How to write product reviews

For the uninitiated, affiliate marketing is the promotion of another company’s products or services on your website. For each new customer you send to this company, you earn a commission.

For now, we’re going to focus on one of the most effective ways of employing affiliate marketing: writing product reviews for affiliate partners.


How to write a compelling review

“Honesty is the best policy” is one of the most widely-used idioms for a reason. More often than not it’s true. In fact, the first rule of writing a compelling review is being honest. While it can be very tempting to write only five-star reviews, sit back and (in theory) watch the affiliate cash flow in as your readers continually click to buy, this isn’t a good idea for a variety of reasons.

First of all, it’s incredibly short-sighted. How many five-star reviews of shoddy products will you write before your readers realize that you’re lying to them? Probably not many. Then those readers are lost for good. Congrats, you’ve alienated your audience; a most unwise business plan.

While making money is a key element of affiliate marketing, this is also a great opportunity to build your audience. What’s the point in creating a prolific review site if people point to it as one not to trust? It will seem a bit strange if every product you review just so happens to be the greatest thing ever.

Everything has flaws. Everything. Also, consider the fact that what might be a flaw to you may not necessarily be a flaw to someone else, but a selling point. One person’s pros may just be another person’s cons and vice versa.

You’re never going to please everybody, so the best thing to do is to frame your review with your audience in mind. What is it they would look for from this product?

Even if someone stumbles upon your site while wondering about a specific product, reads your review, and ultimately decides not to buy, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If your review is honest and thorough, they’ll probably return to find out your opinion on other products.

Without balance, your review is going to come across as super salesy and ad-like. You’re an affiliate partner, not an advertising agency. Remember that if you’re ever tempted to exaggerate the virtues of a product just to make a little more cash.

The key elements of an informative review

Every review you write is going to be different, no matter how similar or dissimilar each product you review is. But if you bear in mind the following when writing up your thoughts on a product, you should be well on your way to writing a review that will engage readers.

Pros and cons

This is exactly what it sounds like; what’s good about the product and what’s bad. As an affiliate partner it will be tempting to hype up the pros, but, like we said before: Don’t. Be honest about what you think is good and what is bad. It is subjective, after all. The more in-depth you get about a product, the more informative your review will be.

Let’s take this review of a smartphone on TechRadar as an example of possible pros and cons.

TechRadar’s format starts with a summary of what’s good and bad about the phone and then delves in deeper in the rest of the article. This is a great way to intrigue people to read the rest while appealing to those readers who aren’t inclined to read longer articles.

The pros and cons also need not be limited to just being about the product itself – think about the brand! What good is a product if the company’s customer service is notoriously poor? Maybe another company has just come out with a fantastic blender, but made microwaves that were known to malfunction in the past? Do your research. If you think a piece of information is relevant to your reader’s interests, include it. It will help your review stand out from the rest.

Pricing

Is this particular product worth the price being asked for it? Is there a cheaper version out there that does the job just as well? Your readers deserve to know.

Be detail-oriented

For every product, there will probably be no end of detail you can include about it. Think about the details that might interest your target audience. Maybe you’re an eco-friendly fashion blogger who writes about sustainable and ethical clothing. Some points you might touch on about a garment could include:

  • What its made of

  • Where it was manufactured

  • Whether or not it’s fairtrade

It’s never a bad idea to contact the manufacturer for more information on an item’s features and possible points of interest.

Product updates

Is this product an updated version of an older product? What’s different? How does it compare? Does it have more memory or a new formula? Or is the update simply nothing more than a new lick of paint? Your readers deserve to know if something is essentially the same product but with shinier new packaging or a largely pointless new feature

Comparisons

This quite nicely brings us to the topic of comparisons. Comparisons can cover all manner of things, from pricing and product updates to similar items. People love recommendations. If they can get something for a lower price, they well (all the better for you if the better item also happens to be an affiliate!).

Be sure to use common sense when it comes to comparing products. Think about if you were reviewing a budget smartphone, like the Moto G5 we mentioned earlier. Chances are if someone is checking out reviews for a budget phone, they don’t have a lot of money to spend. So, ending the review by telling them they’d be better off buying the latest iPhone would be unhelpful and frustrating, to say the least.

This not to say you can’t or shouldn’t mention higher-end phones in such a review. If a certain feature is comparable – for instance, if it has a good-quality camera or intuitive navigation – then that it definitely a point of interest. Otherwise, you’re ultimately better off comparing it to other phones in its price range.

Beauty review website Temptalia is pretty famous for having perfected the art of comparisons. In each review not only do they talk about the formula and ingredients (remember how we mentioned being detail-oriented?), but they also feature a list of duplicates of the product in question in a variety of price ranges.

Good imagery and visual elements

This point brings us back to one of the things we stressed the importance of at the beginning of the article: getting your hands on, and actually using the product. Apart from the positive aspect of actually giving an honest opinion, by having the product you’ll be able to produce better imagery than those who just rely on standard images from the manufacturer.

You’ll be able to take pictures of the item from different angles, highlighting any flaws if there are any. You’ll also be able to show it in action.

If you want to get really in-depth, why not incorporate a video in your review? This is particularly great if you’re reviewing an online service or software, recording yourself actually using it is a great way of conveying the ins and outs to your audience.

Beyond photos or videos of the product, other visual elements that are great for breaking up the text are infographics and screenshots.

A scoring system

An easy-to-read scoring system – particularly a visual one – will help your reviews to stand out and will make them more skimmable. While in-depth is good, some people will want to see a star rating before committing (don’t be offended, attention spans are just the lowest they’ve ever been – blame the internet).

It’s easy enough to create a scoring system. If you want to rate different aspects of a product, then you will need to choose metrics, For instance, if you were reviewing makeup, this could include “staying power” or “value for money”.

For each metric, you will then have a rubric. The most familiar rubric is the star system; one star generally meaning bad and five stars being excellent.

Film review magazine Empire uses the star system in its film ratings.

A comments section

This isn’t a must-have, but it is a good-to-have, particularly if you want to improve SEO and build a community. Try to inspire a discussion in the section by finishing your review with a question. You could simply as if a reader has used the product to, or if they felt differently about the product. The more comments your review gets, the longer the web-page will get, and the better it will index and rank in search engines.

Crafting compelling copy for an affiliate review

So, now you know the key elements to putting together an engaging review. But that doesn’t do a lot of good if your prose is poor and your cadence confusing.

Not everyone is a good writer, but that doesn’t mean that anyone can’t be a good writer. It is a skill that takes time and practice. You can’t expect it to come overnight, but work hard at it and you will improve. Some steps you can take toward perfecting your writing skills include:

  • Studying syntax and grammar

  • Taking free online writing lessons

  • Reading as much as possible

  • Getting your friends to give you feedback

Your aim isn’t to be the next Shakespeare. What you want to do is express yourself clearly and effectively. Brevity is key here. Stick to short sentences and paragraphs, and use sub-headings where needed. This will ensure your text is clear and easy to read.

Think AIDA

AIDA is is a method for crafting persuasive writing. It’s commonly used in copywriting and in online content marketing, and it’s an anagram that should be familiar to anyone who saw the movie Glengarry, Glen Ross. Unlike that movie, the goal isn’t necessarily to persuade the reader to buy the product, but to persuade the reader that you are an authoritative voice on this subject. Here is the breakdown of what AIDA stands for:

A = Attention

Hook your reader immediately, tell them why they should pay attention and keep reading. Again, this links back to who your audience is and what their desires are. What are they likely to want from what you’re reviewing?

I = Interest

Your reader’s attention has been caught, now it’s time to make them interested. A good way of doing this is through engaging their emotions or empathy. If you can, make it personal. Talk about why it is you’re using this product and why you want to share your experience with it with people. Maybe include a funny anecdote or a relatable story. Provide a narrative that your audience will care about.

D = Desire

The difference between interest and desire is the difference between wondering about something and actually imagining yourself using that something. If you responded well to a product or service, talk about why. Again, you’ll be appealing to your readers’ emotions, inviting them to relate to your positive experience and showing them that they can have that experience too.

A = Action

Finish your review with a call to action. This doesn’t necessarily have to be to buy the product you’re writing about, especially if you weren’t a fan (although always remember to include your affiliate links!). This CTA could encourage new readers to subscribe to your blog, follow your newsletter, or to follow your company on social media.

By keeping in mind the fundamentals of AIDA as you write, you should be able to create attention-grabbing and action-oriented content.

General review structure

Before we dive straight in, let’s start with an example of a bad review on Amazon.

But how is it a bad review? It’s four stars! It’s a great device that works well. Okay, so what I should have said before is a badly-written good review. This review ignores all the essential elements we just went through. We may come away from this knowing how Brian Paul feels about the product, but we don’t learn why he feels this way. In what way does it work well? How is it great? While you can get away with this kind of thing on Amazon, you’re not going to get very far with affiliate reviews if you decide to follow this school of writing. (Also, a little punctuation goes a long way!)

Whether you’re writing a review or a general blog post, every piece of content you produce should have a:

  • Beginning - The introduction

  • Middle - The main information

  • End - The conclusion

Some of you may be rolling your eyes at captain obvious over here, but if writing isn’t your strong suit, structure might not come naturally. So, before you begin, write yourself an outline before your review becomes a meandering mess and you’re tempted to give up. This basic structure can be broken down even further.

Beginning - Introduction

  • Introduce the product you’re reviewing

  • Discuss the claims it makes

  • Talk about its target users and buyers

  • Mention any interesting details about the product your readers should know

You can also include the star rating in the introduction if you like, and summarize the pros and cons as a way to hook readers.

Middle - The main information

The middle of your piece is where it gets really juicy. Talk about all those aforementioned product claims; here is where you get to sing its praises, rip it to shreds, or just shrug indifferently.

  • Your first impressions and how they changed (or didn’t)

  • List its pros and cons

  • Talk about any stand-out features

  • Mention anything that disappointed you

  • Who will it actually benefit?

  • Is it high-quality/user-friendly/worth the price?

  • Are there any alternative products out there?

End - Conclusion

  • Summarize your main points

  • Give your concluding thoughts

These are guidelines only. You can lay out your review however you want; there are no hard and fast rules. However if you’re not sure where to begin, this is a good starting point.


Wrap-up and checklist for writing effective affiliate reviews

And there we have it. You should now have a better idea of how to go about writing compelling affiliate reviews. Like we said before, it might take some time and work, but it will be worth it to establish yourself as an authority in your niche.

We covered a lot to of ground and there’s a lot to remember, but the following checklist gives a rundown of the main points we touched upon. Be sure to refer to it before you start reviewing anything.

  • Determine your niche

  • Sign up to an affiliate program with a company that aligns with that niche

  • Use the product

  • Practice writing (if necessary)

  • Write review in structure recommended above

  • Give your honest opinion

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