How exciting that today there are brands so eager to connect with bloggers, and bloggers so eager to write about brands, that there are a hundred billion review blogs in the US alone! (BlogHer Compass Study, 2010.) (No, not really. But probably close.)
We never set out to write a "review blog" when we started Cool Mom Picks in 2006. There was no such thing as a "blogger press release" or free samples or blogola or press-sponsored blogger events. We just wanted to write about the things we were passionate about.
Heck, we were happy when we emailed a PR company for information and they wrote us back.
But now it's fantastic that there are so many opportunities for bloggers who want to write reviews. Whether you are passionate about books, style, technology, or reality shows, a review blog can be just as awesome as any blog in the world. It takes work -- a lot. And it takes talent. But it can be amazingly rewarding.
Here are a few tips that can make your writing entertaining, relevant, and dazzling to behold.
1. First, determine why you are writing the review. "This came free in the mail today" may be one of the least relevant reasons to write a review. So ask yourself, is this a topic you really care about? Can you speak about it passionately and authentically, either good or bad? Is it seasonally relevant? Is it breaking news? Is it a solution to a problem you or one of your readers has been having? Once you know, tell us about it.
Great example from Bookend Babes: The New Portugese Table
I remember first hearing about David Leite’s Book The New Portuguese Table a little over a year ago. When I first heard about it, I could not wait to get a copy. For years I have been fascinated with the food of Portugal, Madeira, and the Azores. I had a friend named Pam in Jr. High, whose family was in the military and they were Portuguese. Pam introduced me to a spicy dipping sauce called Piri Piri, which we would dip everything into. Guam has it’s own version of this sauce called Finadene, and between the two of us we would usually have one or the other with our lunches. I do not know where Pam is today, or even remember her last name, but I remember that sauce as my first experience with Portuguese cuisine.
And from Unplggd: Is AirPlay Apple's Secret Weapon into the Living Room?
Apple started shipping out Apple TVs to the masses this week and the blogosphere is buzzing about some not so hidden features.
2. Open strong! As with any piece of writing, a great lead will keep your readers engaged, even if it's not a product they're particularly interested in.
Great example from Sweet Juniper: The Green Doggy
I have tried writing the first three paragraphs of this post three times now; all three versions were intended to explain or justify buying my daughter a $60 plastic dog. Then I realized I had no excuse. I did it. There is no denying it. I bought my daughter a $60 plastic dog, and to make things worse, I only did it because she tricked me into it.
3. A review is not a press release; your readers want to know what you think. This may sound obvious, but I've seen reviews, even in major magazines, that paste verbatim sentences from the press release and that's nooooot the best idea in the world. Let alone all those ™'s and ®'s throughout your review (eek!).
4. Figure out your perspective. A strong point of view makes a review more authoritative and valuable to your audience. They might want to know if you're writing as a feminist, an immigrant, a Libertarian, a Redskins fanatic. Also remember that readers will find your review through search, and may not be familiar with you or your background. It never hurts to illuminate it again for a new reader.
Great example from Women and Hollywood: The Social Network
As a woman and a feminist, the film illuminates another instance of just how superfluous women are. As laid out in the film, Facebook is born because Zuckerberg got dumped. In a brilliant opening scene with his then girlfriend Erica Albright played by the soon to be seen Girl With the Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara, Zuckerberg’s asshole of a personality is revealed quickly and she calls him on it and dumps his ass. He’s pissed because she only goes to Boston University intimating that she is not worthy of dumping a guy from Harvard. So he goes home pops a few beers, blogs some nasty stuff about her, and begins to exact his revenge which is a on-line game where people can vote on the hottness of the women at Harvard called Facemash. He crashes the Harvard server, pisses off the women’s groups and gets a slap on the wrist by the school.
5. Consider what your readers will want to know about the item or the topic. Your readers probably are not looking for every SKU number of a product; they can find that info on the website. They want to know is it nice? Is it a good value? Will it make my butt look big? Does it get my whites whiter? Is it eco-friendly? Is it really just as delicious with half the calories? Did magical elves really make it in a hollow tree?
Great example from Everyday Treats: Nina Garcia's Lookbook: A Guide to Latina Style
About the book: It's set up like a reference guide, and it gives you advice on what to wear to specific occasions, from the expected (what to wear on your first day at a new job) to the ridiculous (I mean, what to wear to therapy? really?) You might be surprised to learn that Nina's tone is less snobby editrix and more wise older sister. She also reveals a wicked sense of humor (a necessity if you're going to be brave enough to be stylish in the real world). But most of all, she revels in all the little luxuries that come with being a woman.
6. Show readers how the item or review topic fits into their lives. Instead of just describing the pros and cons of a product, think about the application to your particular audience, whether they're busy moms, tech junkies, frugal shoppers, or political wonks.
Great example from Cool Mom Picks: Like Having Your Own Rachel Zoe for Kids but Cheaper
If you've ever run from one side of the mall to the other trying to match a dress from the department store and shoes from a boutique with just the right cardigan, then you are going to totally love this discovery. I think it's the online equivalent of sitting down with a frappe while Rachel Zoe does the dirty work for you.
7. Think of a review as creative writing. Use similes and metaphors. Employ active verbs and evocative imagery. (See how I used "employ?" Heh.) Dig into your Creative Writing 101 bag of tricks from college to bring color to your writing, no matter what the topic.
Great example from Serious Eats: Serious Beer: This Year's Oktoberfest Brews
This brew has a bagel-like malty scent and crisp, nearly pilsnery hopping. It's a drier style than the Ayinger, with an aroma and flavor that made me want to put on a sweater and go to a football game. (And I don't even like football.)
8. Let your personality show! There is nothing worse than coming across a review like: "I picked it up. I put it on. It was pretty." The most engaging reviews are loaded with personality. Bring your own wit, humor, and charm to the review as you would for any other kind of post.
Great example from Aiming Low: Universally Flattering Lip Color: No way!
If I hadn’t received it free from a friend who works in the beauty business, I would have easily breezed right past it, had I seen it in Sephora. The “it” in question being a lipstick, oddly purple in some lights, and glittery magenta in others. It looked like something I’d have worn in high school to piss off my parents, or if I was playing a witch in a play. Not that I act, or anything, but whatever, I have SEEN PLAYS WITH WITCHES, OKAY?
9. It's okay not to like something. If you didn't like a product, feel free to say so. If you would have liked a product better with some changes, feel free to say that too. In the end, you're writing for your readers, not for a marketer or PR agency. Unless, you know, you write for a marketer or PR agency. But even then, boy, wouldn't it be nice if you could be totally honest?
Great example from Want Not: New and Improved (?)
Um, is it just me, or is anyone else baffled by the much-anticipated release of the black Wii console? Is that supposed to make it… cooler? More aerodynamic? More serious? Oh, wait—I know! It’s slimming. I’m suddenly having flashbacks to Malibu Stacy’s new hat. Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Carry on.
Any other tips you have for writing reviews? What kinds of reviews do you love reading, and what kinds do you want to avoid forever?
Liz Gumbinner is a contributing editor to BlogHer Style, the publisher and editor-in-chief of the shopping and trendspotting blog Cool Mom Picks, as well as the new sister site Cool Mom Tech. She's also the author of Mom-101. She writes a lot of reviews. A lot.
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