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Top Review Tips for Bloggers from Ken Pierce

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.

Interview: Getting Free Review Products from Amazon with Thomas Duff


Product reviews increase the value of your blog, podcast, or show, since you’re giving fans a look at products they may be interested in purchasing. However, buying all of those items yourself can be pricey, especially if you work in a niche like technology, where each item costs hundreds of dollars.

Lots of people in our community work with brands to provide reviews, but did you know that you can actually get free items directly from Amazon? The Amazon Vine program pairs content creators with writers and manufacturers who want their products reviewed. As a Vine reviewer, you get free items which you’re obligated to review on Amazon and can also review on your on blog/podcast – but becoming part of this program can be a little tricky. Today, I sat down with Thomas Duffbert, who’s a reviewer with Amazon Vine, to learn more.

Allison: For people who don’t know, can you give us a little info as to what the Amazon Vine program is?

Tom: The Amazon Vine program is a formal reviewer program that Amazon developed to allow manufacturers and publishers to get their products in front of people who try out the item and post a review on the Amazon website.  Those reviews then show up on the product page, along with any other reviews that people may have posted.

The main difference between the Vine program and people posting their own reviews is that the manufacturer can get a set number of items in front of people who have committed to try the product and write a coherent review.  There’s no expectation that the review will be positive, and in fact Vine reviewers tend to be much more honest in their opinions because they’ve committed to give the product a chance.

How did you get started reviewing for Amazon?

The Amazon reviews grew out of technical user group programs run by technical publishers. They’d send me a book (free!) and I’d write a review of it for a user group I was part of.  I was then asked if I minded also posting the review on Amazon. I thought it only fair since they sent me the book at no cost.

From there, my reviewing sort of took on a life of its own, and I started climbing up the ranks of the Amazon reviewers. Depending on whether you’re referring to the new or “classic” ranking system, I’ve been as high as #20.  Once you get a top 100 ranking, people start contacting you asking if you’ll review their book.  I’ve gotten to the point where I have to say no to a majority of the requests, as I know I’ll never be able to read everything I’ve received.

How often do you get items for review and what types of items do you receive?

The Amazon Vine program sends out a “targeted” newsletter on the third Thursday of the month and a general newsletter the last Thursday.  The targeted newsletter is generally made up of seven to ten items, and you’re allowed to select up to two.  I’m not sure what they use for their targeting algorithm, but it needs some work. Offering me baby supplies is a bit useless when I’m 50 and my kids are 25 and 23.

The general newsletter is made up of all the items for the month that still remain in the system after the reviewers selected items from the targeted newsletters.  That list is generally around 14 – 18 pages of ten or so items per page.  Again, you can choose another two items based on what’s still available.

The offerings are all over the board in terms of what shows up.  It used to be primarily books, and books still occupy well over half the items each month. But there are also treasures like multi-function printers, food selections, children’s toys, appliances, cooking utensils, tech gear (like headphones and iPad covers), and countless other items.  Some of the items aren’t just things that will appear in a FedEx box, either.  For instance, last month there were three full-sized refrigerators being offered.

I’ve read that part of getting chosen for the Vine program is not just ensuring you write reviews, but also having reviews posted that are deemed “helpful” by other Amazon users. What are some of your best tips for writing helpful reviews?

There are two things I keep in mind when I’m writing a book review, and I think they are essential in terms of keeping yourself in the right frame of mind.

First, remember that there’s a real person behind what you’re reading.  Writing is not easy, and the author poured themselves into what you hold in your hands. That doesn’t mean you have to love everything you read, but it does mean that a review of “this book sucks” with no reasons why is not permissible.

Second, understand that you may not be the target audience.  I always read the preface of a book to determine what the author(s) is trying to accomplish. The content may be over my head, but if I feel they did what they set out to do, then it should get a good review.

It sounds like a great way to build your blog’s content with product reviews – but also a lot of work. Do you think the free stuff is worth the time you spend reviewing products?

This is a pretty common question… why do you review stuff? The most obvious answer is you get free items, which is always fun.

The more important reason to me is that writing reviews has (I hope) made me a better writer.  I’ve co-authored two books, as well as written countless tech articles over the last nine years.  My reviews and blogging didn’t necessarily lead to all the other writing, but it’s good practice and discipline to keep writing on a regular basis.

If at any point I felt the work I put into it was more than what I get out of it, I’d stop.  But I haven’t hit that point yet, so I continue on.  I get books to read and toys to play with, I improve my writing skills, and the author/manufacturer gets feedback.  So far we’re all happy…

Thanks, Tom, for all of the great information on Amazon’s review program! Readers, anyone out there also a Vine reviewer and want to share your experiences? Does reviewing with Amazon sound like a good idea to you? Leave a comment below!

Thomas Duff (also known as “Duffbert”) is a software developer focusing on collaboration technologies in Portland Oregon. He started working with Lotus Notes in 1996 in version R3 and has written and maintained hundreds of applications in large enterprises through the years. He also holds Lotus principal development certifications starting at version 4 and going up to version 8, as well as Microsoft and Java certifications. Tom is a prolific writer, both in various industry publications and at his website, Duffbert’s Random Musings, at http://www.duffbert.com. He also is a frequent speaker at conferences and events focusing on Lotus technologies. Tom and Marie Scott coauthored IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User’s Guide (Packt Press, 2010). He also coauthored IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide (Packt Press, 2011) with Marie Scott and Gabriella Davis.

Beginner’s Guide to Review Writing Basics


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.

How to Review Your Friends’ Products


Right now, I have a bunch of products (mostly ebooks) waiting in the wings, waiting to be reviewed. A little known fact about me is that I absolutely love doing product reviews. I actually review fairly frequently at another blog, under a pen name, and I’ve been known to review everything from restaurants to gummy bears to toilet paper. Because that’s not awkward.

Anyway, by now, I’m sure you’ve seen advice on how to write a good product review, but I’ll be the first to admit that things get a little sticky when the product in question is from a friend. It’s not that you can’t be objective; you can. Reviewing friends’ products just…complicates things.

Not Every Product is a Winner

One of the problems I had when I first started working as a reviewer was that I would chat about everything I tried out as though it was a greatest thing since sliced bread. Of course, things might seem cool when you first use them, but when you really think about it, slice bread is pretty darn handy. Does everything live up to it? Nope.

Authors, manufacturers, etc. (let’s just call them producers from now on) love when you give them gushing reviews online, but it’s really important for you as a reviewer to remember that you aren’t doing them any favors by posting that kind of thing. If all I write about are the good points to your product and how much I loved it, how can you change to create a better product in the future? Critical feedback is part of evolving as a company.

This is even more easily forgotten if the person is your friend, because we want to believe that the person we know is the bee’s knees. Again, though, you aren’t really supporting your friend if you just gush, even if the product is great. I recommend always posting at least one negative comment in every review. Make it something constructive, something the producer can consider changing in the future. Even if it is a little thing, it will make your review more balanced. (Likewise, even if I give a really bad review, I try to pull out one good thing that I can say. People need to know what they’re doing right.)

Bad Review Backlash

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a bad review, you know how much they hurt. Even if you haven’t, think back to a time when you received a negative comment. When you work hard on something, whether that be a book or a blog post, it makes you feel crummy when someone doesn’t like it.

Most of the time, you can pick yourself up, dust the dirt from your bum, and work hard not to get knocked down next time. There’s an extra little bit of bitterness when it’s a friend who says something bad about you, though.

I’ve never had any bad reviews from friends, but that’s probably because I’ve only ever released one product (and it wasn’t a huge launch or anything). I have, however, had friends really, really disagree with one of my blog posts, to the point where they’ve written their own to talk about how much they disagree with me. I’m someone who values that kind of debate and criticism…but it still hurts sometimes. And not everyone out there places value on the negative. Some people just get hurt.

It’s a fine line you have to walk. When writing something negative about someone’s product, make sure that:

  1. You’re fair.
  2. You’re extremely clear.
  3. You remember the person is…a person.

The last point is most important of all. We all get caught up in writing sometimes, and occasionally attempts to be funny or make a point come off as snarky and petty. The person is going to read what you wrote. If you wouldn’t say those things in a face-to-face conversation, don’t say them on your blog, even if you are right. Giving a negative review isn’t the same as slamming someone.

Some producers are going to have a negative reaction to your review, even if you were 99% positive in what you had to say. People get hurt easily, especially when they’ve worked hard on a product, so they focus on the one negative thing you had to say. If a producer, especially a friend, gets defensive on your blog, take it behind closed doors. Rather than starting a public comment war (even if it is good for traffic), email the person privately. If this person truly is your friend, you can show them that respect.

Branding vs. Friendship

Let’s say that I have a friend who asks me to review a book. I agree, and the book is really, really dull. If my brand is the snarky “bitch” blogger who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, should I follow that formula and review her book as though I didn’t know her? I owe it to my readers, right?!?!

Maybe…but I think you have to look inward and decide if branding is more important than your friendship.

Obviously, you don’t want to confuse your readers. At the same time, losing a strong friendship probably isn’t worth gaining a few fans on your blog. Maybe it is to you. That’s something you have decide for yourself, based on the strength of your friendship and your dedication to your business and brand. It’s okay if the answer changes from person to person – there is no one right answer. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to write a review in a certain way. It’s your blog. You don’t have to do anything.

You can still be honest when writing a review, and you can actually still be true to your brand. We’re writers and this is an art. Don’t forget that. Look at it like a challenge – if its your brand, how can you be the same loud-mouthed, not-afraid-to-be-mean reviewer without hurting your friends’ feelings? You have to get creative, but you can do it.

The Art of Saying No

The final point I wanted to hit on this subject is that you can always refuse to review a product. Sometimes, I’m approached by friends who want me to review things for my blog that aren’t a very good fit. I want to encourage and support them (especially if they’ve encouraged and supported me in the past), but it doesn’t always make sense. When this is the case, ask yourself this question: If I can’t review their product, what can I do?

Maybe you can recommend them to a friend who’s blog would be a better fit. Maybe you can give them a shout-out on Twitter. Maybe you can twist the review into something that would be relevant for your blog.

Point in case – several months ago, some awesome people (Andy Hayes and Nathalie Lussier) launched a new project together about health eating and travel. Andy asked if I could help promote it, and I quickly said yes. I love Andy! But then, I started to wonder what the heck I had gotten myself into. Here at BlogWorld, I blog about new media…not healthy eating OR travel. So instead of just plastering a review on the site that didn’t make sense for the sake of fulfilling a promise to a friend, I twisted it around to make it relevant. You have to get creative, but almost any product can be relevant to almost any niche if you look for the connection.

Don’t be afraid to say no after you’ve tried out the product. Once, I agreed to review a product that, once I tried it, was really, really not something I wanted to recommend to readers. So, I emailed the producer. I simply told him that I’m happy to print the review, but it wasn’t a very good one since I didn’t think my readers would like the product. Instead, I offered to send him the review privately, which would still give him the benefits of my feedback without embarrassing him on my blog. I let him decide.

There is a sense of duty, somewhat, to post a negative review to warn readers. If something is a scam in some way, I won’t hold back, even for a friend. Here’s my feeling though: if you’re going to buy a product, you should do your research and read what others are saying about the product. My negative review of something doesn’t serve to make people aware of the product, like a positive review does. If they weren’t aware of the product, they weren’t going to buy it anyway. Negative reviews are meant to warn people who are already considering buying the product. So, how badly do you feel you have to warn your readers? Are other sites already doing that en force? If so, maybe maintaining a friendship is more important.

The bottom line is this: there are a lot of questions I can’t answer about this topic, a lot of “maybes” that you’re going to have to answer for yourself. It’s a tough situation, which is why this post ended up being so long! I’d love to hear about your experiences and your opinions…leave a comment! Have you ever posted a bad review of a friend’s product?

Review: MyBlogGuest Premium


If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’m a fan of MyBlogGuest, a forum run by Ann Smarty from SEO Smarty. This forum was created to help connect bloggers who are interested in writing and posting guest posts. You can get started for free, and I highly recommend signing up for this version if you’re even slightly interested in guest posting in some capacity. For free, you can:

  • Surf the forums for bloggers looking for people to guest post on their blogs
  • Post a guest posting opportunity if you want guest posts on your own blog
  • Post that you’re looking for places to guest post about a specific topic
  • Post/view real paying jobs available around the web
  • Ask for help promoting guest posts via social media
  • Participate in blogging contests
  • Chit chat with other bloggers who are interested in similar topics
  • Access a free email course about guest posting

Yes – all of this is completely free, so you really have nothing to lose in checking it out. I working with one of my clients to secure guest post opportunities, and this forum has been invaluable for me. There’s no guess work – if a blogger posts on this forum, you know they are accepting guest posts. Without MyBlogGuest, I would be left contacting bloggers randomly, hoping they accept guest posts, and that takes a lot of time.

But what about MyBlogGuest premium? There’s an option for you to purchase premium membership for $20 per month, and after months of considering it, I decided to take the plunge last month and upgrade my account. Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about what you get as a premium member and whether not it is worth it for you as a blogger.

As a premium member, you get access to a private forum, where premium members can speak with one another, but to be honest, I don’t really see much value in this private forum personally. The real value in premium membership, in my opinion, is with the article gallery.

As the name implies, the article gallery is  a section where users can upload posts that need homes. You upload the title, content, and byline you’d like, along with a picture (optional), tags, and a short description. Users who want guest posts for their blogs can browse the articles by category or keyword and make an offer to you if they think your post would be a good fit for their site. As the post’s writer, you can review all of the offers you receive and choose one or reject them all and wait for another offer.

Screenshot of the article gallery. Note how you can click on categories or search for posts via tags. If you scroll down, you can also see the most recently uploaded guest posts.

You can also suggest your post to other users. If you do this, that user will receive an email alerting them that their is a post that might be a good fit for their blog. It’s a great option if you have an awesome post that hasn’t attracted much attention in the article gallery.

Additionally, you can post directly to blogs for users that allow this option. With this feature, you can send your post directly to the person’s blog, so all they have to do is hit the publish button when they log into their dashboard. You can search for blogs that allow this feature by keyword.

Of course, this has been my perspective as a guest post writer, but it all works in reverse for someone who wants to post guest posts. You can browse the gallery for posts that are relevant to your site, add the “post directly to blog” option so you’ll see new posts when you log into your blog’s dashboard, and accept suggested posts that users email to you.

My experiences have been mostly positive. I’ve found that 99% of the time when I upload a new post to the article gallery, I have multiple offers for that post within 24 hours. Occasionally, a post sits in the gallery longer, and when that happens, I like having the option to suggest it to other users or post directly to blogs. Suggestions have worked out great. I have mixed feelings about posting directly to other blogs – when using this function, I’ve found that it’s a crapshoot. Sometimes, the person gets back to me, but just as often, I never hear back.

Final Recommendations:

So, should you upgrade your account to be a premium member? Yes. Well, maybe. It depends what your time is worth to you, your ultimate goals as a guest poster, and the volume of guest posts you do. Let me explain.

What MyBlogGuest premium essentially does via the article gallery is allow people to approach you when they want a guest posts, so you don’t have to spend time researching the blogs out there that might fit what you want to write. However, you don’t necessary get guest post opportunities from top bloggers in your niche, mainly because most of these bloggers are MyBlogGuest members. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t awesome blogs using this service – there are – but they are most small and mid-sized blogs.

I’ve also noticed that some MyGuestBlog users have blogs don’t necessarily have a strong niche. They’ll accept any content. This might be okay if you’re guest posting for SEO purposes, but it isn’t necessarily going to help you if you’re looking to connect with new readers.

Keep in mind that if you want to get your money’s worth, you have to actually be able to devote time to writing guest posts. You still have to write the actual post – the $20 per month that you’re paying to be a premium user is justified because you’ll be saving time in finding guest post opportunities. If you only write one or two guest posts per month, the price of premium might not be worth it to you, especially if you already have a large network of contacts who would be willing to accept your guest posts whenever you email them.

For my needs, MyBlogGuest is awesome. I write guest posts for a client who blogs about and sells insurance, which is much different than my own blog’s niche (and therefore doesn’t really make sense for the network of contacts I’ve personally built). This client pays me based on the number of guest posts I can have posted every week, so saving time is important to me. MyBlogGuest has paid for itself over and over and over again in just the short one month I’ve been using premium membership.

I will say this as well: if you’re someone who needs motivation, paying for premium membership can inspire you to get moving with guest posting, something that can really give your blog a boost. Money is always motivation for me!

Something else I want to make very clear: If you’re someone who wants to accept guest posts on your blog, but not necessarily write them, premium membership is not for you. You can find posts on MyBlogGuest with just a free membership – you don’t get any extra perks as a premium member, other than the private forum access, but as I’ve noted before, I don’t see a ton of added benefit to that part of the forum. Most of the users active there are just as active on the free forum.

I recommend started out with free membership to learn how the MyBlogGuest forum works, and peruse the article gallery for some content for your own blog. If you find that guest posting is something you want to do more, explore the premium membership option. At least test it out for one month – $20 isn’t much of an investment, and in just a month it’s easy to determine whether or not the price is worth the benefits for you.

Disclosure: I did not receive free access to MyBlogGuest premium in order to write this review (I paid full price out of pocket), and I’m not part of any kind of affiliate program, so there’s no financial benefit to me if you sign up. I was honestly just interested in exploring this option and wanted to recommend it to you! I’m not opposed to receiving free review products or affiliate programs with transparency, that’s just not what’s happening here.

Self-Pub Author Tells Readers To “F*** Off!” (or, How NOT to Respond to Reviews)


With the ease and relatively low cost of today’s self-publishing tools, many authors are going this route rather than going through the much longer process of finding an agent and traditional publisher. It can be extremely lucrative, and even if you don’t make tons of sales, at least you gave it a shot, right?

While lots of awesome authors choose to self-publish, it sometimes gets a bad rap because for every amazing find, there are dozens or maybe even hundreds of books that were…well…self-published for a reason. Sometimes, you can’t find a publisher to take you on because the market is flooded or they just aren’t willing to take a chance on you for whatever reason. But often, publishers turn down proposals because the writing is bad. So, if you’re going to take a chance and purchase a self-published book, it makes sense to read as many reviews as  possible.

A lot of self-published authors are finding success because they go on virtual book tours or offer up their books to be reviewed on book blogs. When you send out your book to reviewers, it’s nerve-wracking. I know; I’ve done it. Thankfully, I didn’t have any scathing reviews of my ebook, but I did get some criticism. No matter how awesome your book, few reviews are 100% sunshine and unicorns. The same is true of even a blog post – not everyone who reads is going to be a fan.

You deal with it. You cry, maybe, if you have to. You learn from it and move on.

What you don’t do is respond like Jacqueline Howett, author of The Greek Seaman. After getting a luke-warm review from BigAl’s Books and Pals, she freaked out. It wasn’t even a bad review – the writer had both good and bad things to say. The bad comments he had were mostly about the fact that he found several grammatical errors, along with a number of confusingly-structured sentences.

I invite you to click on that link now to read the comments. Seriously, I couldn’t believe them. It all starts with this gem:

“You obviously didn’t read the second clean copy I requested you download that was also reformatted, so this is a very unfair review. My Amazon readers/reviewers give it 5 stars and 4 stars and they say they really enjoyed The Greek Seaman and thought it was well written. Maybe its just my style and being English is what you don’t get. Sorry it wasn’t your cup of tea, but I think I will stick to my five star and four star reviews thanks.”

Let’s not even talk about the grammatical errors in the comment itself. She then proceeds to copy and paste a few good reviews from Amazon as individual comments.

It gets better. In subsequent comments, she accuses the reviewer of not downloading the correct copy, being “discusting [sic] and unprofessional,” and leaving anonymous negative comments about the book. She goes on to tell other commenters “stay out of it” and then, my favorite part, she leaves a few comments that simply say, “F*** off!” (Without the stars, on Al’s site, it’s uncensored).


The sad part is, without her rants, this review might very well disappeared into the chasm of the Internet. I checked a few of the other posts on this site at random, and it looks like he averages two or three comments per review. Maybe ten at most. On the review of Jacqueline Howett’s book? Over 300 (and counting). He actually gave the plot a good review, so without her crazy comments, some people might have actually bought it on his recommendation. After all, we all make errors when writing, and if you self-publish you might not be able to afford a good editor. To me, it’s more important that the plot is good, and I think a lot of other readers feel similarly. But Jacqueline’s response? No way will I ever read this book.

The reviewer, in my opinion, has handled this with grace. He responded to her accusations and then said that he would not be commenting on the matter any further. I found that overall, he was extremely fair in allowing people with a variety of opinions to post comments.

You’ll notice that I haven’t posted a link to Jacqueline’s website or book on Amazon in this post. That’s by design. While I do think that this is an interesting new media case study and we can all learn from it, I personally do not want to in any way support this author’s work. I’m sure that she is seeing some sales because people are curious as to just how bad her book is, but I don’t want to encourage that. Even if her book is amazing, there are a lot of great authors out there who treat their readers with respect. Use your buying power to support them instead.

Without the community’s support, a writer is nothing. Remember that. It’s something that I think all of us should keep in mind, whether we’re writing ebooks, traditional books, or even blog posts. Community is everything.

For the record, I checked out the reviews on Amazon as well, just because I was curious as to whether or not Al’s review really was unfair. Of the 92 reviews posted, 10 are 5-star…and 72 are one-star. Of the 5-star reviews, a number of them are making fun of the double entendre title and several comment on the fact that the grammar/spelling is bad even though the story is good.

Also, hat tip to my roommate, who told me this was going on.

Canned Responses: A New Media Case Study for Brands


I’ve heard it said that no response is the worst response a business can have when it comes to brand negativity. I’m not 100% sure that’s true. It depends on your industry of course, but personally, I’m finding it more and more offensive to read a canned response. Certainly, you want to let people know that you’re listening, but if your responses are plastic, you might be better off not responding at all.

To illustrate what I mean, I’d like to present a bit of a case study based on some experiences I’ve been having lately. Right now, I’m actively apartment hunting, moving from my rural area of Pennsylvania to the Washington, D.C. metro, and since it’s a four-hour drive, I’ve been doing a lot of online browsing. That way, when I’m in town, I have a much shorter list of places to see in person.

As you may know, if you’ve ever apartment hunted, when it comes to managed complexes or towers, the pictures aren’t always a good indication of what you’ll get in real life. In fact, many places have a few “show” units set up permanently with higher-quality appliances, flooring, etc. than is found in the rest of their units. They use these show units for photographs on their websites and to show prospective renters on their tours. So, to get a clearer picture, I’ve also been perusing review websites, such as ApartmentRatings.com, where people who have actually lived in these complexes can rate their experiences and write reviews. Of course, you have to take what you see with a grain of salt since 1) people who have had an extremely negative experience are always more vocal and 2) nothing stops apartment complexes from going online and posting fake reviews to boost their scores. Those are issues to talk about another day, however.

The fact of the matter is that most of the bad reviews go unanswered. There’s space on ApartmentRatings.com to leave a response, but I’d guess that over 90% either have no response or responses from other tenants asking questions or saying, “Me too!” It’s uncommon for a property manager to respond.

I haven’t found myself getting mad at this. My gut reaction isn’t, “Wow. Not only did this tenant have a major problem, but they don’t care at all! What a horrible place this must be.”

No, my reactive is to shrug and assume that they have no idea what is being said about them…or at most, they see the poor reviews but don’t have staff members dedicated to responding. If there’s no response, I don’t really find it offensive.

But I’ve been seeing a lot of canned responses – responses that are clearly copied and pasted and are unhelpful at best. The management is acknowledging the problem, but they are making matters worse.

To illustrated, this is one of the responses I saw. It was posted to a 1/5 star rating entitled “We still call it Amityville” that talked about a mix-up with the move-in date, unresponsive maintenance staff, and other problems. Here’s a screenshot of the ensuing conversation (if you can call it that):

In my browsing, I saw that same response, word for word, on a number of other posts. “Anonymous” is absolutely right – no response would have been better. This kind of canned response actually offends me as someone looking at potential apartments. I can just imagine how offended it would be to the actual review writer.

First of all, the name is clinically corporate. No one is talking to you – the response comes from “CommunityManagementTeam.” Not “Jane, Community Manager” or “Joe, Customer Relations” or anything like that. A nameless, faceless corporation. Not exactly the kind of image any property management company should want.

Second, the review starts off in a very “me, me, me” type of way. Of course your company doesn’t want bad reviews. This isn’t about you. If you get a bad review, the very first thing you should say is “I’m sorry.” End of story. Even if the customer is wrong, they still had a negative experience, and you should feel sorry in the role your company played in that.

Third, let’s talk about the actual “apology.” Word for word, they say: “We’re sorry you feel that your experience was less than satisfactory.” Not, “We’re sorry you have a less than satisfactory experience.” No, this company has the balls to say, “We’re sorry you feel the way you do” as though the customer is wrong. It’s like if you call someone a mean name and then your apology is, “I’m sorry your feelings were hurt” – i.e., you aren’t sorry for saying it, you’re sorry that the person is so sensitive or found out you said it. This property management company shouldn’t feel sorry that the tenant is upset about these problems. They should be sorry that the problems happened at all.

Lastly, they closed the response with a generic phone number and email. The contact information is nice, but dealing with a corporate office isn’t going to help this tenant because he/she specifically said in her review that there were communication problems with the staff again and again. You can bet your last dollar that if the tenant actually contacted the company using that information, he/she wouldn’t have reached anyone who knew anything about this review or her experiences.

Overall, what I read from this response is, “We see your complaints and we don’t care enough to give you an actual response. We’re just trying to make it look like we care.” And the writer called them out on it…to no response. It’s been several weeks, and the property management company hasn’t come back to say, “You know what? You’re right. Sorry for the form response, let me help you.” They’ve gone silent, and that’s a problem.

The point I’d like to make here is that the notion that no response is the worst response isn’t always true if you’re dealing with brand negativity in a new media setting. If you honestly don’t have the manpower to truly manage your social media presence, it’s better not to have one at all, in my opinion. I would rather assume that your company isn’t there than read a quickly copied and pasted form letter that makes matters worse.

Getting Your Blog Noticed by the Pros


During BlogWorld 2010, travel PR professionals John Forest Ales and Terri Maruca sat down with moderator Stafford Kendall to talk about how to get noticed by the travel pros. While I didn’t get to attend this session live, I’m loving my virtual BlogWorld ticket right now because in listening to the panel, this is relevant for bloggers from every niche who are interested in working with companies to do reviews.

Getting noticed by professionals, whether it be the PR company for a hotel that can give you free accommodations or a publisher that can send you a free book relevant to your blog, comes down to one thing: Build a relationship so you both give and take.

It's not about what they can give you - it's about what you can give them!

You might have a million readers a month, but a lot of bloggers are popular. Unless you have a relationship with a company, the PR person you contact may not know who you are. Or, they might know who you are, but 99% of the time, a PR rep can’t give you free stuff to review. They have to take your request and go through multiple levels to get it approved. A busy restaurant owner probably doesn’t have time to read blogs. They have no idea that you’re a respected expert within your community…yet. If you start to build a relationship, it doesn’t matter if you have ten readers or ten million readers – if you connect to the company, you can show them what you can do for them in terms of promoting their brand. Sometimes, having a small dedicated group of fans looking for something extremely specific is just as good for a company as having a larger community.

When building a relationship, something that is super important is considering what is right for your blog, not just what you can get for free. John and Terri noted that bloggers can sometimes come off as demanding and unprofessional, and often it’s hard to see through the noise of people who don’t actually care about the brand, but rather just want something for free. Let me tell you a bit about my own experiences with doing promotion and reviews while at BlogWorld.

I knew I would be in Las Vegas a day before most people, so I decided to contact some PR agencies with the hopes of doing a few restaurant reviews here on the BlogWorld blog. My thought process was that by highlighting a few places to eat, more BlogWorld attendees would go to those places specifically. The perk for me was getting to eat at some awesome restaurants. The perk for the restaurants was reaching a few thousand people in town for the weekend. Ultimately, I worked with Kirvin Doak Communications to review Border Grill for lunch, Tender for dinner, and Mix for drinks at night. Some of that worked. Some of that didn’t work. All of it was about audience.

First, let me tell you want did work – Border Grill. The food and drinks at all three locations was fabulous, and Border Grill was no exception. But it wasn’t just about my good experience that made this work for a BlogWorld review. Other things that came into play that made this an awesome option:

  • Border Grill was right by the conference location, so most people had to walk past it on their way back to their room. Convenience is the name of the game. They had been seeing it every day and possibly wondering about it, so a review solidified for them the need to stop in and check it out. Tender and Mix were both more out of the way, so if readers wanted to take my recommendation, they had to do a little hunting.
  • The price was right. Bloggers have McDonald’s budgets, so while Border Grill might be a justifiable price for a professional,at $20 – $30 minimum for a meal, this is a splurge for the average BlogWorld reader.  Tender and Mix, while being adequately priced for the quality and service, were just not possible for many people. Had my food not been comped, I would not have been able to afford either of these locations, and I know a lot of other bloggers were in the same boat.
  • Border Grill fit a range of readers’ needs. The atmosphere made it comfortable for readers wearing jeans or readers wearing suits – which was important, considering that some groups had both types of people. The food was also palatable to a wide range of people. It was Mexican, but not in a Taco Bell type of way. I felt comfortable recommending it to everyone I met, without a disclaimer of any kind.

While at BlogWorld, I know that my personal recommendation of Border Grill was responsible for at least three parties of 6+ people eating there or ordering food there, and since BlogWorld, I’ve gotten a few emails from people who traveled to Las Vegas for other conferences but remembered my review and checked out the restaurant. For every person who tells me they ate there after reading my review, there are probably ten people who also did, but just didn’t let me know. Did the restaurant get their money out of offering me a meal there? Absolutely. Tender and Mix? Probably not so much, unfortunately.

Border Grill met the readers’ needs here at BlogWorld extremely well in terms of convenience, price, and range. Again, this extends to non-travel reviewing as well. Will your readers ultimately take action due to your review? Is the product convenient for them? Is the price right? Does it meet the needs of a range of your readers, not just a small fraction of them?

That’s how you get the pros to work with you. Should I review restaurants again next year for BlogWorld, my approach will be different. No matter how much I want a free meal at Tender, it just isn’t a good option for BlogWorld readers. A less expensive burger joint makes more sense. And showing that you’ve done that kind of thinking about your request is what makes a PR rep want to work with you. You’ve not just in it for free stuff. You actually want to promote what they’re doing. Free stuff is just a perk.

When you approach PR companies with any kin of review request, work to build a relationship. Don’t ask what they can do for you. Ask what you can do for them. Be receptive to their ideas, but be prepared with a proposal of your own – and one that has the ultimate potential to show them the biggest return on investment possible for the company. If you deliver for a company, they’ll want to work with you again and again, which is awesome not just for you, but also for your readers.

Thanks to John, Terri, and Stafford for a great panel!

BWE10 Dinner Recommendation: Tender


Earlier today, I posted a great lunch recommendation at Border Grill, but for dinner I wanted to give you a slightly more upscale location to try out. Tender, which is located at Luxor, is a great option if you’re looking for somewhere sophisticated but can’t afford a five-star $400 tasting menu. They have tons of dinner options in a wide range of prices.

The Food

Tender’s chef was nice enough to send out a variety of appetizer samples for me to try, including shrimp two ways (hot and cold), heirloom tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella. I say this without hesitation: go for the cheese. It was creamy with a mild flavor and I wanted to swim in a pool of it. I’m pretty sure I would have eaten it all had I not had dinner partners who wanted to share.

Oh, something that you wouldn’t normally think about doing – try the bread. I usually try to avoid filling up on bread when I know I’m going to have a great meal, but Rachel, who helped organize the dinner, made me have a slice. I’m picky about bread, simply because my grandmother is the best bread baker in the world (it’s a fact.), but this was pretty darn good. It’s homemade and soft, while still being slightly chewy and having a crunchy crust. Pretty much everything you want bread to be.

Instead of doing a tasting menu like I did at Border Grill for lunch, we ordered dinner. On our waiter’s recommendation, I tried the seafood ensemble, which included Hawaiian blue prawns, Maine sea scallops, and Australian sea bass. We also chosen potato gratin and creamed corn side dishes to share at our table. I definitely recommend going that route – choosing a number of sides for everyone to try instead of each ordering your own. Our waiter recommended these two specific sides, and he wasn’t wrong, especially about the creamed corn.

I expected to love the sea scallops the most, as they’re one of my favorite foods. I wasn’t disappointed. They were perfectly seared and tasted buttery and smooth without being mushy. I have to say, though, the real star for me was the sea bass. The crispy skin was a delicious, and I almost wanted to order more.

Of course, we had to order dessert after seeing their menu. Our waiter recommended the Grandma’s chocolate cake, which was more fudgey chocolate ganache than cake and definitely not what anyone’s grandma makes at home! Our table also got the cookie platter, which was way too big for three people, let alone one person, and included everything from their version of a fig newton to homemade marshmallow.

My pick? Campfire peanut butter s’mores. Yes, you heard me correctly. It was a chocolate brownie on top of a graham cracker, topped with their marshmallows and drizzled with hot fudge. I’m unashamed to say that I ate almost the entire thing, even after being stuffed from dinner. Let’s be honest; I was really still stuffed from lunch before I even got there.

The Atmosphere

Tender has a very upscale lodge feel, especially with their unique chandelier and spun driftwood sculptures. Like I’m finding with most of the hotel restaurants, appearances can be deceiving. They have more than the small lounge and dining rooms you see from the door! If you want to host a larger party, they have dining rooms you can reserve, and they also have a great wine room, which I definitely recommend if you just want to have a few drinks with friends at the end of the night.

Overall, Tender is kind of like its name – a cozy place to eat. Try to get a booth if you eat here – they’re non-traditional wrap-around booths that make it easy to talk with your fellow diners.

The Service

While I already gushed about Rachel at Border Grill, our serving staff at Tender went above and beyond. John gave us fabulous wine recommendations, including a chardonnay that went perfectly with my dinner. Our waiter was Manuel, and not only was he attentive and professional, but he was also extremely personable. He grew up in Las Vegas, so gave us a ton of recommendation of things to see and do while in town. When we left, I kind of felt like I had made a friend, and that’s not the norm when it comes to your restaurant wait staff.

Both John and Manuel were also extremely knowledgeable about the food at Tender. You’ll notice that I mentioned we went with their recommendations often throughout the evening, and you could tell that they weren’t just pushing the specials or more expensive dishes – they were telling us what they love to eat and what they thought we would most love to eat as well.

Overall, Tender is not going to be for everyone. The food is fabulous, but the prices are a bit high for someone on an extreme budget. Remember, though – you get what you pay for. The prices are definitely worth the quality of the meal you’ll have at Tender. If you’re on a budget, consider stopping in just for wine or dessert!

The Specs:

  • Tender is open daily for dinner. Recommendations are recommended, though probably only necessarily on weekends.
  • Sunday – Thursday from 5-10, they have a $39 fixe menu available. Otherwise, you can expect for spend at least $50 for dinner there, assuming you get a drink, entree, and side. Like I said, if you’re on a tight budget, just stop in for dessert.
  • Dress is business casual.

You can view more information about the restaurant, along with their menus, on Luxor’s Tender page.

Big thanks to Ashli and Rachel for coordinating this meal!

Review Tips for Entertainment Bloggers


Little known fact about Alli: Long before I worked for BlogWorld Expo, even before I worked for b5Media or Binge Gamer, I was an entertainment blogger. I ran a blog called Reality on Bravo, which was all about those formulaic reality shows on Bravo, like Top Chef and The Real Housewives of Orange County. Back in my day, circa 2006, Bravo wasn’t getting much attention, except with Project Runway, and although there was definitely a fan base, finding traffic was, at times, like finding a needle in a haystack.* People who were interested generally went straight to the Bravo website, so I didn’t see much traffic.

Except for review days. Review days were my bread and butter* as far as blogging traffic went. Doing a review of some form of entertainment, like a television show or movie (or even live events, like a concert) is a bit different from reviewing products and services. Yes, you should still be honest, and you should certainly cover both good and bad points, but as an entertainment blogger, you should keep the following in mind as well:

  • Post your review ASAP. As soon as show is over or a movie is released, people are online reading reviews. You have a lot of competition, no matter what you specific topic within the entertainment niche, and one of the ways to drive traffic is to be the first one with a review posted. If you’re consistently first, especially for those of you who review TV shows, fan will soon realize that your blog is the place to be for immediate dishing, and they’ll before regular readers.
  • Talk like you’re gossiping with a girlfriend. Men, use your imagination here. Everyone has their own writing style, but if you just write a run-down of what happened on the show…meh. And I hate the word “meh,” but there’s no other way to describe it. It’s not that it’s bad; it’s just boring. Give your opinion, and do so in a conversational tone. Don’t be afraid to get emotional with your writing, especially if you were surprised by a plot twist, outraged at a reality show outcome, etc.
  • Use “Spoiler Alert” generously. I seriously can’t believe the number of entertainment bloggers who don’t warn when they post spoilers in reviews. Hell, I’ve even seen some entertainment bloggers give away spoilers in their titles. It’s a courtesy that needs to be the rule on your blog, unless you want to lose the respect of your readers.
  • Consider live blogging the show/movie/event/etc. Few bloggers have time to live blog all the time, but it’s something you can consider for a season premier/finale, an awards show, a televised concert, or something else unique related to your niche. If you don’t want to live blog, consider tweeting throughout the event – just warn people first so your non-entertainment followers can ignore your billion tweets until the event is over.
  • Don’t forget to recap. When you review a product, you include specs, like the length of a book or the retail price of the hairdryer. If you’re reviewing something in the entertainment world, don’t forget the “specs” – in this case, a short recap. Sometimes, I don’t have the time to see a movie or watch a TV show, so bloggers bring me up to speed with what happened. If you post a review without a recap, I’m going to move on to another blogger. Your opinions don’t mean much if I have no clue what happened in the first place.
  • Be honest, but be classy. Believe it or not, celebrities, directors, producers, and others in the entertainment industry actually read blogs. Would you be ashamed if the star of a movie read a comment you made about him? Don’t hold back your opinions, but be aware that even big-name celebrities might see what you wrote. Rather than attack a person, attack the performance, and be constructive by saying what was wrong or how it could have been better, instead of just bashing people with insult after insult.

If you’re an entertainment blogger and not doing reviews, you’re missing out on tons of traffic. Seasoned entertainment bloggers – what are your best review tips?

*God, I love overused, corny cliches.

Allison Boyer is a writer for BWE’s blog and the owner/manager of After Graduation. Do not judge her for her love of Real Housewives marathons.

Image credit: sxc.hu

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