5 Tips for Starting a Review Blog
You've probably seen review blogs around all over the place, and for a variety of different things. Books, video games, gadgets, craft supplies, you name it. Whether it's run by one person or a team of people, review blogs are a great way for consumers (or potential consumers) to find out more about things before they spend their own money on them.
Want to get in on that yourself? Great! Here are five things you need to know before you embark on that journey, five things which will help make your review blog a success.
1. Choose Your Focus
It may seem tempting to just review anything and everything, leaving your options wide open. Review this flavour of chips one day, review that video game the next, and after that, you can talk about the new restaurant that opened up down the street!
This way may seem like a great idea to generate lots of content, and content does keep people coming back, but that approach also looks really unfocused. Review blogs are about providing informed opinions, and when you bounce all over the place, you risk giving the impression that you don't know much about any one particular thing. People aren't going to come back just to see if you might have reviewed something they're interested in. If I want to know if the new iPhone's any good, I'm probably not going to check with a blog that might review an iPhone, but is more likely to review just about anything else.
When you pick a focus, you tell readers that you're knowledgeable about that particular thing. So when they want to know about said particular thing, they are more likely to take your opinion seriously. If you really love romance novels and read a lot of them, then focus your blog on romance novels. If you play a lot of retro video games, then review retro video games. Solidify what you want your area of expertise to be, and people will, over time, start trusting you as an expert.
2. Get a Social Media Account for Your Brand
Social media accounts aren't as useful as they used to be. Not since Facebook did their, "You can have a page devoted to what you do, but even if people follow it, we won't usually let them see anything you post unless you pay us," thing. But social media accounts do still have their uses when it comes to building a brand, which is exactly what you're aiming to do if you start a review blog. I recommend starting at least a Twitter account connected to your brand-spanking new review blog.
When you review things, post links on social media, don't spam those links and do remember to interact with people in ways that don't involve redirecting them to what you've written, but still, putting those links out there is good for a little bit of increased visibility.
But most importantly, social media gives people a way of interacting with you. People can contact you quickly and ask questions about things you reviewed, or get into interesting discussions with you, or whatnot. Same thing as regular social media use, really, but similar to my last point, this is a bit more focused. It helps you network, it helps other people find you, and it helps you build your recognition so that after a while, people will recognize you as being part of the community of those who review and appreciate whatever it is you've chosen to review.
3. Regular Content Is Key
Some people have the rule of thumb that if a blog doesn't update at least once a week, it's not worth following. I disagree, in no small part because people have lives, stuff comes up, and depending on what you've chosen to focus your reviews on, one a week is a lot to ask of a person. Do you want to review TV shows? Chances are you'll be able to review episodes pretty often. You might have more than one post a week. Want to review role-playing games? That will probably take you a bit more time since those things are massive time-sinks and require a lot of careful going over to make sure everything makes sense and the whole thing's playable and fair and balanced.
Add that to the fact that you're probably going to have, y'know, the rest of your life going on around reviewing, and it might be a bit unreasonable to expect weekly posts. So don't hold yourself to that standard unless you know you're capable to committing to it. But do try to have regular content. When you have something to say, say it. Make sure your audience knows you're still engaged. This is another place that social media comes in handy: in a way, it's part of your content. Your blog might not have had any updates in 2 weeks, but if you're still active on social media and still talking about your focus, people are still seeing you, still engaging with you, and they'll know you haven't just dropped off the face of the planet.
4. Review Products Are Great, but Don't Expect Them
One thing that attracts people to the idea of reviewing is the concept of review products. For those who don't know, a review product is something you're given in order to review it, at no cost to you as the reviewer. Yay, free stuff! How great is that!? I'm going to start a review blog right now!
Well, hang on, because that's not going to be how it begins. The review products are great, don't get me wrong, but if you're only reviewing for the freebies, then you're doing it wrong. Why? Because you won't be getting those freebies for a long time. If ever. Not every reviewer gets them. And here's why:
Say you review urban fantasy novels, and a publisher offers you an advanced copy of an urban fantasy novel that will be released two months from now. That publisher isn't just being nice to you. They're essentially initiating a business transaction. They are offering you that book in the hope that you will enjoy it, write something favourable about it, and help boost the sales of that book. If your blog is small and has almost no readership (as it will in the beginning; that's just the nature of the beast), then it's not in their best interest to give you something when they will most likely get nothing in return. If your blog features nothing but negative reviews, then you run into the same problem. Nobody's going to take that chance on you until they feel reasonably sure something positive will come of it for them.
So whatever you choose to review, make sure you have decent access to that thing. Don't just wait around for review products. If you get them, it won't be until your reviews have become a well-established part of the scene, until your name gets known and you're big enough for brands to take their chance with you. Smaller companies will approach you before larger ones: if you review video games, don't expect to be writing reviews for three months and then have a AAA game publisher start handing you free stuff. It will be the smaller indie companies first, building up over time. And that's if you get big enough in the first place. Realistically, it will probably happen to some degree if you can make regular content for a year. But there's no guarantee, and if you're counting on review products to provide the bulk of your content after the first few reviews, then you're going to have to think again because that's not how this game is played.
5. Remember That Reviewing Is Work
This is the hardest thing for people to accept when they see successful reviewers thriving in their field. Reviewing is work. It's often unpaid and unappreciated work. Companies and consumers alike rely on reviews to keep something being bought and sold, but the actual work a reviewer does often goes unappreciated in its scope.
For instance, let's say you choose to review novels. I use that as my example because I spent nearly a decade doing that myself, so I have some experience with it. On the surface, all your reviewers will see is maybe 1000 words talking about a novel. It seems like it should be easy to do. I mean, how hard is writing 1000 words? People do it all the time!
They're not seeing the hours you took to read that novel, the notes you took about things you wanted to discuss in your review, and the time and effort taken to turn those notes into something coherent in the final review. It's not enough to just write, "Yeah, I liked this book, so y'all should go buy it." Why did you like it? Did the story make sense? Was the novel paced well? Were the characters interesting? Why were the characters interesting?
Remember writing book reports in school? Reviewing books is pretty much like writing book reports. Constantly. Reading for enjoyment is different than reading with an eye to reviewing. It takes more time and effort, and that effort may yield a great review that helps boost sales and the publisher and author will love you for that, but only you will really know what it took to make that review happen.
Plus there's blog upkeep, comment moderation, building a social media presence, and so on. All of that. It's not easy. And most people, unless they also review, do not appreciate the amount of effort that goes into it.
Are you prepared to work that hard? Reviewing is a labour of love that with luck and perseverance might turn into something that can support you. But not likely. I've seen reviewers get large enough that their audience gives financial support through stuff like Patreon or reviewers who turn their love of whatever their focus is into a paying job (I have a few friends who reviewed books go on to become editors, for instance), but those are the exception to the rule. They're fantastic success stories, but they won't happen to everyone. In all likelihood, a reviewer will remain a reviewer, doing what they do in their spare time because they love sharing their hobby or passion with others.
And that's fine! I have no problems with that at all. It's fantastic when we can form a community around the things we love, and believe me, that community has saved my sanity on multiple occasions. Reviewing has helped me gain some fantastic friends that I wouldn't want to be without in my life. But I mention this because I want to stress to people that success is not guaranteed, and there is far more to it than just freebies and fame.
If all of this doesn't sound too daunting, if you still want to share your passions with people by reviewing, then more power to you! I fully support that, and I hope it works out well for you! Drop a link in the comments, too, if you decide to start up a review blog so that I can check it out!
Did this make you interested in starting your own review blog?
© 2019 Ria Bridges