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April 12, 2007

ReviewMe: Benefits, hazards, and overall use

ReviewMe is one of a number of services that pays bloggers to review websites. Simple.

The aim is to try and generate some kind of buzz for sites leveraging the blogosphere, and there has certainly been no shortage of nervous comments about the potential for commercial corruption of the blogosphere.

Anyway, when Aaron announced discounts on the ReviewMe service in February I thought I’d give it a try.

Here’s the short of it:

Benefits:

1. Attempt to increase mindshare
2. Potential for traffic
3. Links on established blogs
4. Feedback from target market

Hazards:

1. Mindshare difficult to tap into with paid reviews
2. Potential for traffic is there, but actual delivery can be small
3. The blogs that review are rarely authoritative
4. Feedback can be whimsical than useful
5. Not all reviews are accepted by the bloggers
6. Reviews may not be well read by existing readers

Here’s the long version: (Short on time? Read the lessons)

1. Site 1

The first site I set up reviews for was Camera Core, a niche news site about Camera Phone technology and product releases.

The aim was to pay for reviews from two of the biggest blogs in this vertical, and draw off RSS readers to my own site.

The actual result is that both review requests were turned down or ignored.

This was annoying as I made a special effort to get the site turned around to be more attractive for review and new readership - I bought in stock photos for articles, started a blog on the site, and setting up proper about and contact info.

The suggestion here is that either the review requests were seen as for a direct competitor - but more likely the owners who rejected the review saw the site as substandard and not worth their attention.

Even without being reviewed, the constructive outcome is that I need to re-evaluate how I’m developing this site, if it’s potentially being ignored as low quality.

2. Site 2

The next site I set up for review was Finance Markets, which I’d recently turned around from a general investment news site to a general financial news site, and given it a brand new design.

The aims were partly to get some decent links in, drive in some traffic, and also get a better idea of my market audience.

I got 4 sites to accept the reviews and you can read them here:

Review of FinanceMarkets.co.uk
Finance Market Commentary, The UK Flavor
Review: Finance Markets
Finance Markets

The reviews were all of variable quality, varying from constructive criticism, to slight unease.

While one took a proper look at the site and gave a good write up - others appear to have barely looked at it.

The main problem is that my reviews were poorly targeted.

Firstly, I’d targeted US sites - to review a UK-centric site. Secondly, I’d also targeted personal finance blogs with a general financial news site.

So while some reviews give a polite hat-tip, the overall reaction was distant.

However, there was some very good constructive criticism given - not least that the site looked nice, but also that it looked like a blog. Not a perception I wanted to encourage. Additionally, a comment was made about a lack of logo.

So yesterday I completely redesigned the template to try and project a news-site look & feel, and added a logo.

This is probably where the reviews were most useful - in terms of providing audience feedback, even if incorrectly targeted.

In terms of links, traffic, and mindshare, the response was otherwise very poor.

None provided any traffic spike, and all were easily beaten by organic link sources. While one site provided a trickle of traffic, the other three required serious digging in my visitor stats just to find a record of them.

Because so few links are involved, the actual impact for ranking purposes is also likely to be very small.

And because the overall targeting was poor, the impact on mindshare is likely negligible.

Site 3

The next review I had set up was a single review from John Andrews for Platinax.

The reason being that he’s a name I recognise as having valuable opinions and experience in this vertical. Paying for a review would effectively serve as a effectively cheap consultancy, and potentially also draw in some targeted traffic.

The review is here: Platinax Internet

The immediate point that came across is that the site is perceived as having little value, excepting in the forums. Although not stated, it is strongly suggested by focus on the forums as the seat of actual value for the site.

The comments were overall sound and fair, and in terms of consultancy, definitely helps me realise that Platinax promotes such a poor brand perception, even on the site itself, that it requires a serious rethink and overhaul.

In terms of links, traffic, and mindshare - well, again, a single blog link isn’t going to wreck any search engines, and traffic again was pretty minimal. Mindshare? Negligible.

Lessons learned

The experiences above may seem negative, but I actually learned a lot from the whole process.

1. Links

Buying blog post links is unlikely to have a major impact on search engines. The volume required is going to be pretty large, but most of the sites have little or only limited authority at best. So I don’t think blog posting services in general can offer much in SEO benefits without a pretty big budget - some might say overspend.

2. Traffic

My own experience is that traffic from blog reviews is pretty poor. A key reason is probably the requirement to state the review is paid for. I’ve seen this happen on other blogs, where I’ve read that the post is paid for and skipped past it. It seems this could be pretty common.

3. Mindshare

Again, if people are turned off by the mention of paid reviews, the impact on mindshare is going to be pretty limited. Reviews themselves just offer little in terms of signal, so by themselves are limited in what they can achieve.

4. Market feedback

This is actually the one area where ReviewMe excelled - the ability to directly reach out to other website owners in the same or similar vertical, and basically ask how useful they feel the site is. Most reviewers seemed pretty evasive of negative comments, instead focusing on highlighting good points, with others throwing in constructive critisms.

Overall

The overall experience, though limited, has given me a better idea of how to utilise blog posting services to better advantage:

1. Create buzz

The big mistake was never offering any potential buzz to write about. There’s little point in asking for a review of a website - instead, it makes better sense to offer something of value that the blogger may want to focus on and generate buzz with. For example, if I were to offer up an electronics news site for review, I should ensure I tie in a couple of promotions with it - free gifts, plus coupons, and anything else that suggests value and limited availability for buzz.

2. Forget SEO

The only way paid blog posting is going to have SEO benefits is with buzz. I’ve surfed DigitalPoint and similar places, and basically the majority of people offering links on blogs are offering third-rate links benefits you can buy cheaper or better elsewhere. While there are some decent sites offering reviews, in volume I can’t see it offering an effective return on investment on paid review links alone.

That’s why you need to focus on value for reviewers and their readers, to encourage natural link development, in my opinion, so that any link benefits come not from the paid review, but due to responses to the review and associated buzz.

3. Mindshare

Again, mindshare comes from offering value - offering a review with buzz plugged into it at least offers the potential for getting the message not simply out, but also accepted and promoted, and there’s where the opportunity is.

Otherwise simply paying for post reviews is tapping on mindshare, not tapping into it.

4. Encourage criticism

It’s probably worth encouraging criticism on any paid review. You don’t need to know your strengths - you probably know these already - what you need to know instead are your flaws.

Friends and associatiates can certainly offer you this sort of feedback, but the big advantage with paid blog postings is the ability to tap into feedback from people who may be more established in the same vertical, even indirect competitors, which provides a serious opportunitity to tap into their creative thinking. This was easily the most value I found in the service, when lacking any buzz to offer.

Conclusion

Paid blog reviews offer a lot of potential, but you can’t simply regard them as link building programs or an easy-grab of the blogosphere.

It’s like being at a tradeshow or similar consumer event - asking only for reviews has all the business acumen of giving out free pens and mousemats. Unless those objects in themselves have any kind of perceived value, they are unlikely to sustain attention.

So that’s why you need to provide a reason to gain extra attention, and generate extra exposure - by seriously pushing your site value: potential, possible, and actual - and underline it with some offer, event, news item, information, or other content of worth that you can build buzz around.

That way, paying for paid blog posting reviews becomes a way to actually connect - not simply with the blogosphere, but with a whole potential audience filled with connectors and salesmen.



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2 Comments »
  1. [...] I read a very detailed and thoughtful article about Brian Turner’s experience with ReviewMe - as an advertiser, not a publisher. [...]

    Pingback by Why ReviewMe isn’t taking off | ChillyCool Web Digger — April 12, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

  2. [...] I’ve tested out the ReviewMe service previously, but after they opened their campaign marketplace I’ve been tempted to try them again and run a few campaigns - especially after Shoemoney’s recommendation and decent quality of some of the paid for reviews. [...]

    Pingback by Brian Turner’s Business Blog » Paid blog posts - a closing window of opportunity — May 16, 2007 @ 7:25 pm

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