When I did my post on how to make money via blogging, I'd mentioned doing product reviews within it as one of my favorite ways to generate passive income with a blog.
To me, there's no better recipe for monetization than taking a product I love, walking you through it, showing you what you can do with it and making a commission if you find that the product might help you enough to purchase it via my affiliate link.
(Not quite understanding how product reviews can earn money – AKA new to affiliate marketing? See my post on what affiliate marketing is.)
But I'm also a big believer in doing targeted product or service reviews.
And most importantly? HONEST reviews.
It can be tempting for a blogger to review everything possible on the net – spew out five paragraphs that merely reword the content readily available on the product site, use screenshots taken directly from the product site and recommend a product that they've never even actually used – much less spent their hard earned cash to purchase. AKA to flood the web with bullshit reviews. I'm against that mentality.
But I'm all for real reviews – done right.
Below, I'm going to walk you through how to find products or services that will fit your audience, how to craft a real review of that product or service, how to make it a review worth sharing and show you the results of an average review post I've done here on Sugarrae.
Edit – Note – Before you start reading…
Joost de Valk brought up an important point. I don't JUST post reviews on Sugarrae. I spend time building traffic, a following – a brand – for various reasons. These reviews can take advantage of the strength of my site – I don't want to imply that it's as simple as start a blog, slap up reviews, make money. It's more like start a blog, build a blog, work hard and then you'll be able to monetize with some reviews. This is no “4 hour work week” bull. Don't get me wrong – some weeks I work less than 4 hours – and some weeks I work 80. I'm able to work when I want to. But I busted my ass for over a decade to get to that point. You can read my whole rant on this topic if you'd like. ;-)
Finding products or services to review
Before you go writing up reviews, you need to make sure those reviews are relevant to your audience. For instance, I love the Perfect Meatloaf Pan (seriously, that thing rocks), but I wouldn't post a review about it here on Sugarrae. Why? Because my audience isn't here to learn about new cooking products. They're here for information about SEO, affiliate marketing, online marketing in general and learning how to make money online.
So the reviews here on Sugarrae relate to products and services surrounding that. WordPress themes like Genesis, plugins that cloak affiliate links or guides to getting started in affiliate marketing – those are all relevant products to my target audience.
On the work at home mom site that I own with Missy Ward, I've reviewed products like baby monitors and Care.com – because those are things that work at home moms might be interested in.
Whatever topic your audience comes to you for, products and services that fill a need that is directly on those topics – or can be indirectly related to those topics and easily tied in – are what you should be reviewing. (Know now the products or services you'd love to do a review for but don't know how to find the affiliate program? Check out this post.)
Creating the review
Honesty is always the best policy when it comes to reviews
If you take nothing else away from this post, please let it be this – always, always be honest in your reviews. I always say (and always will) that it is never worth selling out the trust your readers have in you for an affiliate commission. If you review a product and later your opinion changes? Tell people so. New products can always be found – trust is hard (if not impossible) to replace.
I always pay for the product if I recommend it
I know, I know. If you have a popular blog, then you're likely getting offered freebies of products or free memberships to services to review them. But, I have a general personal rule about paying for any product I recommend. If it's not a product or service I'd spend my money on, then what business do I have recommending it to my readers?
I'm not saying you can never take a free product or free access to something to check it out – especially if it's offered. I'm simply saying that if you love the product or service (and believe it's worth your readers spending their hard earned money on) you should then pay for it before publishing a review on it – or expressly state on the review that you didn't.
Example – I've taken several paid plugins for free to check them out at the plugin owner's request. If I love the plugin and want to recommend it, I buy it after the fact, before I publish the review. If I don't like the plugin, I don't. But I also sure as hell don't make a post recommending it. Some might call that dumb or altruistic. But, that's how I personally roll.
Use images that make it obvious you USE the product
In 96% of my reviews – be it a product or service – I use images that make it very obvious I have used the product myself. It takes minutes (or less) to take a picture or a screenshot and upload it. I feel that the difference pictures are obviously showing my Crazy Egg tests vs. the generic images I could pull off the official product or service site make a world of difference. (Now if only Crazy Egg had an affiliate program.)
Always show both the pros and cons of a product
This also falls under the “being honest” section above, but it also serves another purpose. No product is perfect. It may work perfectly. It may fill a huge need in your business or life. But, there is likely something you either don't like or would add to almost any product.
Being upfront about what those negatives are is not only honest, but it helps earn the trust of those reading said review. If you're telling them the truth about the negatives or “wish it also did [this]” then general logic would serve to assume that you're also honest about the positives of the product or service.
I own a lot of review sites in various niches, and I can tell you that I sell plenty – plenty – of products that don't have a 100% or even 60% rave review. People typically understand that no product is perfect. Their real question is will this product serve their particular need or solve their particular problem.
Making the review worth sharing
Getting detailed with it (to the tune of “Getting Jiggy with it” – nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah – nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah)
Doing a detailed review takes a lot of effort. Depending on the product or service and how many features or aspects there are to it, I can spend anywhere from a few hours to an entire day doing a review post. But, I feel like it shows.
When you read the “BS review” mentioned in the intro and have the same visitor come across your much more detailed and thorough review, I personally feels that it not only ups your “trust score” with the reader, but they also are more likely to feel you've “earned” any commission generated through their purchase if they understand the concept of affiliate marketing.
Show them how to solve a problem or fill a need with the product or service
In my Crazy Egg review, I showed people how I used the data Crazy Egg collected on my site to make more money. In my review of Eclipse, I explained to people WHY I cloaked my affiliate links with Eclipse – I identified a (real) problem they may not even know had existed and gave them a solution for it. In my Care.com review, I shared tips on finding and interviewing a nanny (that I found out through a lot of experience with the process).
In my Raven Tools review, I explained how I used the service to organize my (as anyone who builds links can tell you, what can be very messy) link development efforts. In my (since partially retracted) PopUp Domination review I showed people how I used it and the actual results of using it.
I believe that people share my reviews more for what I teach them they can do with the product than the actual standard product review itself.
After the review goes “live”
Allow your readers to comment honestly
Honestly, I've been asked more than once if I delete negative reviews or comments about a service I affiliate for. The answer is HELL. NO. First, there's actual data that shows people are more likely to seek out a product or service to review it if the review is negative. People expect to see negative reviews or comments. I as a reader often immediately suspect any review of a product that does NOT have at least a negative review or two.
Secondly, if people have a negative experience with a product or service I review, especially as a personal blogger on a site like Sugarrae, then I want to know about it. If the overwhelming experience is negative, then I need to look into why – and if I find it to be a trend – it may be time to change my stance on recommending the product or service.
The FTC recently came out with new guidelines (and then last week, even newer ones) that require bloggers and website owners to make disclosure if they were compensated in any way (so affiliate, sponsored posts, company sent you a free item for review, etc) for any kind of endorsement they make.
If you do product reviews that include affiliate links, you fall into that category, so you'll need to ensure your blog features a disclosure page or notice. I wouldn't use mine as an example (no, seriously, don't go my route LOL), but my friend Missy has a very well done one on her site.
Review Case Study
I took an average review off the Sugarrae site. Meaning, it wasn't in the company of my highest earning reviews but wasn't one of my lowest earning either. So, let's take a look at my review of Raven Tools, which I wrote in mid-2010 – approximately 2 and a 1/2 years ago. It's only been mildly promoted – meaning I didn't do as much to get it a strong ranking as I did with other reviews.
I rated Raven 4.5 stars. I love the service and we white-label it for my agency as well as use the Raven API to create our own tools built in-house. I included various tutorial videos in the review (this is one of those places it's hard to use personal screenshots as I recommended above due to not wanting to share personal information).
At the time of this writing, I rank around #6 for “raven tools review” in Google and #4 for the same phrase in Bing (though I don't know what SEO-inclined individual – Raven's target market – uses Bing – sorry Bing).
These are the traffic stats on that page since the day I wrote the review. Caveat 1 – I had a different URL structure for a while, so results 1 and 2 refer to the same post. Caveat 2 – also included is the blog post I did regarding the auction of the one year of Raven Tools service that Raven donated to support my Stroke Walk. I linked directly to them in that post vs. affiliate. But, I did do an extra post that promoted their services due to their generosity I wanted to be upfront about (it included one affiliate link and four non-affiliate links to their site). See below (click to enlarge):
So a little over 7900+ to the specific review page. To date, I've had 5,389 people click on my affiliate link, which has resulted in 486 sales for Raven. The post took me about four hours to write. To date, I've made $3,882.34 in affiliate commissions.
About 70% of them came from my review (I also advertise Raven on my sidebar on some site pages – and not others – and have a link here or there to them within posts, etc.). So the review resulted in approximately $2700 in commissions. $2700 / four is about $675 per hour. That's how much I've earned per hour so far for the time invested in writing that post. And that review is not done earning passive income yet. And it was done honestly and ethically.
I tend to focus more on my various other review sites than on adding reviews to Sugarrae, but it all adds up, and some reviews and product types are much more popular than others. Some reviews make less than the above. Some have made significantly more.