How to Write a Product Review

5 min read
Feb 21, 2014
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Writing a Product Review

Writing a product review for something you're trying to market is a proven way of getting new leads. However, with thousands of them popping up on the web every day, how to make your review worth checking out?

There are two popular schools of preparing a product review: the comparative review and the in-depth one. Even though both of them are intended to produce the same results, they do it quite differently.

Long product review lists that leave you asking

Comparative product review lists all the features of a product and pits it against its competitors. They usually take the form of long lists that look like this:

Chart Reviews
TopTen Reviews gives you features, prices and ratings using long lists.

At first it may look great since there’s a ton of information. However, when you start reading into it, it hardly gives you any idea whether to buy a product or not.

First off, all the marks are very arbitrary. You don’t get any information regarding what kind of process or experience affected or went into the product review rating. If something gets a 7 instead of a 5, you can only assume that it’s better in some way. You simply don’t get the full picture.

The other problem with this product review type is its credibility. The number 1. spot is often sold to the highest bidder and companies that refuse to participate are usually trailing at the very end of the list. We face this kind of false advertising a lot in our industry and we even penned a short article about it titled Why live chat software reviews suck, which can give you a good idea what to make of them.

Deal in benefits

The biggest gripe I have with any feature product review is that it tries to sell you features instead of benefits. Brian Clark from Copyblogger, the go-to place for copywriting tips, recently did a piece on selling features and benefits. The idea is simple: instead of selling a car with the latest security and safety gadgets like tires with improved traction or impact-resistant bumpers, you should show the potential buyer the idea of getting his or her family safely to their destination during a long awaited family trip.

Instead of pitching features, try pitching your own experience. This is where the other type of review shines, since it doesn’t involve any selling of the product – you simply have to discuss it. But first things first.

Use it first, review it later

The in-depth product review is an account of your experiences with a product. Here’s a great example of such review from the Shut up & Sit down, a board games product review site:

Review: Caverna from ShutUpShow on Vimeo.

The review is not only entertaining but also chock-full of information. Using their first-hand experience, Quinn and Paul answer all the questions a potential buyer might have.

The guys from SU&SD didn’t have to give the game a 10 out of 10 stars mark for me to order the game. All I needed was to hear their opinion after they’ve played it a couple of times. They didn’t have to sell it. By the and of that video, I was already sold on the idea of the game, no matter what their final verdict was (interestingly, they were divided on that one).

The 5 stars paradox

While on the topic of awarding stars, is some kind of a grade a necessary element of every product review?

Jo Mackiewicz, from the Illinois Institute of Technology did a study on the type of marks that are usually given in online product reviews (link no longer available). She found out that in 80% of the tested cases, there is a bias toward 4 or 5 starts ratings, on a 5-star scale. Why bother giving it a grade if it will be skewed anyway?

Reviewers feel compelled to give the product they are trying to market a positive review. They think that nobody will click their referral link if they don’t do it. But again, there is no guarantee that somebody will click it if the grade is given. This is why opinion building is key here. Show me that the product is good through your testing and I won't need any grade to make up my mind.

Dedication to testing

Another good example of a test-driven product review is this piece on snow shovels from Dough Mahoney, a writer and a tool connoisseur. Doug and his team took the effort to test out 14 different snow shovels. After 25 hours of research on shoveling ergonomics and 19 hours of actual shoveling, they reached their conclusions.

Snow Shoveling with Dedication
19 hours of this just to write a review? Now that's dedication.

The sheer amount of testing that went into this review is extreme and it’s definitely way more than any potential buyer can afford. This is why detailed and thorough reviews win in the eyes of customers. After absorbing all this information about ergonomic shovel handles, indestructible shovel scoops and general shoveling 101, I’d pick the shovel Doug recommend in a heartbeat.

Recommend only from experience

What to take from this: don’t bother trying to sell a product. Instead, provide an honest, backed by extensive testing, opinion. If this means a couple of weeks of getting your hands dirty to try out a new set of gardening tools, so be it. The more work you put into the product review, the more it will show in the results.

Think about the questions your reader might have but also point out to things that were important for you during the testing. If there was something particularly useful for you or something irked you to no end, there is a good chance your reader will have a similar experience. That’s the kind of knowledge you should aim for.

Which kind of a product review do you prefer? If you know of any good examples, please share!

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