Writing Product Reviews
Product reviews are one of the big mainstays of the affiliate site; in this lesson we're going to over Writing Product Reviews.
A review is usually a more effective promotional tool for affiliates than a full-blown sales page because it gets past your readers natural defenses - with a review you're no longer a salesperson, you're a friend who is looking out for the reader’s interests, recommending particular products or warning them away from bad products.
Reviews tend to follow a particular formula on affiliate sites: generally, you will take one or more affiliate products in your market and write a bit about the product from a “critical” perspective. Once you've imparted your honest opinion to your visitors you then invite them to learn more by clicking through to the merchant site - through your affiliate link, of course!
Types of reviews
- The brief overview review:
You'll see these types of reviews very often when you're looking at other affiliate sites. They're very brief reviews - perhaps only one or two paragraphs - with a star rating (or some other kind of rating), a product image, and a link to the merchant site. Often there will be a number of these reviews on one page, so readers can see with one glance which products get the highest ratings and which products the affiliate really doesn't recommend.
This is a very conventional structure for affiliate reviews simply because it is highly effective, for the following reasons:
- The descriptions are brief; they don't really answer all the questions that visitors might hold about the product, making the readers more likely to click through to the merchant site to learn more.
- It's clear which product is most highly recommended; Visitors can see which product is "best" with the star rating, although they only briefly know why; again, this makes them more likely to click through to learn more about the highest rated product.
- They keep your attention. Visitors are more likely to read these brief reviews than to wade through a full-page review. At this stage they are likely to be "just browsing" and getting a feel for what's available in the marketplace; their attention span is short, and a brief review gets right to the point.
When you're creating these review pages, make them credible. Don't write reviews that are just like promotional spiels - try to be honest (or at least appear honest!). Write about the good and the bad. Don't give every product you review five stars - this doesn't look realistic; If you do only end up listing "highly recommended" products, explain this to your readers - say (for example) that you only recommend top quality products, and you don't bother listing the rest.
- The full-page, comprehensive review:
This is the kind of review a lot of us would be tempted to write, because it's the kind of review that we enjoy reading. This review goes into all the details: all the features, all the benefits, the good points and the bad points, complete with oodles of product photos or screenshots.
These types of reviews can be successful in certain circumstances. They can be great as landing pages for pay-per-click, and for grabbing targeted natural search engine traffic that is specifically looking for reviews of a particular product.In general, however, full reviews don't end up being as successful as short reviews, because you don’t end up doing as good a job of selling the product as the merchant’s sales page does.
When you write such a long, in depth review, the reader doesn’t feel they need to click through to the merchant’s website - they feel that they can make an informed decision after reading what you have to say in your review.
This is good for you if your review is written so well that it outperforms the current sales page that the merchant has - in this case you may even be able to request that the merchant allows you to link directly to the payment page as there is no need for the reader to read through the merchant’s sales page after reading your in-depth review.
The big problem with writing a long review is that the reader may not choose to click on your affiliate link to visit the merchant’s product. They may simply read your review, and then browse other products, then when they go to purchase, they may not end up going back to your website to find the product, they will most likely just Google it and go direct to the merchants website, bypassing your affiliate link.
Or else in reading your review they may decide that the product isn't really what they're looking for. They don't click through to the merchant site, so the merchant has no opportunity to counter whatever objections your visitor might have.
Alternatively, your review may miss an aspect of the product that your visitor was largely interested in, and they might leave your site thinking that the product doesn't meet their needs, even though it might.
Basically, unless they're handled with care, comprehensive reviews do not encourage readers to click through to the merchant site. And as an affiliate your primary job is to get your visitors to click through to the merchant site, and then let the merchant do the convincing! Unless they have a poor landing page of course, then you’ll want to opt for a more in-depth review.
Here's an example of a full-page review that is handled well.
- The feature list review:
We've all seen these kinds of reviews: Less like an actual review that expresses an opinion, and more just like a comparison of various features, often presented as a grid with lots of ticks, crosses or information under various boxes. Be very careful when constructing a chart like this that you don't turn people off a particular product unintentionally by giving it a whole bunch of crosses. A lot of charts you see will be obviously oriented towards a particular product, and the "features" will reflect the features of the most highly favored product, while ignoring the features that it's obviously lacking.
This is a nice tactic to use to gently sway your visitors towards a particular product whilst maintaining the impression that you're unbiased yourself. It also prevents your visitors suffering from "analysis paralysis" - it's very hard to make a decision to click on something when there's no obvious "best option". What you have then is a reference, not a marketing message.
Of course, you could also create the definitive feature comparison chart for your market, and attract links by being such a good reference!
Idea: The negative review
Don't underestimate the power of reverse psychology when it comes to writing reviews. Often "negative" reviews can do as well, if not better than more enthusiastic reviews of a product.
By "negative" we don't mean that you should completely bag the product: "This product is a complete waste of time and money, don't purchase it ever!" (Although you may want to try that at some point). Be a bit craftier: people are always interested in negative reviews of products, and if you can gain their attention with a negative slant and then turn it around slightly to show the product in a more positive light, then it can work quite well.
As an example, we once posted a review on the Affilorama blog outlining why Affilorama wouldn't be recommending a product that had recently been launched following a great deal of hype. Many affiliates had jumped on the promotion bandwagon and were promoting the life out of this new product, but there was a problem with this: none of the affiliates had actually seen the product. The merchant had refused to give out review copies of the product to super-affiliates so that they could try it before they promoted it.
This typically wouldn't be a problem for most experienced affiliates, who would be well versed in the art of an educated bluff, but in this instance we posted our review under the headline "Why I won't be promoting XX product", then proceeded to talk about how we hadn't actually seen the product and therefore did not feel comfortable recommending it (particularly at the price they were asking!).
We talked about how it was possible the product could be quite good, particularly if it followed in the footsteps of another product the merchant had previously created, but we also said that, if the product was like some of the other products from the same merchant, it could well be a terrible product.
The article was made more effective by telling the reader that, in any case, if they did decide to purchase the product, they could do so through Affilorama's affiliate link and thereby earn themselves some juicy bonuses provided by us, just in case the product itself didn't measure up.
For a review that said basically nothing about the product, almost going so far as to present it in a negative light, this review generated thousands of dollars in sales. Don't underestimate the ability of a negative review to grab your readers interest and get them clicking through to the merchant site!
(You can read the entire review here: Why I’m not endorsing PPC Classroom)
Do you actually need to have used the product in order to review it?
The short answer is: it certainly helps; having actually used the product gives your reviews an air of credibility. If you're reviewing high-priced products, however, it’s understandable that you won't want to spend hundreds of dollars just to gain some review fodder.
There are ways around this: if you're promoting information products like software or eBooks, many merchants will provide free copies of their products to affiliates if you ask nicely. You can try emailing the affiliate program manager for the site, or (even better) jumping on the telephone and talking to them in person. If you've got a good track record as an affiliate and you can demonstrate that you're able to make sales for them, they'll probably be happy to give you a free copy. If this is your first experience as an affiliate, make sure your website is looking tidy and promising before you contact them.In this case definitely consider using your wit and charm on the telephone - it shows you're serious, and it's much harder to refuse someone on the phone!
There are some merchants who won't provide free copies to affiliates no matter what their credentials are, so don't be too offended if you get knocked back.
If all this seems like far too much hassle, you might try bluffing your way through a review, particularly if the review is just a short one. Remember that your goal is to just arouse enough curiosity in your visitors to get them clicking through to the merchant site - you don't need to go into a lot of detail.
Tips for bluffers
- Take a look around the Internet at what other people are saying in their reviews.
- If it's a product that's also available on sites like Amazon.com (where people can write reviews of the product when they've purchased them) take a look at their reviews too: often these reviews won't be biased like an affiliate's review and can give you an insight into any truly good or bad things about the product.
- Go through the sales page for the product and extract some points from this. Be careful not to copy word for word from the sales page, since that's where you'll be sending your visitors if all goes according to plan!
General tips for reviews
- You might want to focus on writing reviews for affiliate products, but don't neglect the other products available in the market. If your visitor is already familiar with the products available, warning bells might start ringing in their head if you don't even mention them. A nice trick is to give somewhat less than glowing reviews for these other products, and then at the bottom of these reviews point towards products that you recommend more highly.
- You may also wish to try to promote two products on your review pages by claiming that the number 2 product is the best value for money, or the best at some other category that you could create for it, or by saying that it is an essential companion to go with the number 1 product that you recommended. You may even consider testing promoting both products as first equal. The downsides of these methods are that it can confuse the reader and they may not purchase either product as a result. This is something you need to test for yourself.
You can broadly classify reviews into a few different types:
- Brief reviews discuss the product very generally, give it a ranking and invite the reader to click through to the merchant site for more information. These can be very effective.
- Full-page reviews are good for the search engines, but don't tend to be so effective as the brief review. They give the prospect too much information and allow the prospect to make up their mind before clicking through to the merchant.
- Comparison chart reviews should also be used with care since a prospect might dismiss a product on the basis of its "cross" count. These can be skewed to smile upon particular products.
- Negative reviews can be quite effective. They arouse curiosity and get visitors clicking through to the merchant site to see for themselves.
- You can often get review copies of affiliate products from the merchant if you ask nicely.
- If you can't get a review copy you can bluff your way through a review by looking at other review, visiting unbiased (non-affiliate) review sites and checking out the product sales copy.