- How small publishers can compete with massive ones
- How to build the best product testing for your review site
- Building topical authority and EEAT as a review site
In this week’s episode, Gael chats with Derek Hales, founder of Modern Castle and NapLab, which produce some of the best review content ever seen from a small publisher. So good, in fact, that despite the recent Google updates that destroyed many sites in the industry, NapLab has actually seen signficant growth. Join Gael and Derek as they break down NapLab’s extensive review process and discuss exactly how Derek continues to be successful in the ultra-competitive mattress niche.
A special thanks to our sponsors for this episode, Digital PR Agency Search Intelligence.
Derek’s Extensive Testing
The key way Derek’s review sites stand out from other reviewers is their commitment to extensive, in-depth testing.
It’s not just rewriting product descriptions or Amazon reviews, they provide unique, quantifiable data by undertaking a series of objective, data-driven tests, including cleaning tests, pet hair tests, long hair tests, crevice tests, edge tests, navigation tests, and obstacle tests.
Once they’ve gathered the data, photos, and video clips, they analyze the results and complete the final review.
This allows them to create a strong foundation for recommendations backed solidly by data, so they can then objectively compare these results with other products they’ve tested.
Having a standardized process for each new product allows them to be more efficient and consistent, and makes a more streamlined process for creating their standalone product reviews, comparisons, and “best-of” pieces of content.
The time spent on reviewing each product may vary, but a typical review ranges from a couple of days for simple products to up to a week for more complex ones.
Quantitative testing won’t work for every niche, but incorporating an element of objectivity where possible can seriously strengthen your review and make recommendations more credible.
Deciding What Products To Review
Small publishers have limited resources – you can’t review every product in your niche. So it’s important to identify what consumers are mostly interested in, and then spend more time creating content around this.
Derek uses tools like Google’s Keyword Planner, to identify high-volume search items and gear their reviews toward those with the most traffic. Even if a product sounds great, if it doesn’t attract significant search volume, they won’t allocate as much time to it.
And they won’t write a review on any product that they can’t physically test themselves.
Derek recommends focusing on one product to review, and doing that well, but cautions against getting stuck in a micro niche. Ideally you need to be in a niche where you can reach a critical mass of products to review, and still continue down that path after the critical mass is reached. And so you can expand your reviews as the product develops, itself.
The Economics of Reviewing Products
Not every product Derek tests is sent for free from brands or marketing agencies for review.
In Modern Castle’s first year, they spent over $20,000 on products to review. But over time, their traffic grew, and brands started sending them their products.
Starting is always the hardest, and the initial stages of product reviewing can be demanding and expensive. But as momentum builds, the process becomes somewhat easier. Derek views the expense of buying the initial products as a capital expenditure that is essential to the business’s operation.
If you’re just starting out, you can always try to resell a product to get some of that capital back. Just make sure you’ve collected all the data, images and video that you need for your product review first.
Creating Unique & Valuable Content
If you can produce unique content, insights and data not mentioned elsewhere, you’ll enhance your trustworthiness in the eyes of Google.
That means reviews can no longer only include a product’s specs. You have to differentiate your content by performing your own extensive testing, and focusing on details that other reviewers might miss.
Even though there’s a whole team and several contributing authors that work to deliver one piece of content, Derek ensures that his sites maintain consistency and quality by being the final editorial voice on all of the content that is published on Modern Castle and NapLab.
Creating high-quality content will also eventually attract organic links and growth. It may be a slow process, but it’s desirable in the long run.
Social Media Presence
It’s almost expected nowadays as a reviewer that you have a YouTube channel – at the very least – to go with your reviews as an extension of your site. If you’re putting in all the hard work to create unique, high quality content, it seems like a waste not to tick the YouTube box as well.
Even though gaining a massive following might not always be the end goal, having a social media presence is only going to be good for your EEAT and your user’s experience. But producing high quality content on these platforms, consistently, is important.
Usability & Monetizing Content
While ads and affiliate links are important for generating income, the quality of content and the user’s experience should come first.
Having ads that are too aggressive could be what’s causing your site to drop because they lead to poor user experience.
Derek said that when he tried monetizing his info content, even though the ads were doing well, they were losing at least as much money as they were gaining. His site suffered a big drop in the following Google core update, but after deciding to stop monetizing their info content and drop the ads, the site recovered in following core update.
So Derek’s focus is now on creating high-quality content that not only attracts organic links and traffic but also drives user engagement and satisfaction.
Topical Authority & Building EEAT
Derek says that NapLab aims to provide as much information about their methodology as possible in their reviews.
That, as well as being consistent over a long period of time – now having reviewed around 300 mattresses from over 70 different brands since 2014 – has established them as an authority in the field and a quality reviewer in the eyes of Google and NapLab’s readers.
It kinda goes without saying, but if your business is being product reviewer, then you need to be good at doing reviews before you worry about creating other content.
Focus on creating fewer pages of a high quality that push your business forward, rather than simply publishing more pages to increase the size of your site and drive traffic without driving any value.
If you can do everything and do it well, then do it. But otherwise choose your pages carefully.
Final Words of Wisdom
Derek feels that focusing on reviewing niche-specific products is beneficial. Select your products to review based on the size of a consumer interest and how much the product category could expand in the future.
Diversifying into related categories can help your site’s growth, but if your focus is too wide, it might lead to consumers feeling like you are no longer a source with reliable expertise on the products. Or the quality of your review might drop as you spread your resources too thinly.
Derek’s key advice is to focus on doing one thing right. Instead of trying to do everything, concentrate on creating the best content in your focussed niche. With consistency and time, you can stand out in the saturated online review community.