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Beginner’s Guide to Review Writing Basics

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As a blogger, you might get the chance to review items, services, digital publication, tools, and other things from time to time. Sometimes, brands, authors, or publicists will send stuff for free. Other times, you’ll just happen upon something awesome (or not so awesome) that you bought yourself and want to describe to your readers. Either way, adding reviews to your blog occasionally can definitely be valuable for your audience.

So let’s go over the basics of writing reviews on your blog. These tips can be also be used to create a video review or even a spoken review on a podcast as well. (And remember, this post is part of an entire beginner’s guide series, which can help you if you’re new to blogging or social media).

Using the Product

When you plan to review a product, your first step is to actually use/read/whatever it! That seems like common sense, but I can’t tell you how many review posts I’ve seen where the blogger says, “I haven’t tried this feature yet, but…” Don’t do that! Read every page, try every feature, use it in every way that you can. The best reviews are comprehensive.

And whatever you’re reviewing, put it through its paces no matter what your initial impression. When trying something for the first time, we often have an idea in our minds what it will be like, which clouds our opinion. If we expected something bad and the result was good, it might seem really good – and vice versa. It’s relative. So try to get rid of those impressions as much as possible by spending a lot of time using whatever you’re reviewing before you even begin writing.

Writing the Review

Every review should have at least four parts:

  • unbiased information about the product (like who makes it, specs, price etc.)
  • pros/advantages
  • cons/disadvantages
  • a final opinion or recommendation

You don’t have to write your review in that order, nor do you have to make those things formal headings. It can be more stream-of-conscious. But your review needs those four element. Even if you absolutely love a product, there’s something bad about it. Maybe it’s bad for certain people. Or maybe it’s a bit expensive. Or maybe it’s great, but a new version is coming out soon so it’s worth waiting. Find the bad point and talk about them, even if they’re a small part of your review. Nothing is perfect. The opposite is true too – no matter how much you hate a product, there’s something good about it. Nothing is perfectly bad.

When writing your view, it’s also extremely important to disclose any kind of relationship you have with the product’s manufacture (or the author or whatever). FTC rules require that you tell readers about anything that could potentially affect your review. Even if you aren’t paid, getting something for free could make you more willing to write a positive review. So make sure you are very clear to state your relationships, and I also like to make a note that my reviews are 100% honest so there’s no question in the reader’s mind that I’m not writing good things because I get something out of it.

Getting Review Products

Even if you haven’t been blogging long, you’ll likely get requests from companies to review items (most commonly books in my experience, but I guess it depends on your niche). So if you want to get items for free, the best thing you can do is make sure the contact information on your site is extremely clear.

Don’t be afraid to ask for products to review as well, especially once you start building traffic to your blog. If there’s a benefit to the brand, they’ll probably say yes, and even if they aren’t willing to send you anything right now, you’ll at least be on their radar for future promotions. Companies are often more receptive to sending you products or sponsoring reviews if you are a member of their affiliate programs or have talked about their products in the past.

I’ve also been given items (again mostly books but also other informational products and services) from friends, so building your only networks and meeting people in person at conferences such as BlogWorld is definitely important if you want review items. Some conferences will help you work with brands better than others. All of them are good for networking, but at conferences where a lot of consumer brands are present (like BlogHer for example), you’ll find more review opportunities.

There are also some services and online forums/networks where you can connect with companies offering items for review. Personally, I’ve never found much value with these services, and I definitely don’t recommend anywhere you have to pay to become a member, but again it depends on your niche.

Lastly, don’t forget that you don’t have to receive an item for free to review it. Often, I’ve reviewed items that I’ve purchased myself, especially when it’s something I love and use on a daily basis. If it’s beneficial for a reader to know about it, write up the review!

Building Long-Term Brand Relationships

When someone gives you something to review – or even when you review something you’ve purchased yourself – you can build momentum with your initial post to form a long-term relationship with a brand (or individual). First, send them the link to the post, especially if they didn’t send you the item for free. Companies and individuals LOVE to read about it when a blogger writes about them. You can also follow up later that day or week if there are any extremely interesting comments on the post or social media shares.

Be polite, professional, and friendly, even if you don’t like a product. If you completely slam a company, ignoring any of the advantages or being unnecessarily rude and snarky, they probably aren’t going to want to work with you again. So be true to your own personal brand…but choose your words wisely. Even a negative review can be the start of a relationship with a company as long as you are fair. Of course, occasionally, you may run into companies who don’t handle criticism well, but that’s the exception to the rule. From there, you can hopefully review more products, maybe even products that haven’t been released yet!

And remember, you can work with a brand or individual beyond doing a review for them – use the review as your foot in the door. From there you can work on a sponsorship or project together in a way that’s beneficial to both of you.

Allison Boyer freelance writer and content marketing consultant. She also runs the food blog The PinterTest Kitchen with her mom and sister. You can follow her shenanigans on Twitter (@allison_boyer) or contact her at allisonmboyer@gmail.com.


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