It really fires me up when I see, “Just got the item and it looks great, can’t wait to use it > five stars.” Another example of a review that burns my britches is, “I accidentally ordered the wrong color > one star.” Neither of these is constructive or helpful in any way; one admits it was their fault yet penalizes the product, and the other inflates the review count without actually trying the product out. It is not very difficult to write a decent review, but some folks just don’t get it.
A good review can help someone buy the right product, or keep them from wasting money on something that will not stand up to the job. Let’s look at some ways to make sure our reviews are useful.
1. Use it! A review about a product that has never been put to the test isn’t worth a plug nickel to anyone. Unwrap that sucker and make it do whatever it was designed to do! Answer the questions you would have if you were searching for that product: Is it well built? Does it need any accessories? Is it like the manufacturer described? Did it do the job it was meant to do? Does it fit like it should or is it a different size than listed? These questions can usually be answered in a few serious uses.
2. Be real. If you like the product and are pleased with it, say so and tell why. On the flip side, if you are not pleased with it, give the reasons why in as much detail as possible. Your information may help save someone the same heartache down the road. Details in a review are incredibly helpful to someone researching before purchasing. I have purchased products that the manufacturer screwed up info on, but good reviewers made the correction. That is the kind of helpful information that people need to read.
3. You are not selling the product! The company pays people to sell their product. You may really like it - and it is fine to say that - but an overly flowery review makes my spider senses tingle. I question whether the review came from a “plant” from within the company or if it is legitimate. We have all seen the zombies in an infomercial audience with the “I am paid to smile” look on their faces. Good gear reviews don’t come from people like that. I don’t need you to sell me an item; an honest review with good points will do that job without embellishment.
4. Take good pictures if you can. Lots of manufacturers have token images that were shot in a studio or set, and are of very little use to a consumer. Pictures of a product in use, doing what it was designed to do, are helpful to a person looking to buy. (Note: I am planning on doing a review on some expedition-rated underwear soon. Do not expect “in use” pictures of those…) If you are reviewing outdoor gear, a shot of the product in use on an adventure will help immensely. Take pictures from a few angles, if you can, to help see the product or what it does.
5. Be honest. If you bought the product you are reviewing, say so. If you received it to write a review on, state that fact as well. It will not negate your review, but since you have less investment to “lose” it will be a factor. Your honest handling of a review will reveal your character, and that in turn will foster trust in your readers. There is not a product made that is worth losing your integrity over a false review.
6. Realize your audience is not you. People are different, and each one thinks and acts differently from you. They also have different skill sets and strengths than you do. If I say I put my Jackson Kayak “Big Rig” on top of my truck without issues, I should also point out I lift heavy things regularly. I should not expect that to be easy for just any person to do.
The tent I recently bought had one reviewer that said, “It took three people to put it up.” I have put it up on the last two adventures by my little old lonesome, and had zero issues doing so - even in strong wind. We are not all cut from the same cloth. Remember that when you are talking about the product.
With a little thought and preparation, we can turn “gear reviews” into “great gear reviews”. Start off with a familiar subject, something you know well, and write about it. It won’t be long until you will have exhausted those options and will be looking for more stuff!