Hey there! Welcome to episode 178 of the ProBlogger podcast!
My name’s Darren Rowse, and I’m the blogger behind ProBlogger.com, which is a blog, podcast, event, job board, and a series of eBooks all designed to help you as a blogger to start a blog, to create amazing content, and to grow your audience and hopefully make some money from your blog, too.
You can learn more about ProBlogger over at ProBlogger.com.
In today’s episode, I wanna share with you seven strategies that I used in the early days of my blogging to get products to review on my first commercial blog, which was a camera review blog. I know a lot of you as listeners do reviews on your blog from time to time. Some of you have blogs that are purely about reviewing products, but it’s not always easy to get those products to review.
In the early days of a blog, when you don’t have many readers perhaps and not have a big profile, it can be particularly hard to get those products. This is exactly the problem that I faced in my early days, and so today, I wanna give you seven strategies to get some products to review. Some of them are a little bit obvious, and some of them are quite creative and I hope will be helpful to you.
If you wanna create product reviews for your blog, this episode is for you. You can find the show notes, transcript, and some further reading over at ProBlogger.com/podcast/178.
Just before I start though, I also wanna make one other note. I have in the last couple of days changed our Facebook group’s name. It was previously a group that I’d called “The ProBlogger Challenge Group.” It was purely for sharing challenges for you as listeners, and I decided in the new year to broaden the group a little bit. Now it is called “The ProBlogger Podcast Listeners Group.”
If you do a search on Facebook for “ProBlogger Podcast Listeners,” you’ll find it, and we will be still doing some challenges. But I also wanted to open it up a little bit more to discussing each episode and maybe even making a challenge for each episode. If you’ve got any questions or tips that you wanna share with the group, you can do that there. Again, do a search for “ProBlogger Podcast Listeners” or click on the link in today’s show notes. That’s enough of the logistics. Let’s get into today’s show where we are going to talk about reviews.
The topic for today’s episode comes from Paul [Sutcliffe 0:02:40], who in a recent Facebook Live that I was doing asked me a question, which I answered in the Facebook Live, but then afterwards thought of a whole heap more that I could say on the topic. This is the question that he asked. He said, “How do people go about doing a good review of a product before you’re in a position to be having them sent to you by the product sellers? Do you spend your own money on them to start with or get info from other reviews and sources on the internet?”
This is a great topic. Actually as I was answering it on the Live, it made me think back to my own early days of blogging because I started out, as many of you know, with my first commercial blog being a review blog. It kinda started by accident one day, when I posted a little 300-word review of a camera that I was using. I didn’t really expect much from that particular post, but I learnt very quickly that reviews are fantastic.
People search for reviews on Google. One of the things that I learnt is that a lot of people are searching Google for advice on purchases that they’re making. We’ve all done it, and we perhaps don’t just do it on Google anymore. We perhaps do it on YouTube and other places as well, but people are searching for that type of information so it can be a great source of traffic. I know many bloggers, who have blogs on all kinds of topics, who occasionally write reviews and find that their reviews are their most popular posts.
People search for them. People find them useful. They’re grateful for them. I used to get emails from all kinds of people saying, “Thank you for the review that you wrote on this particular camera and that particular camera,” and they became readers – long term kind of readers because I gave them good advice. People remember where they get that type of advice, so it can be great for building credibility with your readers.
Reviews can be monetized as well, particularly through affiliate marketing if you are recommending a particular product and linking to where people could buy that product with an affiliate link. Those links do tend to convert quite well.
The other thing I love about reviews is they get conversations going as well. When you put your opinion of a product out there, you will find that other people will respond to that as well, either those who agree with your opinion or perhaps have a different opinion to you.
Reviews are great, but how do you get the products to review? It can be a challenge when you’re just starting out, particularly when you wanna do a lot of reviews. Now my first review came because I had a digital camera of my own. I bought it, and that’s probably the best place to start. I’ll talk a little bit more about that in a moment, but what happens when you run out of products that you own that you want to review. This is the challenge that I had in those early days. After I did that first review, how was I going to get another camera to review?
I guess, one source of review products can be the manufacturers themselves, but what if you don’t have a big profile? What I wanna share with you today is seven places that I would get cameras to review – seven different tips to getting cameras to review or products to review on your particular blog. This is how I did it.
Number one. The first place to start is with what you already have. The most obvious tip, so I’m not gonna spend a lot of time on this one. That first review I did was on my own camera, but that dried up very quick because I only had one digital camera.
That’s the first place to start. What do you already have or what are you about to buy that you could be reviewing? Every time I bought a new photography related piece of gear, I would review that, whether it be a lens or a flash or an SD card, a memory card, or something else. You’ve gotta get in the habit of really turning anything you have that’s related to your topic into a review. Number one: review what you already have.
Number two: borrow what you can from your friends or any other contacts that you have. I remember in those early days. Any time a friend would buy a new camera, I would say, “Hey! Could I use it for the weekend?” or “Could I use it for a day?” Write a review on that. It was amazing how many people, not only allowed me to do that, but they began to come to me with their new piece of photography gear because word got out that I was reviewing. A lot of my friends wanted to put the piece of equipment that they bought into my hands so that I could review it because they were interested in my opinion on it.
Borrow. Use your networks, whatever it might be. I actually was part of a camera club, a photography club, and that opened up all kinds of possibilities for camera and gear to review. Find any kind of club or group that might open up the possibilities there.
Number three – this is as my site began to grow, new opportunities for getting review units began to open up. One of the things that I did was to start to ask myself, “Where are the cameras that I wanna review?” The manufacturers at the time weren’t sending cameras out to online reviewers. This is back 2004 and 2005. They were sending them out to journalists. They were sending them out to other places, but not online, particularly bloggers.
I began asking, “Who does have the cameras that I wanna review?” One of the obvious places was camera stores. What I found is that when I would go into a camera store and introduce myself and say, “Hey, I’ve got this site that reviews cameras. Is there any way that I could borrow one of your cameras to review, if I could give you some profile?” What I found is that a lot of the camera stores were actually really interested in building their online profile. This is back in 2005, 2006. I suspect it’s even more so today.
I was amazed how many camera stores allowed me to take cameras away and review them. Sometimes they would give them to me for an afternoon or a couple of hours to run around the city and take photos with their cameras. They would keep my driver’s license or some other form of ID. As the relationships grew, they sometimes let me take them home overnight or for a weekend. In return for them giving me the camera to review, I would link to them in the review and say something like, “This camera was provided by Michael’s Camera Store, which is a Melbourne camera store.” I was able to give them some profile in return for them lending me a camera to review.
Who has the thing that you want to review? The answer may be a store. It may be a rental place. One of things I found is that there was actually a camera rental company in the US, who was willing to send review units to one of our writers a little bit later on. In return for us, again, linking to them and giving them some profile on our blog. We would always acknowledge that the review unit was provided to us by this particular lens rental company.
Who has the type of thing that you want to review? It may be that there’s a local library in your area that has that type of thing. I know here in Australia, a lot of local libraries don’t just have books; they also have DVDs. They sometimes even have toys, so if you’re reviewing toys, maybe there’s a library that has toys that you could borrow as well. There may be other organizations, particularly retailers.
Number four tip is to pitch the manufacturer or a distributer of the product that you’re reviewing. Whilst you might not think you’ve got a big profile, you’d be surprised how many manufacturers do actually have review units that you can review. Most of them probably aren’t gonna send you free stuff that you can keep forever, particularly if that product is high value. If you got low value products that you wanna review, you’ll find that they will give them to you at times, but many of them will lend them to you. This is what I found gradually over time. Manufacturers began to have review units available to bloggers and to online influencers. You’ll be amazed how many companies really are quite open to that, even if you don’t have a massive audience. If you’ve got the right audience for them, they will be open to that type of relationship.
I would be networking as much as you can with manufacturers. The way I did it in the early days was to go to trade shows – our local shows here in Australia for the photographic industry. At those shows, I was able to meet the manufacturers or their representatives. A lot of the time here in Australia was distributors who I was meeting. As I was able to share the story of my site and begin to get to know them, they began to become interested once they heard how much traffic we had and who was reading our site. They became interested in lending us cameras to review.
They never gave us them outright. I wanna make that really clear upfront. We never, ever were given a camera to review that we could keep. We always had them for a couple of weeks, but this certainly was one thing that began to happen more and more. We, even after a while, began to have manufacturers email us and say, “Could you review our products? We’ve got some review units.”
Pitch the manufacturers. The key is to not just talk about how many readers you’ve got, but talk about the type of readers you’ve got and show them that whilst you might not have a massive amount of readers that you’ve got the type of reader that they want to get their product in front of. A targeted audience can go a lot further than a big one. That’s number four.
There’s a few more. If that one doesn’t work for you, it may take a little bit of time to build those relationships.
Number five is consider buying the product that you want to review. I only did this a few times, and I only did it when it was either a really popular item that I knew there’d be a lot of demand for, people wanting information on. If there was a really hot, new camera coming out that I knew everyone wanted to know about, I would consider buying that product, and particularly when I thought I could make enough from the review, through affiliate links, to pay for it anyway. If I knew there was a hot, new camera coming out and I was pretty sure it was a really good camera, I would consider buying that and hope that I can make enough off the affiliate links or on a camera that I wanted anyway. That might be one option for you.
The other thing that I did do on a couple of occasions was to rent a camera. I already mentioned that there was a company who rented cameras out. Well, here in Australia, you can also rent cameras. This is significantly cheaper than buying it, but it meant that I could give it a go for a week. I was able to rent that camera for a week and then send it back again. There was some cost involved, but I was able to make that money back from the affiliate links.
Tip number five was to buy or rent the product that you want to review.
Number six. This is where you get a little bit more creative. What about asking someone else to write a review for you? I published many reviews from other people on my blog in the early days. There’s a variety of different types of people, who might be able to write a review for you. The most obvious one is other bloggers. The idea of a guest post didn’t really exist back in 2005, but people were doing it anyway.
One of the things I did was if I saw another blogger who did own a camera, whether they were a photography blogger or some other type of blogger, I would always email them and say, “Hey! I notice you’re using this particular camera. Would you mind writing 500 words on what you think about that particular camera?” It’s amazing how many other bloggers were more than willing to do that, particularly if you were to give them some exposure.
I remember there were a couple of friends who were hesitant to lend me their camera, as I talked about earlier, but on those occasions, a couple of them actually said they’d write something from their own perspective. They were decent writers, so I would do that.
Another one that worked really well for me was to approach a journalist. I saw in a Melbourne newspaper that there was a journalist, who was writing short reviews on cameras in a weekly supplement in one of our newspapers. I emailed him, and I said, “Hey, is there any way that we could use those reviews that were appearing in the newspaper on our blog?” He wasn’t allowed to do that, but he was able to rewrite them. What he did was when he was reviewing a camera for the newspaper, he would actually write two versions of it and send us one. We were able to do that in return for giving him some profile and giving the newspaper some profile as well. That went on for a couple of years. Couple of times a month, he would send us these reviews.
Maybe there’s someone else out there, who’s got the product in their hands that you want to review, that would review it for you.
Another option that you might want to think about is to interview someone about that product. You might find that they don’t want to write a blogpost for you, but they’re more than willing to talk to you about that product.
I came across one car blogger. He had a blog on exotic cars. It was very hard for him to get a car manufacturer to lend him a car to review, so he would go out and he would find people who owned these cars. He would take his camera out and interview them in person. In essence, what he was doing there was creating content that was that person’s opinion of the car that they bought. They were usually very positive opinions because people had invested significantly to get these cars, but it was really interesting content.
Maybe there’s a way that you could get that type of information from people who own it in some other way. There might be a variety of places. Some of the camera stores that I got to know actually started to write reviews for us as well, again, in return for us promoting the stores, the lens. A rental company that would sometimes lend us review units to review ended up writing their own reviews for us in return for it. Maybe there’s someone else out there who has the product that you want to appear on your site that will create that content for you – either you’re paying them or giving them something else in return. Who has that product in their hands that could lend you that product but could also create that content for you?
The last thing that I used to do – Paul kind of alluded to this in his question. I used to look at what other people were doing online and the reviews that they were creating online. I began to aggregate some of those reviews as well. If there was a camera that I could not get my hands on, but other people were writing about it, I would try and find a quote from those articles and link to those articles from my site.
This is what I would do in aggregating the review. I would write a post that was called “The Canon Powershot A60 (or whatever it might have been) Reviews.” That’s what I would title it, “reviews.” Then I would write a post that listed the camera features that had a picture of the camera – usually a picture from the camera manufacturer, and then I would write some of my own thoughts on the features: on how it looked, on who I thought that camera might suit, on features that might have been missing from it. There’s a lot that you can get from just looking at the features of a product.
Then underneath that, I would quote other reviews. I would only take ever one or two sentences from someone else’s review. It might have been another blogger or another site that I saw or even a newspaper article on a particular product. I would take a sentence or two, and I would make it very clear that it was a quote. I would always link, after that quote, to the source of the quote. It might have been something like DP Review, a digital camera review site. They often had the cameras in their hands the day a new camera was announced, because the camera manufacturers would send this site their cameras. It was very well known, so the day after they’d do their review, I would write this post that would list the features and then would take a quote from the review. Then I’d link to the source of that review.
What I ideally try and do is find two or three reviews on the camera. If it was the A60, I would go on a bit of a search on the web, and I might link to DP Review. I might link to another photography blogger. I might link to a newspaper that had also reviewed it as well. I would take quotes from all those reviews, linking to all of them, and then I would sum up the post with some of my own thoughts and would pick up some of the themes in those reviews.
I think it’s really important, when you are using other people’s content, to not use too much of that content. I did talk about this in episode 173, but it’s okay to use some of it. It’s okay to use snippets of it, as long as you’re very clearly identifying when you’re not writing that content yourself and always attributing to the source of that.
The other thing that you could do today – and this wasn’t really available to me to do back in 2005 – is to use embeddable reviews from YouTube particularly. There’s a lot of reviews of all kinds of products. Pretty much any product that you could think of – there’s a review of it on YouTube. Most of those YouTube creators are more than willing for you to embed their video on your site because it gives them more views, and it gives them more profile. Again, you wanna be really clear in doing that, that it’s not you, and give credit to who is giving that review.
Where possible, add your own thoughts to it. I think it’s really important to make the post your own in some way. Give it an introduction. Talk about your thoughts on the product and who it might be useful for, and then sum it up at the end.
Other people reviewing the products that you can’t get your hands on – can you aggregate that in some way for your audience?
I used to get emails from other bloggers, who I was taking the quotes from, and they would say, “Thank you so much for quoting my review. Thank you so much for the links.” They actually began to pitch us. Every time they would write a review, they would send us a link to it and say, “Hey! Could you do another one of your posts?”
Occasionally, you get someone who go, “Please don’t do that anymore,” but I would say that was probably once or twice in several years of doing it. Most people are more than willing for you to quote them, to link to them in that particular way. The key is to be really transparent about your source of the information, and create something that’s useful for your readers. They will really value that.
There’s seven tips that you might wanna use. If you can’t get those products that you want to review, firstly review your own stuff. Review stuff that you can borrow from your friends or from your network. Look for places that will let you borrow the products that you want to review – number three – particularly retailers or places that might rent out that particular product. Number four: pitch the manufacturers and distributors for review units. You might find, particularly if you show them your audience and who your audience is, that they’ll be willing to do that. Number five: buy the product. Consider doing that, particularly if you make enough money from the review to make it worthwhile. Number six: ask other people to review, write reviews, or create content for you, or interview them. Number seven: aggregate what other people are doing.
Hopefully somewhere in the midst of that, there’s some good advice for you, Paul, and for the others of you, who do want to do more reviews on your site. I’ve got some further reading for you on the topic of writing reviews and how to write amazing product reviews and product reviews that will serve your readers. Those I’m linking to in today’s show notes at ProBlogger.com/podcast/178, particularly on how to format those posts and how to make them extra useful – the type of review that people will really find useful but also will share with other people. You can find that over on the show notes.
Lastly, on the show notes, you can also add your own thoughts. How do you do reviews? How do you get those products that you review on your blog? I know a lot of bloggers almost get too many offers these days from PR agencies, who are trying to get reviews on your blog, but many times, those offers are un-particularly relevant and they sometimes can be low quality in terms of the products. You do need to be a bit careful about the type of reviews that you do accept for your blog, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this whole topic over again at ProBlogger.com/podcast/178.
Thanks for listening. I’ll chat with you in episode 179 next week!
Remember if you are interested in joining the ProBlogger Podcast Listeners Group, we do have a group over on Facebook. You might wanna turn this particular episode into a challenge. I do challenge you to do it.
Write a review on your blog this week, and go over to the Facebook group and share that review with us. I’ll set up a thread where you can do that, and I’d love to see what you come up with. Look forward to seeing your reviews over in the ProBlogger Facebook group.