Today Dustin M. Wax writes about how to write Review Post on your blog.
Reviews are one of the mainstays of blogs. By now, everyone in the world is familiar with Problogger’s own Darren Rowse’s accidental transformation into a professional blogger following the success of his camera reviews. (Been off-world for the last two months and don’t know the story? Read the book!)
Bloggers write reviews for a number of reasons. First of all, and most importantly, reviews of products you love (or hate) are one of the ways we provide value to our readers. By sharing our experiences with our audience, we save them the time, expense, and hassle of trying out products that might well not meet their needs.
Second, reviews are a form of “evergreen” content that stay relevant long after their initial post date. I don’t know how many times I’ve Googled “[Product name] review” before making a purchase. Amazon knows this; their “tipping point” came when they started adding user reviews to their product listings. As a general rule, I say “Do what Amazon does”.
Finally, some bloggers make money by writing reviews. Companies know the value of good reviews for generating PR buzz, arousing interest, and ultimately driving traffic and sales. And so a number of services have emerged to solicit paid reviews, which have become a major profit center for bloggers like John Chow.
How to write a valuable review
A good review ultimately answers one crucial question: should I, the reader, use this product? Of course, that’s not a simple question. On the way to answering that Big Question a good review has to answer a bunch of little questions:
- Who is this product for? Except for the very worst products, every product offers some value to someone. The question is, is that someone a reader of your blog? For example, ProTools is a great audio editing program for professional sound engineers, but I’d hardly recommend it as a tool for beginning podcasters. If your readers are more likely to be beginning podcasters than professional sound engineers, then, your readers should probably not use ProTools, which means you need to give a negative review to a great product.
- What are the features and benefits of using this product? I can’t tell you how sick I am of reviews that simply parrot a product’s specifications, as if that mattered. I don’t need to know what the manufacturer or publisher says the product should do, I need to know what it does do and, more importantly, how well it does it. And I need to know what I’ll get out of using it, what problem it solves. Consider cameras: we’ve all learned that knowing how many megapixels a camera can produce tells us very little about how well the pictures I take with it will come out. Your readers need to know the equivalent of how good the pictures are, not how many megapixels the product offers.
- How do you use it? A review doesn’t need to offer a full-blown tutorial, but it should offer some basic indication of how a product is used (or, in the case of books, how the information within might be applied). Do you turn it on and let it do it’s thing? Does it require a lot of attention from the user? Knowing how a product is used helps readers determine whether the product under review is, in fact, the product that might solve their own specific problems.
- What are the pros and cons of this product? A great product might well be too expensive, too difficult to learn, too poorly documented, too resource-hungry, or too buggy to recommend, depending on your audience. Most products are a mixed bag of plusses and minuses — they work great but are too expensive, they have a great idea but need a bit of polishing to be ready for casual users, they are well-written but ultimately offer poor advice, and so on. Since you can’t predict the needs of every person who might read your review, you need to be clear about the criteria you’re using and the positive and negative aspects of the product; there’s every chance that somebody will come across your review for whom your cons are irrelevant (for example, it’s too expensive for your college-student audience, but not for the IT manager of a big corporation who comes across your review via Google).
- How does it compare to similar products? Most of your readers already have some way to deal with the situation the product you’re reviewing promises to solve — they use another product, they have cobbled together a bunch of ill-equipped tools to form their own system, or maybe they have decided just to live with it. In many cases, there’s already a standard solution, like using MS Word for the creation of documents. Your review needs to tell people why they should (or shouldn’t) keep on doing whatever they’re doing, and why they should use this product rather than some other –which generally means comparing and contrasting the product with the other solutions already available. If you were reviewing a new word processor, for example, you’d want to explain why it should (or shouldn’t) replace MS Word — is it cheaper, easier to use, better at certain kinds of tasks?
If your review answers all these questions, then it’s easy for your readers to answer the Big Question: Should I use this product? Instead of a flat “yes’ or “no” (or “3 1/2 stars” or “two thumbs up” or whatever), you’ve given your readers enough information to determine whether or not it meets their needs. You can then give your qualified, personal, subjective take on the product knowing you’re not leading your readers astray.
And that is an incredibly valuable review.