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.