Make a product review blog and make money from it

Are you a blogger wanting to create a product review blog? Do you want to review products and get paid for that? What are the best avenues for earning from a review blog? You opened a blog recently but don't know how to to review products? You want to know how best to approach sellers? What are the best practices for reviews on blogs?blogs? 

Let us answer these questions one by one. Before that, some advice for bloggers who have only recently created their blog:

What is product review? What is a 'GOOD product review'?

Product reviews are nothing but articles in which you discuss the special features of products (or services) produced and offered by others. The products can be daily-use items, books, music DVD, a spare part, big merchandise, a course for competitive examinations or an online service. Anything that people sell and buy. 

A good review is one that is honest about good as well as bad features of the product. Honest reviews are liked and shared by visitors. People who find value in reviews on a website visit that website again and again. One-sided, unfair, reviews get the website or blog a bad name.

Good reviews have some common features. 
  • They are well-written; if required, they answer common questions about the product in Q-A form. 
  • They have photos of the product. 
  • They analyze the product well from the point of view of the consumer. 
  • They also compare the featured product with other similar products so that the viewer can make the right choice. 
  • They give examples of what can be achieved from the product and what not (in the case of software, cameras etc).
  • They allow comments and other forms of engagement. 
  • They give link to the product site.
  • They are honest about their purchase of the product or any affiliation with the seller. 
  • If the blog gives discount in arrangement with the seller (e.g. in the case of software and web services such as web hosting), the review discloses the affiliation.

I sometime review products that I use. How do I go forward?

In general, as a 'professional' review blogger, it is necessary that people start knowing you for your excellent product reviews. So, you must devote a significant part of the blog to reviews. Exceptions can be there as discussed below.

Keeping the reviews as one part of a wholesome blog works better than just reviews, especially when the other content has synergy with product reviews. For example, if you have a blog on make up, in which you write about this subject, you can regularly review beauty products on the blog. A photoblog can regularly review photography equipment. A yoga blog can review yoga mats, yoga pants and yoga classes.

When reviews are done very occasionally but are part of an overall strategy, they do lead to synergy. For example, a reputed blog on photography may occasionally give reviews about cameras/ accessories/ photography books/ printing services/ editing software. It is likely that those who find the blog very good will value these reviews greatly and will not hesitate in making purchases through links given in the reviews. 

However, if you are not a very established blogger and sometimes review products after using them, that does not make you a review blogger. Such reviews do not make a critical mass so that visitors come to your blog to find your opinion on products/ services. Such occasional reviews do not bring the blog high on search pages. Individual reviews might be liked by visitors but are not taken seriously by firms who advertise on review blogs and send products to bloggers for a review. 

There are so many review websites. Why would buyers and sellers care for a product review blog? 

Yes, on the first site, there are hundreds of too big sites such as Amazon that provide reviews of all their products. There are big portals that review electronic gadgets and software. There also are established rating sites. Google and Bing serve you reviews the moment you look for a product or service. Some sites make billions out of reviews and have special arrangement with sellers so that the visitor gets some discount when he buys based on the site's reviews and recommendations. 

The product review domain is really very big but it should not scare you. Because (i) there are so many people surfing the web that there is space for everybody, and (ii) people look for genuine reviews that are not too many. You have small shops along side huge brand outlets even in the most famous shopping malls, isn't it? Some of those small shops and pavement vendors make more money than the big ones!

As a review blogger, you can sure have your place on the web, and it would shine in a crowded marketplace too. You can make money by reviewing products, if
  • Your reviews are exceptionally good so that people visit your blog again and refer it to others;
  • You promote the reviews through social media, SEO etc so that people know where your blog is and what it does;
  • You monetize the blog by appropriate methods so that you earn out of your hard work

What especially works for review bloggers is that people look for correct information and honest opinions, and they don't care for the size of the opinion maker. People also want a variety of opinions to arrive at a right buying decision. So, a blog that gains authority because of honest and informative reviews becomes more and more sought after.

If you look at the list given above about the features of good product reviews, you will find that many big websites and blogs lack in many of these features. No wonder, small genuine review blogs have a good market

Another points to note is that most big businesses of today started small. Most big travel bloggers (some with travel agencies, portals and many employees working for them now) started as individuals wanting to travel a lot and writing about it. Some didn't know a bit about blogging! So, be sincere in your effort, work in the right direction and work a bit hard - and success will be yours.

Should I review a range of products on my blog or go for a narrow niche?

That will depend on a dozen factors, and therefor you should do research. Don't go for a wide niche if you are a newbie blogger. 'How narrow' will depend on your location, the type of product you review, your expertise and so on.  

Generally speaking, go for a narrow blogging niche but not too narrow. As an individual budding blogger, you can't compete with huge review and comparison sites and apps. The web is particularly crowded in some niches, e.g. electronic devices and beauty products. So, having a review blog on digital cameras will not get you anywhere unless you are patronized by a camera store or company. On the other hand, if you review products that are in demand and are special in some respect, your blog will soon be popular among those buyers and will come high on Google search pages when people search for those products. For example, review of restaurants in a tourist destination may have good scope.

On a paper, write down the range of products or services you will like to review and then study the market. Suppose you are a cook/ foodie/ food connoisseur and will like to review restaurants in Delhi. It is a fairly good market and would perhaps get you good traffic and affiliations. But there are at least two dozen well-established travel sites, two dozen restaurant-review blogs and a dozen trade directories with large number of reviews already posted there. Google and local apps come up with quick reviews the moment you type a restaurant's name, even when you type 'restaurant' or the location on the search box. 

If you want to be a review blogger in such a crowded niche, you must realize that you need to narrow down your blogging topic. So, make a list like this: restaurants in Delhi... non-vegetarian restaurants... restaurants serving Bengali cuisine... Bengali non-veg restaurants in East Delhi... Best fish dishes available in Delhi...etc. Now, if you go for 'Bengali non-veg restaurants in East Delhi' out of this list, this might be too narrow and you might not have many good restaurants to review after ten reviews. Because there are not many big Bengali restaurants in this location (though it is as large an area as Paris), you might not get advertisements from these restaurants. Moreover, there may not be enough people looking for this type of food in this area, so even if you are on the top of Google search page, you might not get enough number of people coming to you. Hope, the example helps how to determine how wide or narrow your niche should be.

Study your audience well. Try to profile your potential visitors. Who will come to you and go by your advice? Where does the audience live? What are the likely lifestyle and search habits of the target audience? Should you review product of mass use or those used by the elite? And so on. 

Study your competition and adjust your niche. Google keyword planner is a great tool to study the keywords which are most used for search. You should use it also for optimizing your review posts for the right keywords so that more people come to you by searching that product on Google and other search engines.

Also study the potential payers. Whether there will be many firms advertising directly or through affiliation or through PPC advertisements? Whether the sellers in that niche pay bloggers for reviews?

Is it OK to approach brands/ sellers directly for ads and paid reviews for the blog?

You can have AdSense and affiliate ads (e.g. Amazon, CJ) from the very beginning but don't be in a hurry to approach sellers directly. If you are a new blogger or you have not reviewed many products so far, it is necessary that you build up a solid portfolio before approaching sellers directly. 

And yes, once you have a good number of reviews to show, it is not only OK to approach them, it must be your regular drill. 

Make a directory of firms that sell your type of product, and approach them through whatever you feel as the best way - email, phone or meeting in person.

In whatever way you contact them, these are the best practices you should follow:

  • Choose the seller with care. You should not be desperate to get any seller. The chances of a shady seller giving you a good deal are more than an established one agreeing for it. But it will hurt badly in the long run if you are not discreet in selecting the seller.
  • Be ready with your terms. Don't sell yourself cheap even in early blogging days. At the same time, don't show attitude. Be the real you. Offer short as well as long term deals, and make the long-term deals more attractive. 
  • Be ready with your arguments. Have convincing arguments - backed by facts. At the end, the seller/ advertiser should not feel that they are obliging you by giving you an ad or paid review assignment, but that a review on your site will help their business.
  • Showcase your assets. Make a one-page flyer about the blog, which should describe the blog, its target audience, any good comments you have received, any deals you have made, and its traffic stats. Say a few lines about yourself too, but not too much. Send it electronically as part of your email. Keep its print ready if you intend to meet sellers in person. 
  • Be polite and accommodating but slightly persistent. If the other guy wants to test your standing, he might  be cold to your offer. If that happens, walk out but leave the door open by suggesting that if they wish to still consider your offer in future, they could call you on phone OR they should not mind if you ring them after a week just to see if they have a change of mind.

Is it better to buy the product than ask for a sample for review?

You will learn the tricks of the trade as you go, and you will get plenty of free products, as some beauty, fashion and travel bloggers have shared on their blogs. We also know that books keep pouring it to bloggers who review books. Brands send product samples to established review bloggers on their own.

But don't wait for the product to come to you if you feel you have a duty to review that product. For example, highly reputed reviewers get smartphones free when these are launched, but even mid-level bloggers are not likely to get them free for a review. As a blogger reviewing mobile phones, you need to review the mobile phone early. In such a case, you will need to read all the information available on the web and based on your understanding of the features, you will present your views on that smartphone. You must, in such case, tell beforehand that your opinion/ advice about the set is based on ... (links) and you have not used the set yourself so far. 

You might have seen many bloggers of beauty products reviewing products after buying and using them. Such bloggers get a fan following because these reviewers are under no obligation from the brand to project good aspects of the item. 

But there is no harm asking for the product or service, and it would come free (especially when the seller is desperate or it won't cost him much to gift it to you). Such products include books, e-books, software, free hotel stay before tourism season, etc.

Product reviews - do they go well with affiliate marketing and AdSense?

There is no harm having any type of advertisement on the blog along with reviews. However, sometimes a seller who gives you good money for reviews on your blog might put the condition that you will not serve his competitor's ads. But don't worry; such situations can come when you are a well-established review blogger - and in that case you will have all the wisdom to take the right decision.  

What should a reviewer do if a seller demands only appreciation, no honest review?

You will have to deal with such situations in your journey. That's why I said above, choose the sellers discreetly and be ready with your terms. 

You have opened the blog to make money by reviewing products on it, not to fight with sellers or teach the bad ones a lesson. So, avoid bad sellers from the beginning. After that, you will have only good sellers whose products and services will be genuinely good. The wiser the seller, the more open he will be to nuanced criticism.

If you find a product bad after using it for free, you can tell the seller, your review will have those bad points or at least the review will not be all positive. So, either he improves the product (e.g. customer service in a hotel or a bug in software), takes it back from you (e.g. key for a software), agrees for the review, or you don't carry the review. You can have your say only when you had made these terms clear before you used the product - that's what makes it even more important to make your terms clear in advance.

Should a review blogger put disclosure; does it not sound apologetic? 

Disclosing your affiliation with the product or service under review is a good practice. Instead of weakening you in any way, it gives you great advantage in terms of credibility: your visitors would develop trust in you when you do that. 

Disclosure also gives your blog a higher ranking in internal rating done by search engines. 

Moreover, if someone gets hurt because of your recommendation, your disclosure would save you from any legal action by the users.  

Take a few examples. You would caution that the face cream you have reviewed has a high concentration of aldehydes and products with extra formaldehyde can cause rashes. Or, this particular yoga posture should not be tried by people with a history of bone fractures. Now if a lady gets allergy after using that face cream or a guy breaks his bone after doing that tough yoga asana, they won't be able to sue you. Similarly, if you mentioned that your views about that food supplement are based on your experience and you are in no way connected with the brand, people would take you at face value. (But it must be true too.) If you review a restaurant after a press trip or a paid-for dinner and mention about it, people would trust you more and will even forgive you if they find that you have praised the restaurant slightly more than it deserves. Got the point?

By the way, the US FTC has detailed guidelines on what should be taken in mind when endorsing a product. Though they do not concern bloggers outside the US, they serve the purpose of telling what are good and undesirable practices when endorsing a product.


What are the best niches for blogging with reviews in mind?

As mentioned earlier, what is the 'best niche' for your blog depends on where you are located, and your knowledge and experience about the product in question. At the same time, some products are better for review than others because lot many people search for them and brands are ready to advertise. So, you must try to match all of them. However, these (your location, your knowledge base, searches and seller interest) do not always match, and there is a lot of competition where they match.

Yet, when you are still doing research on what products to choose for your review blog, it helps to know the topics/ products about which people make searches before making a purchase, and for which sellers are ready to pay for advertisements and affiliation. Here is the list of products and services that suit review blogging:
  • Books (Please visit the linked post discussing book review blogging in detail.) 
  • Garments etc (branded garments, shoes, accessories, etc)
  • Vehicles
  • Beauty products
  • Luxury items
  • Restaurants, eateries
  • Hotels, guest houses, resorts
  • Clubs
  • Travel destinations
  • Airlines, travel and transport services, ferries, cruises
  • Schools, colleges, universities, educational/ training instituties
  • Software
  • Electronic goods (mobile phones, laptops, cameras, CCTV devices, LED televisions, chargers, headsets, music and game equipment, virtual assistants, VR gadgets, etc)
  • Photography equipment
  • Health and fitness equipment, sports goods
  • White goods for home and kitchen (fridge, tv, furniture, etc)
  • Consumable goods other than beauty products
  • Baby and child-care products
  • Pet products and services
  • Industrial equipment
  • Providers of products and services of daily use or emergencies (hyper-local searches) (e.g. car mechanics, shops, hospitals, baby care services, plumbers and electricians, florists, wedding planners, architects)


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