How to Write a Review of a Website
Different from a Product Review
As a blogger, I've been approached to write dozens of product reviews. More rarely I am approached to write a review of a website. Because of my particular niche, the websites I am requested to review are educational ones for children.
After writing so many product and curriculum reviews, I thought it would be a piece of cake to write a website review. However, as I started work on the project, I discovered that reviewing an online service requires a somewhat modified approach than a product review.
Here are my tips based on what I have learned.
Tips for Writing a Website Review
Any online article or blog post is enhanced with photos. For a website review, your images are going to be screenshots. If you don't know how to grab screenshots, now is the time to learn. I use the Ctrl+Alt+Print Screen combination which copies the screen into the clipboard. Then I open Paint and paste it in, crop it, etc. There is plenty of screenshot freeware out there. Do a little hunting and see what works best for you.
When adding screenshot images to your review post, be sure to use the alt tag to add the name of the website you are reviewing. This makes your images SEO friendly.
Choose your screenshots wisely. Pick ones with vibrant colors and large text or images. If necessary, edit your screenshots with explanatory notes. (I use Paint to do this.)
The only problem with screenshots would be if the website owner desires to keep certain aspects of his website underwraps. This is particularly important if the website is a membership only site. So be sure to check with the client before publishing images. Alternatively, the company may have screenshots available for your use.
Give an overall idea of what this website is. What does it do? What does it offer the user? How does it work, in general terms? Give the big picture before getting into the nitty gritty details.
Ease of Use
Emphasize the ease of use. Most people today are incredibly computer savvy, but sometimes that works against us when learning a new site. We are accustomed to breezing through our favorite sites, intuitively clicking just where we need to and rarely stopping to hunt for particular things. When we are faced with a new site, our reactions slow dramatically. We have to think deliberately about how to do the things we want to do. We have to learn new terminology. That can lead to frustration.
Reassure your review readers that the website is easy to use. Highlight the primary features of the site while leaving some things to be discovered. If you're struggling for ideas, see the chart below for features to explore in your review.
Website Features to Discuss
ads or ad free?
requires plug-ins or software
Applications & Benefits
Help your readers see how this product would work for them. One of the cardinal rules of a review is to share benefits not features.
The reader wants to know how this online service will be to his advantage.
Obviously, you will have to share features too. But make sure to drive home how those features benefit the user. One tip I have here is the "So what?" tip. I ask myself this a lot when writing a review. State a feature, and then ask yourself "So what?" to help yourself come up with the benefit of that feature.
Personalize Your Review for Your Niche
The company asked you to do a product review because of your personal writing voice and your audience reach. So make your review unique by applying your own personal spin to it. For example, I am a homeschooling mom to one child. I look at everything educational through the lens of homeschooling. It's only natural for me to include that aspect in my review. An added bonus is that my readers, mostly homeschool moms, will also be seeing through that same lens. My review becomes more helpful to them when I put my personal spin on the review. It also makes my review stand out from those of any other bloggers who review the product.
How to Deal With Negatives
If you are being paid for your review, dealing with negatives can be awkward. Obviously you want to present an honest review. No amount of money is worth violating the trust of your readers. But your client also expects a favorable report. How can you reconcile these two?
You can simply choose not to address them at all. Most readers realize that no online service is perfect. There are certainly going to be negatives, and a potential customer will expect that even if you don't explicitly express them.
The way I like to deal with negatives is to put a spin on them. An easy way to do this is to use the headings This Website Won't Work For You If....
In that way, your statements are not so much negative as simply describing whom the website would be a good fit for. It also puts the negative aspect on the shoulders of the user rather than the website.
If this seems deceptive, it's really not. As the saying goes, "One man's junk is another man's treasure." Just because I see a feature of the website as a negative doesn't mean that every other user will feel that way. Couching your negative assessments in this way is really fairer to the client than an outright criticism.
If you are concerned, you may want to send your client a draft of your review, explaining why you feel it necessary to point out a few negative facets. Highlight your credibility with your audience. This is part of what the client is paying you for.
If there are spots the company is especially worried about, you can negotiate revisions. Of course, your honest opinion needs to come through clearly in the review, but if you are worried about alienating your client, just ask.
Nix the Project
If after using the online service you feel that you cannot honestly recommend the website, be upfront about it with your client. If you've already received payment, send it back. As a courtesy to the client, send a brief list of the problems you see with their service. Maybe the company will make the recommended changes and pursue you later for a review you can stand behind.
Paid Reviews or Free Reviews?
Should a blogger be paid for writing a review of a website or online service?
About Paid Reviews
Some purists maintain that being paid for a review automatically makes the writer biased. I can respect that stance even though I don't hold it. Obviously, a paid blogger will be more careful about saying negative things, but I do believe that a paid review can be honest and helpful. Why?
1. As a writer, I know how to craft my review so that it is both honest and positive.
2. As a writer, I know how to word the negatives to lessen their impact while still showing that I see the service objectively for its pros and cons.
3. A paid review must be clearly indicated with a statement of disclosure. A blog reader will realize the potential for a (not necessarily actual) conflict of interest and will read accordingly.
I have written plenty of product reviews, curriculum reviews, and website reviews. They are very time intensive if you do a good job. I appreciate when companies reward my time with a courtesy payment.