touch with the right person. Phone calls always convert better than emails, but I always start with emails so they know who you are when they pick up the phone.

Kelly Diels: Gawd, it is almost like online dating.

Robb Sutton: Yeah, a little bit!

Kelly Diels: What sorts of strings get attached to the product and reviews?

Robb Sutton: No strings really. Sometimes you have to return the product if it is super expensive. But sometimes you don’t even have to do that. Most companies know what blogging and review blogging entails these days.

Kelly Diels: Which brings us to Disclosure, baby. Tell me how you handle Big Brother, the FTC.

Robb Sutton: I have a blanket disclosure on all of my sites that is linked up in the footer that explains links, products, etc. I am very up front with my readers on the process so there is nothing that is hidden that could be considered bad by the public or FTC. Everything is up front and honest.

Kelly Diels: And if you’re just not into her the product? What do you do?

Robb Sutton: I write the truth! Bottom line is that you are writing for your readers and not the companies. If you are just going to write glorified advertisements then no one is going to take you seriously. Back everything up with facts and everything turns out ok.

Kelly Diels: Sing it, sister.

Robb Sutton: Even companies I have given poor reviews to in the past still send me stuff. They want to reach the audience and you want to deliver the goods. Its a win/win.

Kelly Diels: All press is good press…

Robb Sutton: Actually…that is very true.

Kelly Diels: Seriously. The first time someone trashed me online (Allyn Hane, lover, I’m a-talking to you) I was delighted. But I digress. What kind of traffic are companies and agencies looking for?

Robb Sutton: They are looking for targeted traffic.

Kelly Diels: What does targeted traffic mean?

Robb Sutton: The specific number isn’t really important. 100 targeted eyes are better than 10,000 that aren’t targeted.

Kelly Diels: How do you demonstrate “targeted eyes”? I feel like we just took a sharp right turn into a gun range.

Robb Sutton: Targeted traffic is basically qualified leads. When someone subscribes to your blog, they are targeted because they want to digest that subject matter. And don’t shoot!

Kelly Diels: I can’t. I don’t even know the process for getting a gun permit in Canada but I know it takes forever. Also I’m a lover, not a shooter…Tell me about a review or a product that got you all hot ‘n bothered.

Robb Sutton: Hmmm…

Kelly Diels: I went to a sex toy party on Friday night and, given the subject of my blog, I’m pretty sure that I can review those products and claim them as a tax deduction. But again, I digress.

Robb Sutton: [laughs, possibly uncomfortably] Yes, you probably could…An example of an interesting product/review was when I got in a fork from a manufacturer because of comments I made about how I didn’t like the direction they were heading.

Kelly Diels: Umm… “got in a fork”? Dude. translation, please. I mean, it sounds naughty but even I’m drawing a blank.

Robb Sutton: Suspension fork. It is the thing on the front of the bike that is the suspension.

Kelly Diels: Oh it is a thing. Not a position. That clears everything up. So why was this fork so fabulous?

Robb Sutton: Because it was sent to me after I made the comments. I backed everything up with facts on why I didn’t agree. And they said…ok…try it out for yourself. I thought that was pretty cool.

Kelly Diels: That’s pretty smart marketing, actually. And..? How was the fork?

Robb Sutton: Great product. Still don’t agree with that one aspect.

Kelly Diels: I had no idea forks were so controversial.

Robb Sutton: They are a reputable company that produces a great product but I just didn’t agree with the “new standard” they were introducing.

Kelly Diels: Ok, Mr. Fancy Britches. I get it. YOU HAVE OPINIONS – which, I’m thinking, is probably why your review site works.

Robb Sutton: Doesn’t everyone?!

Kelly Diels: Yes, darling. That was a compliment in disguise. I think that is what reviews are about – good, solid, well-reasoned opinions…So. You get loads of free products, but how do you make money? You can’t eat forks.

Robb Sutton: Affiliate revenue, direct advertising, e-book sales like my Ramped Reviews (aff), pay-per-click…I like to diversify.

Kelly Diels: And what about all the companies kissing your…site? Do they ever buy advertising?

Robb Sutton: They do, and it is a lot easier to sell advertising space to people you already have a working relationship with.

Kelly Diels: And what does that do to the separation of church and state, editorial vs revenue? Do you feel awkward about reviewing your clients?

Robb Sutton: Not at all. Everything is explained up front. No surprises. Keep in mind that nothing is written that is pure emotion or inflammatory. It is all fact-based opinion.

Kelly Diels: That’s right. We all have niches. MINE is pure emotion and inflammatory prose. So stay outta that one, my love…Ok. Going general: do you think review sites of higher ticket items – like bikes, cameras etc – work better than other kinds of review sites, like say restaurants or experiences?

Robb Sutton: I think it is about equal. I also run a coffee review site (coffeeobsessed.net) that does really well and it is very young. I think the possibilities are wide open.

Kelly Diels: Now you’re speaking my language. The language of love/caffeine.

Robb Sutton: Yeah, I’ll leave that one to you! I’m obsessed…I’ll admit it.

Kelly Diels: With coffee? Or mountain bikes?

Robb Sutton: Nothing better than a great cup of coffee, but both. And blogging, of course.

KellyDiels: I ask because I like coffee and mountain bikers. I may have mentioned this before: THIGHS OF GRANITE.

Robb Sutton: Very true! And a strong grip.

Kelly Diels: If you do say so yourself. With whom can I verify this? I have to fact-check, you know.

Robb Sutton: Any cyclist…but especially mountain bikers because we have to ride technical terrain.

Kelly Diels: Well, there you have it. The secrets of review sites, hot coffee, and rock hard…thighs.

Kelly Diels writes for ProBlogger every week. She’s also a wildly hireable freelance writer and the creator of Cleavage, a blog about three things we all want more of: sex, money and meaning.

  1. Slick and rocking, Kelly! Your writing is awesome. I had secretly been wondering about a few of these questions but never got around to asking, so thanks for clearing up the confusing parts!

  2. Great interview! I am glad that Robb promotes honest reviewing. Even though you are getting your products from the manufacturers, your main responsibility is too your readers. And honesty is key!

  3. I love it. I need a cold shower after reading this though. Great, fun interview. I never knew Rob also did coffeeobsessed. I’ll have to check it out. Cool beans. I now know more about bikes and, well, hard things than I ever did! :)

  4. @Kelly, I hope to see more interviews similar to this one, good job…

    I totally agree with honest reviews… If someone is “hoorah” about everything, nothing is special.

    And I agree with everything Tom said…

  5. kelly- nice job. it does seem robb has a passion for what he blogs about, which is key to any blog’s success.

    thanks for sharing.

  6. Great. I think picking a niche what really interest you is so important with blogging. I can understand why Robb Sutton has picked mountain biking and coffee. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Great Interview,

    Never thought of doing one of those before. Do you think reviews can work for any market? Does my field fit this profile?


    Bee a Blogger | REAL-TIME Blogging Report

  8. @Henri – thank you so much. Robb was a great subject, and I think the reason we had such an easy, engaging interview is because he’s just that awesome.

    @Tom – if you read Robb’s reviews, that totally shines through. He is a fair guy, and thinks through all the angles of a product – doesn’t dismiss anything out of hand, and gives well-reasoned evaluations. And that, I think, is why his sites do so well. His readers know they can trust his judgement

    @Brian – yes, exactly. And thanks. This is the first time I’ve published an interview (rather than an trial-and-error how-to) with ProBlogger, and I’m curious about how it will be received. There’s advice borne of personal experience in the interview, but it isn’t presented in a list-y way, so I hope people will still be able to extract Robb’s valuable lessons and apply them.

  9. Must be nice to get free stuff and get paid to blog about it.

  10. @Ami of course! I’m pretty sure that’s what a lil’ thing called affiliate marketing is based on :)

  11. Nice interview. I’ve been reading RobbSutton.com and really enjoy his posts. However, I haven’t really been over to Bike198.com, but I guess that’s probably because I’m not much of a mountain biker.

    I do product reviews as well and do my best to be fair and honest. I haven’t had any backlash yet from negative comments I made, but as you said my obligation is to my readers not the companies supplying me with products for review.

  12. I had a blast with this. Thanks Kelly!

    @Ami – Every field has a review of some kind. If you look at the other blogs in your market…you can probably see reviews on their sites. Reviews are not limited to physical products. You can do services, vacations, etc. I know one guy who reviews cruises and spends most of his year comped in exotic locations for his blogging. There is no limit to what you can accomplish.

  13. Sorry to disappoint you all, but I thought that interview was pretty ordinary. Robb delivered good content (no question), but can’t say the same for Kelly, the F-wit, I digress, the F-lippant.

    I think you get my point

  14. Sorry, that interview was horrible. What Rob had to say was great but Kelly shouldn’t quit her day job. It was more than obvious the interview was all about attention, just not attention to the subject.

  15. I have been a long time Problogger fan and used a lot of the information I got here when I started MarijuanaReviews.com a couple years ago.

    Site took off and is now 1 of the top 10 marijuana related sites online (I know it’s a touchy subject but it is what it is).

    Until recently I have not monetized the site at all. MR has generated $0 even though I get 10,000 hits / 50,000 page views daily.

    With medical marijuana being so big here in SoCal I have just started a complete redesign that focuses a lot more on medical reviews.

    While I do NOT receive free marijuana to review nor do I want to, I do receive hundreds of email reviews from people all over the world that I use to populate my site with 100% unique content. Works GREAT!

    Watch out everyone cause my redesign is gonna blow you away.

    Oh and thanks to Robb Sutton for getting back to me regarding his site design. Weird how I was just asking him about it not 3 days ago and then this post appears here on PB.

    Hope this helps.


  16. Haha love this post, and I’ve always wanted to do a review site but doubt my ability to do it well lol. Yeah yeah, self defeating I know, but that’s me =P

  17. This writing is surely some thing — it make me flow with the conversation deeply. And i got the message too — how can we create a great review site.

  18. @randy check out Robb’s site. He does it well.

  19. Great interview. Robb has passed back and forth on my radar, but I’ve been too busy to check out his methods. Sounds like I need to pay more attention.

  20. Kelly – I think the interview style you use is a breath of fresh air in interview posts in general. I’m working on a couple of interview pieces right now. I’d already decided to take a more informal, find-the-fun tone because the subject matter can get pretty dry – now I’m very glad I’m experimenting with that. I’m also not sure how my pieces will be received…but I know it’s high time to do them. Thanks to both you and Robb for the information and the double-entendre that made me smile.

  21. @Pat I think your “find the fun” is a great approach for pretty much any activity. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with. Let me know when you press publish.

  22. @Dave thank you. You definitely should check Robb out.

  23. Interesting keep up the good work!

    I finished my website ;0


  24. Cool story, really!

  25. Wow good job. 100k is not bad when were talking about reviews on a blog. Im sure he has to be really happy.

    If i was you man i would go out and invest that money into gold and silver.

  26. Very nice website I will study it. Your suggestions were very helpful, Thanks!

  27. HAHA Great title Kelly. :) I am a big fan of Robb. Great post and a pat on the back to Dan for letting you take the reins. :D

  28. You know, there has been a product I have been wanting, very relevant to my niche, but I’ve been a little timid about asking for it. I ask to review books all the time, but this is the next step up to me. Thanks for giving me the courage to ask!

  29. “Oh, it is a thing. Not a position. That clears everything up. So tell me, why was this fork so fabulous?”

    I literally laughed out loud. Kelly, this is just one more example of why you are tops in my book.

    Great interview. That’s a skill I hope to build and use in my own work. I’m watching and learning.

  30. Kelly has a terrific and entertaining interviewing style. I got a lot of information out of this post.

  31. Brilliant interview Kelly!!! Very well done indeed!

  32. I’d already decided to take a more informal, find-the-fun tone because the subject matter can get pretty dry – now I’m very glad I’m experimenting with that. I’m also not sure how my pieces will be received…but I know it’s high time to do them.

  33. That was a very insightful and helpful interview. Yet fun at the same time lol :)

  34. Thanks for sharing the great interview with us kelly

    it is really cool

    kind regards


  35. Kelly,

    Thanks for this, it includes great info on how to really get good information to your readers and also monetize your blog! I’ve been thinking of reviewing domestic products on my blog, now I now where to start.

  36. wow this is so myterious! I liked the story and I wil share it with my friends, think they will lied it so much as I did. Indeed I gave the link to you blog to some of them and they are now your constant readers!

  37. Kelly, don’t mind what other readers say. You’re writing is super sexy perfect! My brain is screamin’ ‘MOOOREE’!!! :D

  38. I am not such a good writer but make sure you, I will attempt to say it really is actually useful document and truly educational, retain coming with another fantastic resource

  39. Wow it is so mysterious, fabulous and mind blowing post! I liked the story and I will share it with my friends, I think they will lied it so much as I did. I think so it is good place to gain a lot of knowledge as much as more experience from such type of educational Blogs. Indeed I gave the link to you blog to some of them and they are now your constant readers. Thanks for sharing and I hope you will be here for giving us more information in the future. Once again thanks for cooperation…

  40. Great interview. Robb has passed back and forth on my radar, but I’ve been too busy to check out his methods.

  41. Considerable possessions as usual…

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