How to Start a Review Blog that Makes Money (7 Steps)

Aerial view of Manhattan at dusk

Aerial view of Manhattan at dusk.

I used to love product review websites primarily because they made decent money with affiliate commissions.

Then I found content freedom with AdSense.  I love monetizing with AdSense and other display ads because I can monetize any content.  I was no longer beholden to writing boring content that promotes products as an affiliate, including writing reviews.

I was sick of writing reviews.  I stopped doing them for the most part.  I do the odd one here and there and have been doing the odd one on other niche sites, but for the most part I stopped because it was boring, until…

I launched one of my newer niche sites.

It’s shaping up to include a good number of product reviews.  I never intended that because I hated writing them.  What’s interesting is it’s in a niche I never thought I’d enter because I thought it boring.

But now I love the niche.  I’m enjoying writing the reviews because I’m having fun with the products I’m reviewing.  I get to go out shopping once a week for a new product to review.  I use the products personally so it’s a win/win.  Even if the review never makes a nickel, I’m okay with that (although I do intend to make money from the site).

Ironically, I launched this new “review” blog as a product review blog 1.5 years ago, but it was a different niche when I launched.  I chose the niche because I thought it was a good opportunity.  I was somewhat interested in the products.  But I bailed on the site after 30 articles because being “somewhat” interested isn’t enough.

Fortunately, it’s not a big deal to change the site to a different, but somewhat related niche.  That’s what I did and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s been a lot of fun writing reviews.

I take photos with my iPhone.  The photos aren’t great, but they’re good enough. The reviews aren’t great, but I think they’re good enough.  I’ll hone my processes over the next year, but for now, it’s been fun.

Which leads me to the first step, as far as I’m concerned when it comes to launching a successful review website.

Step 1:  Choose a niche in which you can review stuff you like and use

It really makes all the difference in the world when you like and use the products you review.  I love the stuff I’m reviewing and look forward to punching more reviews out.  I enjoy buying the stuff I’m reviewing.  While I wouldn’t want to do it all day, every day, writing 2 reviews per week is great.

In my experience, being somewhat interested isn’t enough.  You need to like the products in the niche you’re reviewing.

Why?

Because if you really like the products, you’ll be happy spending time buying, using and reviewing them.  When you use products, you get to know them well.  When you know the products well, you write a great review.

Can you succeed with a review site of products you don’t’ care about?

Yeah, of course.  You can still use the products and write about them, but it becomes a job.  I’ve been there, done that.  The money can be great, but the work is tedious.

Can you outsource product reviews?

The big problem with review websites is they’re hard to scale by outsourcing.  Unless you hire and train in-house, writers aren’t going to actually test the product.  They’ll regurgitate features and specifications and throw in some customer comments.  That’s not much of a review.

That said, you can outsource the boilerplate stuff such as the features and specifications.  Your job is to then add the editorial portion, which is the meat and potatoes of the review.  I’ve done this and it works well.

For my new site, I write the entire reviews because it’s been fun, but I’m not averse to outsourcing the features/benefits portion which I can quickly polish.  I have no grand plans at this point to do loads of them each week.  Besides the site has content other than reviews (which I largely outsource).

Do you have to buy the products?

If you can get your hands on the products without buying them, then no.  However, I think it’s important you actually try the product you’re reviewing.  Without doing this, there’s not much you can legitimately say.

Niche or everything and the kitchen sink?

Should you review anything and everything like TopTenReviews.com or should you niche down to a specific product line or sector?

I actually don’t know the answer to this.  I niched down to a type of product (which has literally hundreds of thousands of products).

But I can’t say doing anything and everything won’t work.  There are many such sites that make a killing.

I’m gonna plead the 5th here and refrain from steering you in either direction.

Step 2: Choose a website name and domain

Normally I suggest coming up with a memorable and unique domain name you can brand.  That’s what I do.

However, there are a good number of review websites that have generic names with “reviews” in it.  They’re boring, but make fortunes.

On the flip side, there are sites like the Wirecutter.com and Gearpatrol.com which have memorable names.

If it were me, I’d go with unique and memorable.  However, I understand the appeal of a generic “review” oriented domain and blog name.

Step 3: Launch your review website

Don’t belabor this step.

Launching your blog is as simple as signing up to Bluehost for a few bucks per month, clicking a few buttons to install WordPress, install a WordPress theme and you’re in business.

Heck, you can register your domain at Bluehost too, which makes it even easier.  I did this for years.

When your review site grows so much it’s crashing servers, jump ship to Kinsta (my current host).

Which WordPress theme should you use?

I recommend MyThemeShop themes with their WP Review plugin pro.  I use MyThemeShop themes extensively along with their review plugin.

Their themes look great and load fast.  You can customize them somewhat, but there aren’t so many options you go nuts tinkering with design.

Step 4: Crafting and publishing your product reviews

This is the fun part.  If it isn’t fun, stop now or change the direction of your site.

I’ve written hundreds of product reviews in my life.  Until recently, I loathed writing them.  But focusing on the right products that I have fun with, it’s a fun process.

I’ve also earned hundreds of thousands of dollars from review content. Maybe over $1 million.  It’s a lot.  They work well if you can get them ranked on the first page of Google.

FYI, these days it’s hard to outrank merchants’ customer reviews pages.  You’ve probably noticed that Amazon URLs show up at the top of Google search for many product review search queries.

As an affiliate, I don’t like that.

As a consumer, it makes sense.  It’s hard to beat content with dozens or hundreds of real reviews by real buyers.  Those pages should rank at the top.

Despite that, I publish product reviews.  I figure ranking in the top 5 will be good enough.

a. Determine your angle

  • Are you reviewing one product?
  • Are you declaring a particular product is the best in the product line?
  • Are you listing multiple good product options?
  • Are you comparing two or more products?

Technically, a product review is titled “Product X review” and reviews one product.

However, there are related types of product review articles such as:

  • Best Product for X
  • 10 Best Products for X
  • Product A vs Product B

b. The Text

As you get proficient writing reviews, you’ll develop a blueprint.  That said, different products need different sections and coverage.

Standard product review sections to include are:

  • Introduction
  • Disclose your testing/use of the product:  This lends your review credibility.  I think it’s important you show you have/use the product and that you know it well.
  • Explain what the product is
  • Set out the benefits
  • List pros and cons
  • Conclusion
  • Images – pepper in images of your product.  I prefer putting in my own images than using merchant images.  I sometimes conclude with a gallery of more product images in action.

That’s pretty boilerplate.  Sticking to that alone will do the job.

However, try to have fun with the writing.  Jazz it up with personal anecdotes of the product, statistics about the product line or industry, charts, tables and other content enhancers that take you reviews to the next level.

c. Photos

I really should get a photography kit for photographing products.  I usually photograph the stuff I review.  It adds credibility to the reviews and makes them unique.  I also get way more photos – close-ups, different angles, etc.

I strongly recommend you also take your own photos.  Even if they aren’t the same quality as the merchant photos, yours will be more persuasive.

Currently, I use my iPhone.  Yeah, they aren’t great, but they’re good enough for now.  I’m definitely a good enough is good enough blogger.

d. Videos

I don’t like making videos but I can’t deny their effectiveness.  A good product review video can get a ton of views and clicks on affiliate links.

Some bloggers are actually vloggers and only make video content.  It’s not entirely bad.

I’m old school.  I prefer the written word.  Yes, I know it’s not either/or, but I don’t care for making videos so I don’t.  At some point you have to do what you like doing.  This line of work has to be more fun than working a job.

Step 5: Leverage your content into more content

If you own or have access to the products you review (which you should), as your site grows, you’ll have more and more content opportunities.  They include:

a. Buying guides

If you’ve bought 10 products in a product line, you’ll know the product line really well.  You’ll know what products should offer at various price points.  You’ll know which are the best and which are the worst.

In a nutshell you’ll know more than enough to write an epic buying guide.

b. vs. articles

Suppose you bought 10 products in the product line and published reviews for all ten.  You can then leverage that knowledge and photos into many “vs.” articles.  You can compare Product A vs. B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and K.  You can then test B vs. C, D, etc.

OR, you can create a comprehensive table comparing all 10 in one table.

c. Best of

After buying and testing ten or more products in  a product line, you’ll have a favorite.  With that kind of expertise and experience, you can easily declare that one is the best.  This would result in a blog post titled “Best product for X”.

You can take this one step further.

It may well be different products in the line serve different needs.

For example product A may be really good at one thing while product B may be the best at something else.  You can publish two “best of” articles.

Step 6: Traffic

Traffic source is simple.  You focus on organic search traffic, aka SEO.

You want people researching or looking for the stuff you review.  Most people do this in Google.  So it’s Google search you need to cater to.  You want those prospective visitors to see your blog in the search results and visit before they buy.  That’s it.  It’s pure SEO.

Should you build links?

I don’t know.  I don’t but links undeniably help.  You can do some guest posts to see what happens.  I prefer building up overall website authority and incorporating enough unique content in my reviews to attract links naturally.  I realize I’m never going to rank for the super-lucrative products, but I’m okay with that.

If you do videos, it’s the same thing except on YouTube (as well as the search results now that Google often displays videos in the search results).

This means you need good content and in the beginning, it’s best to review more obscure stuff that isn’t covered by hundreds of other sites.

For example, don’t review a Vitamix blender.  Every food/cooking/kitchen gadget blogger has a Vitamix review.

Instead, find more obscure products with some search volume and little competition.

Step 7: Making money from your review blog

Unless you review products without affiliate programs, you will generate revenue via affiliate commissions.

You simply place a few prominent links to merchants where visitors can buy the product you’re reviewing.

You can add some bells and whistles such as images that hyperlink to merchants with an affiliate link, product tables, product profile boxes, review boxes (the ones with star ratings), etc.

Test variations and different types of affiliate links to see which earns the most.

Once you get traffic to your reviews, it’s worth spending type testing different layouts and types of affiliate links and link placements to see what earns the most.

Should you put display ads on your review site?

Probably not unless you review products that don’t have affiliate links (which isn’t a totally dumb idea BTW).  If you are using affiliate links, you’ll likely earn more with affiliate commissions than ads.

However, you can test it on a few URLs.  Run ads and affiliate links and then run without ads.  See what results in the highest revenue.

Fat Stacks quote from Breaking Bad by Jesse Pinkman


What do you think? Leave a comment!

  • akkiaasaan says:

    Great and an informative article!

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