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Top Review Tips for Bloggers from Ken Pierce

Author:
Ken Pierce

Photo Credit: Peter Parrella

Reviewing products can be great for any blogger, no matter what your niche, but being a good reviewer is about more than simply ranting or raving about items in a blog post. Today, I have a special treat for everyone out there who publishes reviews or is interested in reviewing products in the future. Ken Pierce from PiercingMetal, who has been reviewing music and concerts for several years, recently sat down with me to share some great tips about writing reviews.

Allison: For people who may not know you, could you tell us a little about you and your site?

Ken: Sure, well in a nutshell I run the PiercingMetal.com website and its companion blog “PiercingMetal Musings.” The site was launched back in early 2005 as a means to present my voice and views on a wide variety of Hard Rock and Metal music releases and concert events. I’m a former Metal musician that still supports the scene and I wanted to become a positive voice for the good things that were out there.

The decision to launch PiercingMetal stemmed from my being a contributor to several other sites of note at the time and eventually realizing that I could do more for the genre by starting my own presence and working closely with those who I had come in contact with. The name is an obvious play on my last name and the music that is focused on and the readers seemed to take to it.  With that and the support of many established press contacts in hand I was ready to run with the ball.

The site features more than just reviews of course and has a calendar that lists numerous “happenings” of interest, lots of live concert photos and as of 2007 a companion blog was introduced to our readership.  I also try to help the releases that I review by adding in an Amazon.com code to each and every article. In 2012 the website celebrated its seventh year of being online and I admit that no matter how much there is to do, it’s still a lot of fun and a never ending learning experience that reaches a lot of Metal fans.  I maintain numerous PiercingMetal focused social network accounts as well in order to broaden the reach of the brand name.

Allison: With music, personal taste definitely comes into play. It’s not like other items where you can judge a product based on whether or not it works. What are some of your tips for reviewing items like music when it’s so subjective? How do you make sure your review is fair?

Ken: As far as being fair, you just have to be honest about how the release hits you. Is it great?  Then say so. Does it stink?  Then say so but know that you MUST back up why this is the case in your eyes.  Compare it against another work that firms up the viewpoint, otherwise your “voice” can be considered untrustworthy.

You will also most likely need to deal with this publicist on other artists that they are working. And while they might realize that not everything is gold that they send to you, if you lambast everything that they pitch, there is a chance that you go to the bottom of their resource list because you are not an objective or truly honest reviewer that they can count on. Periodically I like to say how I might prefer an older album by an artist as opposed to something new and hope for a return to a more reliable sound.

Another tip is to mind your article length.  If something is out of this world you should be able to say it in no more than three decent paragraphs. Over the years I have seen three page thesis length reviews on things that the writer felt was crap and that makes my head spin.  Maybe it’s me, but I know that I don’t want to read three pages about something that I should be avoiding at all costs.

Allison: I love that you do live event/concert reviews along with album reviews! Can you talk about your decision to include these types reviews on your site and some of the challenges of reviewing an event?

Ken: If you are just a regular fan who wants to blog about concerts, then the best advice is to be as detailed as possible for your readers in order to bring them into the show with you. Take some photos with your phone or snappy camera from afar (since EVERYONE does that these days) and just make them feel like they were there with you. I say to see the opening bands as well because you never know who you will end up enjoying. I always love telling people how I first heard of both Into Eternity and Unexpect as openers on other shows and how since that time each how band have become favorites of mine. You truly get to watch a band develop their career and music with that premise. It’s so exciting. Bring your reader the level of excitement you had for the show and if it was a disappointment then warn them about it.

Allison: What’s the best piece of advice you can give to someone interesting in starting to review items on their blog?

Ken: Nowadays (if you are aiming at being considered a “professional reviewer”)  the geography of this has changed so much since I even launched the blog part of PiercingMetal.com, but I guess the best advice is to just do it and expect the unexpected.

For new bloggers who want to review I say that they should start with things that they are most passionate about and want to share with their readership. It cannot hurt for them to write reviews about music that they are purchasing and if they want to chance sending these reviews over to publicity for said artist then they should. Perhaps it will lead to their being added to a media service list and be included in the mailers about the latest batch of releases from a company  If they say “no” for whatever reason that does NOT stop you from posting a review about something and sharing a link across Twitter and Facebook. There are so many official band pages out there nowadays and fans are actually interacting more with the talent than ever before.

It’s your blog so the floor is yours to share your views about stuff.  Don’t be afraid of standing by your words if you are challenged about them, but in that regard you should be prepared for the consequences as well. I suggest leaving comments open but to not be afraid of trashing the ones that don’t speak to the topic and go on forever or get venomous for no reason. Try to be a positive and reliable resource to the best of your ability and don’t make promises that you cannot keep or walk around with a sense of entitlement about having the blog with a few reviews online. There are always bigger sites with more content it seems. Also, don’t start to do it and forget about it for three months as people will lose interest. As long as review content keeps flowing to your blog you will keep your readers educated and informed and your contacts happy.

Allison: Thanks for a great interview, Ken! Readers, check out PiercingMetal for examples of his work as a reviewer! You can also find Piercing Metal on both Facebook and Twitter.

Beginner’s Guide to Review Writing Basics

Author:

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.

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