How To Write Product Reviews That Sell Without Making Your Site Look Cheesy
Let's summarise how searching for feedback about a product you are about to buy usually goes...
Step 1: type "product" + review in Google.
Step 2: your eyes melt at the amount of star ratings and review websites appearing on your screen, half the titles read "is <product> a scam? Don't buy <product> before you read this!"
Step 3: Tentatively click on a result that doesn't seem to be an obvious click bait and where the domain name looks trustable (i.e not producthonestreivew.com).
Step 4: Land on a page filled with CTA 100% positive reviews and is obviously completely sold out to the product owner (and, if you're lucky, some rehashed product descriptions).
Step 5: Close your browser in rage after landing on 3 or 4 such sites not knowing what to do about buying the product or not.
Does this sounds familiar?
It does to me, yet I actually have done that for a while and if you navigate Health Ambition a bit and look at some of our reviews from a few years ago you will see we were playing that exact game.
But the truth is, even when they rank, these kind of reviews just don't produce nearly as much revenue as they used to anymore.
The truth is, most people are now fairly well educated about sketchy affiliate sites selling this way and while you can STILL make sales this way, you won't bank the way you used to.
But with every downturn there is an opportunity.
In that case, being the honest kid in the block and understanding how to write a review where you are not afraid to be critical about the product and have the reader's best interest in mind can have a massive payoff and set you apart from all the crappy online reviews.
We have been experimenting with that in the past 12 months with great success and generated thousands of dollars in affiliate earnings both on Authority Hacker AND Health Ambition.
We have cleared the board, forgotten everything we knew about writing reviews and looked around to try and learn from the best. We realised great customer reviews rely on 2 simple things:
- Trust with the author
- Bridging features and benefits through real life examples
While we don't publish a ton of reviews (and we clearly should release more), we have had great success with them earning 3 - 5 figures with multiple reviews in the past 12 months.
Here are some of our earnings generated ONLY with reviews.
In this post we will be sharing the format we use to write those reviews and earn great commissions on affiliate products.
What You Will Learn In This Post
- The 8 steps to writing great product reviews.
- The psychological principles of persuasion that help you sell more without looking salesy.
- How preselling is stronger than selling.
- How to format reviews for maximum efficiency.
Part #1: The Summary Box
If you’ve read any of our reviews, you’ve probably noticed a short product summary at the very top of the page.
This summary box is one of the best converting sections on our page. For example, the summary of our Buzzstream review accounts for nearly 30% of our sales. Same for some of the reviews on Health Ambition.
The summary box does two things:
- Captures highly motivated buyers who are just looking for a quick opinion before making a final purchase decision.
- Summarizes the review and gives readers who are scrolling back up the page another CTA to click on.
An ideal summary should at least have the following six elements:
- A short sentence identifying the product and its intended use.
- Product ratings under different headers. “Value for Money”, “Support”, “Effectiveness”, etc. are some common. Make these visual by using icons.
- A summary of the product’s pros and cons. Important to throw in the cons otherwise your review will feel biased.
- A summary of the review. Keep this limited to 1-2 paragraphs.
- A CTA. Use actionable copy on the CTA text.
- The product price, since many of your readers will decide to buy or not based on this factor alone.
This specific box was built with the elements available out of the box with Thrive Content builder, you should be able to recreate it quite easily with it.
Part #2: Empathize with Your Readers
For those who are still reading and are here to actually read your content, it's time to get personal to stand out from the competition.
Have you ever come across a review where the reviewer was more interested in rattling off the product’s features than actually solving your problems?
Such reviews are a dime a dozen online, and usually do a miserable job of helping readers.
Understand that buyers read reviews not to see the features, they can do that on the seller's website.
What they want is to learn whether the product can actually solve their problems.
They don’t want to hear about all the cool things the product can do; they want to see how the product performs in real life for someone in the same situation as them.
Therefore, the first step in writing a good review is to empathize with your readers.
As it turns out, empathy is directly linked with your likability. This, in turn, affects how much people trust and follow your advice.
Empathy and Likability
In the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, author Robert Cialdini says that likability is one of the six pillars of influence. The idea behind this is simple: you are more liable to follow someone you already like.
According to The Likeability Factor, how much you like someone is a function of three things:
- Realness: Whether a person comes across as ‘real’ and ‘authentic’.
- Friendliness: Whether a person has an open, friendly disposition.
- Empathy: Whether the person can relate to you and your problems.
How to Use Empathy in Your Reviews
Follow these tactics for empathizing with your review readers and making yourself more likable:
- Friendly voice: Use first-person voice with a casual, conversational style. You should come across as a friend gently guiding the reader through his/her problems.
- Share your problem: Before you even mention the product, talk about your problems and how the product helped solve it. Try telling a story about how your life was before and after you used the product.
- Pressure the pain: Ask rhetorical questions (such as “do you feel you’re wasting hours on social media?”) that pull the reader in and make him silently empathize with your situation.
- Be a real person: People empathize more with a person than with a brand. Address the reader directly as “you” and use real pictures to draw the reader in.
Your objective in the first few paragraphs of any review should be to tell the reader that you’re just an ordinary person like them, and that the review is your personal experience of using that product.
For an example, take a look at this review of Earn1k course from Ramit Sethi:
The reviewer clearly identifies that he's just a "university student" stuck in a dead-end job. If you are in the market for Ramit's course (which usually targets millennials), your eyes would instantly light up - this guy is just like me!
Another reviewer had the same approach - he identifies his profession, says he was bored and wanted to make something on the side.
This is a situation many people in the market for Ramit's course find themselves in as well. By stating this first thing in the post, the reviewer manages to empathize with the reader.
You are not a nobody in their eyes anymore and the narrative makes people want to know what happens in the end, keeping them on your page.
Part #3: Identify Who The Product Is For
This is something most reviewers miss - they write reviews for everyone, even if they aren’t the right fit for the product.
The result? Tons of tire kickers who waste your and their own time reading the review.
Therefore, the third step in writing the review should be to clearly identify the product’s target market.
This is quite straightforward - simply include a section in the review that explains who the product is for.
For example, our Buzzstream review states in no uncertain terms that this isn’t a product for you if you send only a 100 or so emails a month.
This does two things:
- It qualifies prospects. If someone isn’t a good candidate for the product, he/she can simply leave at this point without wasting anybody’s time.
- It builds credibility. We identify a few free alternatives or tell unqualified people they should not buy the product. This tells readers that we aren’t just after their money but want them to get the best possible product for their needs. You can earn a lot of trust with that.
Part #4: Introduce the Solution
By now, the reader knows he has a problem and is searching for an answer and trusts you.
This is where you step in and introduce the solution.
You can do this by giving your readers a brief overview of the product. Show them what the product includes, what its capabilities are, and what results users can expect from it.
I like to do it in a video because it makes me more relatable, puts my review on Youtube search which generates traffic on its own and gives a nice multimedia feel to the post.
Essentially, your job in this part is to pre-sell the product.
The principle of pre-selling
In sales, pre-selling is defined as the process of creating an environment that helps customers choose a product.
By demonstrating the product’s value and answering buyer questions, you can leave such a favorable impression that people buy your product without even being pitched to.
Pre-selling is the process of creating an environment that helps customers choose a product, i.e. sales without selling
Which is to say, pre-sales is sales without the selling.
Pre-sales tactics are very effective in product introductions. It lowers your readers’ guard and demonstrates the product’s usefulness without the added pressure of making a purchase decision. Here are two ways you can pre-sell the product:
- Demonstrate value: Demonstrate how the product can solve problems by showing off your own results.
- Educate: Answer questions and doubts readers might have about the product.
How to introduce the product
The best way to introduce the product is to show off your results through screenshots and videos, and clear away common doubts they might have about the product.
For example, in our Buzzstream review, we start off by talking about why we don’t have any link building product recommendations on our website (short answer: they’re mostly crap).
Then we talk about how Buzzstream is different - it’s a relationship building tool, not just a link building tool. Then we get people interested by posting a few relevant emails that resulted in a backlink:
This way, we’ve managed to tell the readers what the product is all about, and how it can help solve their problems.
In our Thrive Content Builder review, we accomplish the same with a short product walkthrough video:
This demonstrates the product’s value, and hooks them in for the rest of the review.
Moreover it shows them I actually own the products which pushes trust a little further.
Part #5: Explain The Relationship Between Features and Benefits through Case Studies
A big part of writing a review is explaining the product’s features and benefits. Most reviewers (and vendors) simply list them out one by one.
The results from this approach, as you might have guessed, are less than inspiring.
The right way to explain products and features is to actually show how they help solve problems. You can do this by creating a case study inside the review. This accomplishes two things:
- It shows how the product works in a real world setting.
- It gives value to the reader, builds trust and they feel compelled to do something in return (buy from your link)
The second part - doing something to get something back - is actually called the principle of reciprocity.
The principle of reciprocity
“We are human because our ancestors learned to share their food and their skills in an honored network of obligation”
Which is to say: if you do something for someone, they feel obligated to give back. This is the principle of reciprocity in a nutshell.
We’ve seen this principle at play firsthand on Authority Hacker. We give away so much content that we often get comments from readers asking why we’re doing this in the first place.
That’s not all - we’ve even received emails from readers asking us to share our affiliate links. People have read our reviews and got so much value from them that they feel like they owe us a sale.
This is a powerful concept. Use it in your reviews and your conversion rates will skyrocket.
How to create high value product case studies
The purpose of a case study inside a review is twofold:
- To demonstrate the product’s features
- To help potential buyers picture themselves using the product and improving their lives doing so.
The best way to do this is to create a short tutorial that walks readers through a sample use case of the product.
For example, in our Buzzstream review, we show readers how we used the product to get backlinks for Health Ambition. Not only do we list out the steps we followed, we also show our results:
For your own reviews, follow these steps:
- Identify core features: These are the features that readers care about the most. Whether they decide to buy the product or not will depend on how well these features actually work.
- Show core features in action: Use a video or screenshot walkthrough to show how the product actually works. For inspiration, take a look at our Buzzstream video review.
- Give value by explaining how to use the product: This is where you can give value and trigger the principle of reciprocity. Your aim should be to walk readers through a short tutorial explaining how to get real results from the product.
In our Buzzstream review, we offered readers a quick overview of the outreach process, then showed them how to use Buzzstream for successful outreach.
We never tried to hard sell the product. Instead, we just focused on helping people with the outreach process. Selling Buzzstream was just an added benefit.
This does not just work with software tools though, you could do the same with blenders by showcasing some smoothies you have put together with it or showing a case study of how you applied the learnings of a course you are reviewing.
Part #6: Offer Social Proof
Social proof is the third pillar of persuasion, and it can really set you apart from the dumb review sites using spun user-generated content. According to Robert Cialdini, quoting results from the Asch conformity experiments, he shows that people are more likely to follow something that is already popular.
People are more likely to follow something that is already popular.
As you’ll see below, you can use this fact to your advantage while writing reviews.
How to use social proof in your reviews
Follow these steps to add social proof of the product’s success to your reviews:
- Add reviews and quotes from other users: To show how others perceive your product, simply add reviews and quotes from other users. You can easily find such reviews on sites like Amazon, or speciality sites like GSMArena, etc.
- Add reviews from power users: “Power users” are bloggers, reviewers and other recognizable online personalities. If they’ve already reviewed the product, use their quotes in your review. This gives readers a nice balance between what lay users and experts think of the product (the same format used by MetaCritic and RottenTomatoes).
- Incentivize comments: A large number of comments on a product shows that it is popular. You can get people to comment on the review by offering incentives through a contest. Check out our earlier post to see how to run a contest.
- Get more social shares: Higher social shares = higher popularity. Buy some ads on Facebook or Twitter to pump up the share count on your reviews. This subtly shows readers that the review is already popular.
- Use giveaways: Another tactic to get more social shares is to run a giveaway on the review page. This will pump up the social activity as your social media followers jump in to take the reward.
This was a great try but something that works even better is to actually quote the other reviews. This way you both earn more trust and avoid "review shopping" because all the important information of all the major reviews are on your page.
No need to go and read anything else until you make your decision about the product and click the link on that page (your affiliate link) if the answer to "should I buy this?" is yes.
Part #7: List Alternatives
We included listing alternatives as one of our 17 most effective affiliate marketing tactics in 2015. This holds particularly true for reviews where listing alternatives accomplishes two objectives:
- Increase sales: If people are not interested in the reviewed product, they might still be interested in the alternatives. More importantly, it changes the question from should I buy it to which one should I buy. This is a powerful change in frame that can have a profound impact on sales.
- Show impartiality: By offering readers multiple alternatives, you subtly tell them that you aren’t partial to any particular product.
Listing alternatives is a rather straightforward process. You can simply include a section titled “Alternatives” or “Competitors” and list out candidates.
We did something similar in our Buzzstream review, where we offered Yesware as an alternative:
Shane from IMImpact goes a step further and offers an entire ‘Do Not Buy’ list, along with alternatives for each product.
While most people try to shy away from doing that because they're afraid of not making a sales, remember that alternatives may also have affiliate programs so if you are playing smart you will make more money doing this not less.
Part #8: Use the Right Format
By now, you have a powerful, persuasive review that gives tons of value to your readers. But before you can hit publish, you also need to format the review for maximum impact.
We have already established the power of formatting in our previous posts.
Follow these formatting guidelines in your review:
1. Use plenty of pictures and screenshots and user generated images
Pictures are crucial for creating great reviews, especially if you believe in the “show, don’t tell” philosophy. Use them generously in your articles, but make sure that you only use real pictures, not stock images lifted from the product creator’s website.
Try to aim for a 3-4:1 ratio between pictures and images. That is, for every three-four paragraphs, include an image.
This gives much needed visual flow to your review. Sites like Trustedreviews.com use this tactic with great success and a study has shown that user generated images greatly improves conversions by a lot.
2. Divide review into sub-sections
Writing a great review isn’t enough; you also have to make sure that it is easy to navigate.
You can do this by breaking down the review into separate subsections. We do this for most of our long posts
Try to use both headings and pictures to mark subsections.
I must admit I have skipped that one for Authority Hacker and have had complains about it, so I will take my own advice and implement those soon!
4. Use symbols and icons
When listing out features, benefits and ratings, use symbols and icons to add visual flair to the page.
It won’t make a bad review great, but it will definitely make your review easier on the eyes, and faster to scan through. Use a plugin such as Thrive Content Builder to make this process easier.
If you are using Thrive Content Builder like we do here is how you can add icons to your content and help increase it's readability:
1 - Go in your WordPress dashboard and click on Icon Manager.
2 - go on icomoon.io and click on Icomoon app
3 - Select the icons you want to import on your website
4 - Once you have done your selection, click on "Generate Font" at the bottom right.
5 - Then click download
6 - Take the zip file you just downloaded and import it back in the icon manager on your website
6 - Refresh the page you are editing and pick the icon element. This time it should work!
5. Offer star ratings
Star ratings or scores out of 5 or 10 are used in almost every review. Your audience implicitly understands what they mean. They know that 4/5 stars means an almost great product, while a 1/5 is universally recognized as “don’t buy” product.
You can either use star ratings:
Or you can use a score
Both work equally well. You can also add your star rating to your search results with the all in one schema.org WordPress plugin.
6. Divide comparisons into columns
If you’re offering comparisons (say, a pros-cons list, or a feature list across two products), it’s useful to place them into separate columns.
This is a simple, visual way to make a comparison. Users can juxtapose two features/benefits side by side and better understand the product and have been used by magazines forever, it's a classic visual code.
7. Use multiple CTAs
Lastly, make sure to use multiple CTAs throughout the review. You should have at most 3 CTA - one each at the top, middle and bottom of the post.
Use simple, value-driven text on the CTA. Don’t write “buy now”. Instead, use something like “Try the [product name] free trial”, or “Learn more about [product name].
Don’t go beyond three and maybe a few links inside the content otherwise readers will think that you’re trying too hard to sell.
Make sure that the CTA stands out on the page. Use a bright, bold color that isn’t used heavily elsewhere, and give it a big enough size to attract attention.
I have also noticed that animating the call to action and the call to action alone increased the number of clicks on our affiliate links.
To Animate your CTA's with Thrive Content Builder follow the steps described below:
1 - first select your button and click on "Event Manager"
2 - In the new window that opened click "Add Event"
3 - Then select trigger "Comes into viewport", Action "Animation" and pick your favourite animation for it.
On our own reviews, we use Thrive Content Builder to create all the above visual formats. From CTAs to star ratings, it has everything you need to make highly readable, visually striking reviews.
Writing reviews isn't quite as easy as getting the specs and stringing together some thoughts. If you want your reviews to sell products (and rank well), you'll have to do some legwork.
Don't be like one of those spammers who write fake reviews and get banished from the SERPs every week. Instead, offer real value to readers and they'll thank you by buying from your link.
Master the art of influence to create reviews that not only deliver value, but also sell products.
And lastly, make sure to organize and format your review well - it's the difference between a review no one will read, and one that gets hundreds of shares.