One of the greatest pleasures of being a blogger is writing product reviews. The excitement of getting packages in the mail, the thrill of finding a new product that helps my family and the joy of sharing it with my audience has led to my career in professional blogging. So how can you get started? This primer will show you how to get started as a product reviewer.
You Are an Influencer
Start thinking of yourself as an influencer: you can influence your audience’s behaviors and buying habits. As your readers grow to trust you, you will naturally want to recommend things that are useful to them. If there are products, services or even destinations that you’ve already enjoyed that fit with your blog’s focus, go ahead and write a piece about them. Once you do that, you are an influencer – it’s as simple as that.
At first, you won’t get paid or get free products, but you can monetize your reviews easily. Create a blog post that recommends products and put in your affiliate links from programs like Amazon’s Affiliate Program, Commission Junction or Share a Sale. Ideas include holiday gift guides, recipes with affiliate link ingredients or “Must Have” posts featuring things like top technology, seasonal fashions or back to school items. (Here are additional ideas on how to monetize your blog.)
An example is this gift guide I created for my readers last Christmas. Gift guides are great because when you grow, you can charge companies to participate in your guide.
Selecting Items to Review
The first thing you need to consider is your audience. Is this something that only benefits you, or would you naturally recommend this product to a friend who matches your target audience? You can certainly review every product that comes your way, but make sure your products pass all three of these points:
- They are something you want and can use;
- Are of interest/use to your readers or desired audience; and
- Fit the theme of your blog.
If not, your review seem too self-serving. For example, a blog on general parenting is going to have a wide selection of products to choose from. However, a blog about “green living with kids” will have a smaller selection of relevant products and services – only eco-friendly children’s items. A post on the latest tech gadget there won’t fly with that audience.
The Components of a Great Review
There are several parts to writing a review that is both engaging for your audience and beneficial to prospective clients who come your way.
1. An Eye Catching Photo
Brands LOVE IT when you make their product look good, so take plenty of photos and do everything you can to make the image look good. If it’s a cooking product, show the product and the resulting dish you created. If you cannot take a good photo, ask for an image from the client – better to have something that looks good than nothing at all but you must learn to take reasonably good photos.. Travel reviews lend themselves to great photos, but you may need to get creative for a service. For example, if you were reviewing a cleaning service, you can shoot the logo on the truck, the team and their equipment, and before/after photos of the areas they clean.
Here is a review for books from “Frozen.” Notice that I have multiple pinnable images, so I can repin from time to time, and change the pin board and topic each time I do.
2. The Benefits of This Item or Service
Write everything you love about this product, but pay attention to what the brand is promoting currently as well.
For example, if it’s an allergy product and it’s springtime, you can position the content on how challenging this time of year is for you and other allergy sufferers. A word of caution: be honest! Don’t make stuff up; highlight the positives you enjoyed that fit the brand’s campaign if and when possible or else just stick to the facts. Line up as many positives as you can and emphasize anything you loved about it.
Here is my seasonal ad campaign from Zarbee’s. I used their photo since I had not received the product yet.
3. The Flaws
At a conference one year, I attended a Q&A with a panel of brands. The critical take away I learned from a brand representative was that nothing is perfect. If you write a 100% positive review, no one will believe you and you’ll lose credibility.
Write about the flaws, but be gentle. Remember, you’re trying to drive people to purchase this product. However, if the product is a dud or the flaws are too large to actually recommend it and you received the product for pay, immediately contact the vendor and ask them what to do. They may want you to stop working on the review, they may repair the flaw or they may not know about the problem and ask you to delay the post. Talking to them is always the answer and it gives them a positive perspective on you.
Here is an example of how I covered the flaws in this book, but redeemed it with what good the book had to offer.
4. Your Overall Opinion and Product Info
Once you’ve listed the positives and the flaws, you can give your general opinion – be as creative as you like. Make a rating system, gives a thumb’s up, show a smiling child – whatever works best for you. Finally, give the details on the product, especially a link where to get it.
5. A Compelling Story to Wrap Them All In
Today, storytelling is the best way to write good copy. This is another thing brands LOVE. If it’s good enough, they may even share your review with their audience – and that’s great exposure for your blog. If you start with a compelling personal story and how the product contributed to your life, you’ll also get better reader response. If it’s good enough, they may even share your review with their audience – and that’s great exposure for your blog.
Here is a paid review campaign I did for Silk inspired by my frustration of what to do with too many bananas in my house!
6. Full Disclosure and Proper Linking
FTC regulations require you to disclose when you are blogging with any kind of reimbursement, including cash, free or discounted products, coupons, gift certificates, conference/event admission or any kind of payment. Do this at the top of your post or before any links. If you did not get the product for free but are using your own affiliate links, you MUST disclose as well!
Use proper hashtags to disclose on social media. I use “#ad” for posts and social media as it’s short and easy to plug into any outlet. You can put on your post, “I received this product for a review, but all opinions are my own,” for products you’ve gotten without payment. Remember to disclose if you received free product, EVEN if you are just raving about them another time. It’s confusing, but the best advice I’ve ever heard is, “When in doubt, disclose.”
Finally, always choose “no follow” for your links, affiliate or otherwise. If the brand refuses to accept that guideline, walk away. This are just part of the list of what you need to do to prevent your blog from getting sued. For products you already own and received no compensation for, you can skip this – unless you’d like to disclose that you’ve received nothing in exchange for the post.
Where to Get Products You Like
1. Pitching Brands
It’s perfectly acceptable to pitch brands to review products you like. The smaller the business, the more likely you will score some review products. You may be offered coupons rather than the product to start. Position your pitch with why your audience is a good fit for them, how they will respond to the product and what you will do for them. Pretend you are writing a cover let for a job application!
Remember to include your stats and media kit.
2. Product Review Sites
For newbies, I recommend Tomoson, which has lots of campaigns for bloggers with small audiences. Personally, I started out with BlogPRWire and SheSpeaks. Another great service is Sverve. You can also try MomSelect, MomItForward and Bloggy Moms. One of my early favorite blogger groups is Double Duty Divas, who also run iRetreat, an annual conference on teaching essentials for influencers.
Once you start to build an audience, you can sign up for places that require higher level page views, like MomCentral, Clever Girls or Social Fabric.
3. Event Invitations
This is where blogger relationships and support groups are going to come in handy.
This spring I attended Time to Play Magazine’s blogger toy event in New York City, where companies present new toy releases and demos while collecting business cards from bloggers. These types of events are typically invitation only, which is why it pays to sign up with a local blogger group, similar to your niche. Two groups I belong to include Philly Social Media Moms and Green Sisterhood. We share events, promotion, opportunities, professional advice and promote each other’s sites.
Underpromise, Overdeliver and Safeguard Yourself
Once a brand has engaged you, follow the guidelines of the review request to the lette. If they request something unethical, turn it down before you start. Reputable, blogger-savvy brands will send you links to their site rather than spammy text links. Promise the basics – for example, 500 word post, sharing on Facebook & Twitter – and then deliver extras, like additional sharing or pinning. Always tag the brand when you are promoting your reviews. Finally, keep track of the dollar value of all products and reimbursement you receive. You will need to report that as income on your taxes.
Now, it’s time for you to jump in and get started. Practice on your favorite items and use social media to promote your posts, tagging the brand you’re raving about. Don’t forget to use SEO and tag friends, family and people you’re connected too that you think will be interested in the review as well.