Largely because of the paid reviews I do for John Chow, many folks on the Internet have come to know me as a master reviewer and a pro blogger. My reputation as a professional reviewer is furthered by the content that I produce for sites like Mobile Magazine and The TechZone.

In some ways, I guess you could say that writing killer reviews has become my freelance writing niche. It was with that in mind that I received a message from Alex Shalman. It reads:

Would you be able to give me some pointers on how to write a great product review that converts, or would you be able to point me to some guides that you have found to be helpful?
I’m looking to expand my abilities in writing reviews and copy, and I thought I would ask a writer that I enjoy and admire.
Thank you for your time, I appreciate it.

First off, I’d like to thank Alex for his praise and for inspiring me to write this blog post. I get inspiration to write blog posts from all sorts of sources, but one that I enjoy the most is when I reply to a message from a visitor. It’s good to feel connected, particularly because I work from home and don’t get much of the regular office chatter and interaction.

Writing an awesome product review is far from an exact science and it will largely depend on the product being reviewed. Writing a review for a computer mouse is different than what goes into writing a review for a new advertising network, but the core philosophies behind these reviews are quite similar. Let’s have a look at some of these product review concepts and components.

Objective: When I write a paid review for John Chow or a product review for Mobile Magazine, the goal is to inform the reader. I want to cover as many of the key features as I can, looking for both the good and the bad, and possibly providing a few tips for improvement. By contrast, if the point of your review is to push affiliate sales, you may want to downplay the negatives and be a little more positive in your tone. Following the same line of thought, you should keep the target audience in mind as well, because writing a casual review on your blog is quite different than a review you want published in an academic journal.

Honesty: Do you find that when you arrive on those single page sales letters, it automatically feels like a scam? Like you’re being manipulated? More likely than not, you are being manipulated and that’s why I’ve never put great power in testimonials, big font, and flashy graphics. For all of my reviews, I don’t let external elements — like pleasing the manufacturer — get in the way of writing a good review. If I think it stinks, I’ll say so. It’s my opinion, my perspective. It may not necessarily be correct, but if I view it a certain way, there’s a good chance that someone else will agree. Readers definitely appreciate honesty and even if your original objective is to push affiliate sales, readers are more likely to trust you if you sound like you’re being honest. Avoid used car salesman syndrome.

Precision and Simplicity: Whether you’re writing a movie review or a review of a social networking site, it’s important to be as specific as possible in your description and critique. You’ll notice that in the reviews I do for John Chow, I break down the information into clear sections, approaching specific elements of the product being reviewed. This makes for more digestible “chunks” for the reader and it gives them more useful information than “I think it looks good”. Why does it look good? What element in particular is attractive?

Pictures and Format: Many people have a tendency to include pictures simply for the sake of breaking up the text. They also choose to include screenshots that nearly fill up an entire web browser. For me, neither of these is a good strategy. Pictures and screenshots can be very valuable for illustrating your point, but they should be in line with the current discussion. When I review an online service and I talk about pricing, I may include a screenshot of their pricing page, but I’ll crop it so that it’s very horizontal and no taller than a paragraph’s height (give or take). Going back to the previous point, breaking the review into clearly defined and digestible “chunks” is very useful as well.

Killer Opening, Awesome Conclusion: Studies have shown that when most people read a piece of work, the most memorable sections are inevitably the beginning and the end. A strong opening will draw readers into the rest of the review and it should show them why this particular product is important to them. A powerful conclusion drives home any key points you may have made in the review and it is best to end with a call to action (if your objective is conversion and sales). This is why I typically end my John Chow reviews with a link (in bold text) to the advertiser’s sign-up page.

Back in school, they told us that a great essay starts with a great outline, but that has never been my approach to writing. For me, it might be useful to have general section headings, but I prefer writing an entire piece starting with the opening and writing all the way through to the conclusion. This ensures that the article, essay, or blog post “flows”. When you write based on an outline and jump from section to section, the resulting piece can sound disjointed.

That said, the single greatest thing you can do to improve your product reviews is to spend more time on research and getting to know the product. If you’re intimately familiar with the cell phone, new blog, or e-book, that familiarity will come shining through in your review.