Note: You can now watch our video series on how to make a review site.
Update: Reader Nick pointed out that the FTC requires a disclaimer these days that you have an affiliate relationship with the companies you are reviewing. Make sure to create one!
What’s a review site?
Why do bloggers love them?
It’s a blog or website where you write about your favorite products, like coffee machines, Mac laptops, or even cat toys. Wikipedia has a slightly better definition.
One of my best blogs is in fact a review site. If you’ve ever thought of writing about your favorite stuff, now might be the ideal time to start.
You’ll learn right here how to setup a profitable review site. Everyone’s trying to make money online these days, and this is just one way to do it.
It’s all about writing profitable articles that earn through affiliate links.
NEED YOUR HELP: If you do start a review website, please comment and let me know. Hearing about your successes and mistakes would really help everyone in the Dear Blogger community, and remember, every comment link is a useful back-link too.
Looking back: Review sites 10 years ago
I won’t deny, this whole business was easier to begin 10 years ago.
The basic process is still the same. Create a website that provides expert reviews a user needs before buying a product. Position that site in between buyer and seller, and send buyers off to the seller’s site via affiliate links. When the user/buyer clicks through and purchases, you earn a small (or large) commission.
But like most things, it’s gotten a bit harder over the years.
Why review sites were better 10 years ago:
1) Google was kinder to the small website with limited content.
2) Less review sites existed in general.
3) Larger sites were less dominant. Lets say you want to start a used car review site. Nowadays, you’ll have to fight with carfax.com, cars.com, autos.msn.com, and other big sites to get traffic.
That all said, the doors are still wide open. Based on sheer probability and math there will always be openings in every niche to enter. They may be tiny, so it’s your job to pick an open niche.
And please do not review used cars 🙂
Alright, let’s begin! First, take a look at your deepest passions.
Step 1: Begin by looking at your passions
You’ll be writing A LOT on just one subject with this new review site of yours, so you had better enjoy it.
Example: If you only know a little bit about Coffee Machines, you won’t get very far with a Coffee Machine review site.
You’ve gotta trust your own knowledge in the subject. Or, at least have an infinite curiosity to learn more about the subject. You need not know everything, but have a strong foundation on the subject.
'Self-trust is the first secret of success.' ~Emerson
— Leo Babauta (@zen_habits) October 11, 2012
When picking your topic, use this quick exercise:
Your passions are awesome and define you, but that doesn’t mean they’re all great for the central topic of a review blog.
In my case, I love skateboarding. I love skate-films, magazines, all the tricks, and can name all the hottest pros. But skateboarding just isn’t a lucrative industry. It hasn’t been for years.
I also love laptops. I’m a crazy-huge mac fan. This would be a much better industry to target for a review site…
Step 2: Find your niche
You probably were already thinking about this “niche” thing. All a niche is, is a small pocket on the web with others who do what you do. Niches are helpful because they slice up a huge online world into smaller, bite-size chunks.
They also have defined readers, views, and product interests. That’s why marketers love them. And let’s be honest, if you’re setting up a review site you too will become a marketer. It’s important to really know your niche.
To find a good niche, start with a simple Google search on the topic you chose in Step 1. Then, examine who’s ranking in the Google top 10. Are they blogs? Major websites? Does it look like there’s an opening, or not enough content coverage?
Let’s see what we’d find in Google Search for “laptop reviews”:
Ranking in at #1 and #2 are major companies. The probably have huge staffs that write hundreds of articles a day. That’s NOT you or I. But now look at #3. That’s a review site for sure.
“Notebookreview.com” is a review blog dedicated to reviewing all things laptop. Check it out. I just found it now through this Google search. It looks legit right? It even beats out the well known pcword.com!!
Go do a few preliminary Google searches within your niche, and let me know what you find.
Step 3: Research your market
This part isn’t as fun as the rest but it’ll make for a more successful review blog.
Eventually you’ll have to know things like forums people frequent, whether advertising is worth your time, and how to build the right kind of back links, but for now lets focus on keywords.
There are paid tools out there like Market Samurai. If you’d rather use a free tool (who wouldn’t), Adwords Keyword Tool is insanely helpful. I introduced my email club to this free gem in one of initial follow ups.
This thing is lovely for finding the search volume and competitiveness around a certain phrase.
How to use Adwords Keyword Tool:
- Enter a 2-4 word phrase
- Skip Website and Category
- Fill in the captcha
- View the direct hit (that’s the first phrase in blue under Keyword) your initial search may be the best phrase, though often it is not.
- Sort by Global Monthly Searches
- Sort by Competition
- Find the best combination of low competition and high gms
The valuable keyword phrases you find will be good to include in post tiles, permalinks, in your articles, an in the tags. Write a few of them down and let me know if you can’t tell if a phrase is good or not.
We’ll talk next about keywords and domains.
Step 4: Pick a domain
Unlike research, this part is fun.
You can brand a domain creatively. You can be generic. You can even spend a huge amount and get a premium domain. Here’s some info before you go open your wallet though.
Top 4 most common types of domains for review sites:
a. Keyword rich domains
b. Brandable, stylish domains
c. Short single word domains (all taken or seriously expensive!)
d. 2-letter or 3-letter combinations (all are taken now)
You can pick any available domain you want! Make it wild, make it different. Please, don’t make it something super literal like “bestusedcarreviewblog.com”.
While this type of domain may get you exact match keyword points, it will be hard to brand and may be frowned upon for the spammy feel it has to it.
If you have a few moments, listen to Google’s Matt Cutts explain the difference between keyword-rich domains and brandable domains:
So clearly, more than just your domain will affect how your review site ranks in Google. Pick a domain you’ll be comfortable with long-term.
And, if you can include a couple keywords in that domain, that never hurts. Personally, I prefer option b) because it’s the most memorable. When a domain really stands out it’s easier to brand, and good branding will keep people coming back in the same way good SEO will.
Step 5: Decide where the $$$ will come from
Your money has to come from somewhere. You’ll be acting as a middle man between the buyer and the seller and providing that necessary expert advice.
Good thing is, there are many networks set up just for product reviewers:
Top 5 product review networks to join:
1) Amazon Associates: What the big boys use
2) ClickBank: Claims to have earned over $2 billion for their clients
3) Commission Junction: Has hundreds of products per category, and pays in lots of different currencies.
4) Google Affiliates: Pays promptly into your Adsense account.
5) Rakuten Linkshare: They represent products from Walmart, Barnes and Nobles, and AT&T to name a few.
To be very clear, if you’re starting a review blog you want to sign up to these networks as a publisher. If accepted, you’ll place links and banner ads on your new site. Then, you’ll earn when someone clicks through them and either signs-up or makes a purchase on the other end.
And also, affiliate programs aren’t the only way to earn from review blogs. They are just the most proven, long-term paying method. Check out Text-Link-Ads for quick website monetization.
Lets see how exactly we can make our first $1000 a month from a review site. It’s all about conversion rates.
Okay, say you choose to review laptops.
In month 1, you get 200 visitors, only 5 of which actually click a link. Pretty bad huh? That’s CV 2.5% But it’s month 1 and that’s okay.
Of those 5 people that click, 1 of them buys a laptop for $899.99. Via your link, you earn a commission of 25%. That commission in your pocket comes out to $225.
You work hard the next month and boost traffic to 400 visitors.
By these same stats, you’ll earn $500 that month.
With that $500 you can now to 1 of 2 things (or both!). You can work to double traffic, or to double conversion rates. You’ll get more traffic by attaining more back-links, social media mentions, and better Google search rank. You’ll get more conversions by improving on-page design.
To really maximize on page design you may want to see my secrets to blog growth.
Which ever method you chose, by month three you should be well on your way to your first $1000 blogging month! Great huh? Obviously numbers may vary, you may earn less if you’re reviewing coffee machines instead of laptops, and conversion rates may be less than, or more than, 2.5%. The choice is really up to you.
Step 6: Build the site or blog
It may help to know who out there is doing well, so lets check out a few notable review sites before we begin building.
Three highly profitable review blogs:
They are all doing great in their own way, probably making thousands of dollars each month through affiliate commissions.
They are also all definitely on self-hosted WordPress.
Self-hosted WordPress is far and wide the preferred method for building a respected review site, blog, or entire community even. It’s the proven option, and you may just have to trust me on this.
If you’d like to begin shop on Blogger, Tumblr, or WordPress.com, you should know you may face problems within a few weeks of start up. These platforms are wonderful places to begin a blog, but not necessarily a blog with long-term earning aspirations. Why? Because free-blogging platforms restrict content you can post, appear less professional to the average user, and generally rank worse in Search.
To begin on a self hosted blog, check out my quick 10 step guide to WordPress blog setup.
…So, you’ve got the blog setup, and you have that ugly default WordPress theme on it. You should next consider getting a premium theme from Theme-Junkie. These guys offer cheap great looking themes like the next guy does, but they have one feature that stands out: a world class easy to use forum.
I got into the Theme-Junkie forum every morning as I answer your blogging questions, and post a few questions of my own. By lunchtime I’ll usually have a direct answer from a Theme-Junkie admin.
I strongly recommend Theme-Junkie over a lot of competitors and will have a full guide to them on the blog soon!
Step 7: Write three articles to start
I’m not going to tell you how to do this, but make sure to get at least three articles on laptops, coffee machines, used cars, Kindles, or whatever you chose up on your site before you begin marketing.
How you write will be up to you, but there are plenty of guides on content creation around this blog too 🙂
I may suggest joining the email club for more information on writing awesome content.
Step 8: Launch your review blog
Finally launching can be quite fun. You’ve picked your niche, gotten the right keywords, gotten an awesomely unique domain, and have built up a stunning WordPress blog. Then you launch, and…
You only get a few visits.
It’s okay, this is natural. Here’s what you can do to boost your initial traffic and pageviews:
- Find other bloggers in your niche who will mention you
- Use your immediate network at school or at work
- Get on social media immediately! Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ are mandatory
- Start commenting. Great comments offer send you traffic and earn you new friends
- Offer favors to other bloggers. Review their sites, for free of course.
- Guest post, guest post, guest post!
I sincerely hope you do have immediate success, but it may take a couple months to get those affiliate links clicking and working in your favor.
For more tips on blog growth (and some nifty tips for making those links of yours more clickable), check out this post of mine on Daily Blog Tips.
As I just mentioned, after a few months your review blog should be firing on all cylinders. Be patient though! Those first couple months will be tough, yet rewarding when the commissions start coming in.
If I can offer on last piece of advice it’s to be creative. Be unique. Be different in how you represent your product(s).
The uniqueness, combined with expert knowledge, is what will keep lasting traffic returning to you and hopefully purchasing from you as well!
Good luck, now what questions do you have?