The subject of blogging comes up once in a while on the discussion forums that I frequent. People ask how to get started as a review blogger. So, I wanted to do an article on the subject and try to put down some of my thoughts on blogging and being a review blogger.
1. Don’t Do It For The Money Or Page Views
There are not a lot of review blogs for any subject that make much money or see tons of traffic. The highest paid reviewers usually work for large media organizations that can drive traffic to their reviews and strike their own deals with manufacturers and retailers. Most people don’t get into blogging to work for a media-mega-corporation. At least I didn’t.
Promoting your blog is a complex subject that I won’t get into with this article, but getting started from scratch is usually a slow process if you want a legitimate blog. The only real shortcuts are shady, and so, to do it right, you want to have an organic process.
The page views will come in time if you focus on creating awesome content and promoting it without being a spammy douche bag. Focus maybe 90% on the content and 10% on promotion. You’re maximizing your efforts when you focus on great content and let Google do its thing and award you with high search rankings. Google is very good at separating the gems from the rubbish. Being too focused SEO and obsessed with page views can have the opposite effect. Most of the Internet is noise, and your good content will stand out, and people will find it.
2. Be A Decent Writer
Some people just have a knack for expressing themselves with language, and some don’t. I don’t know where talent and creativity come from, but some people don’t have it. Most of the bloggers I know are blessed / cursed with expressive personalities. The words just come out. You will generally know if you fit into this category, otherwise you will find out fairly quickly if blogging isn’t for you.
However, this doesn’t mean you should use your words as a barrier to keep people at arm’s length. Blogging isn’t an exercise in being clever. The Queen doesn’t read your blog, so being a decent writer to me isn’t about writing something your English professor would be proud of. Being a decent writer is about writing something that people actually want to read, and come away knowing more than when they started.
Most of traditional journalism requires reporting the facts, with the writer not being part of the story. But blogging and especially review blogging involves being part of the story. As a reviewer, I will of course provide most of the technical details and specifications of the product, but the reader can get that anywhere. What someone wants to know is what me, a dude with hundreds of pocket knives, thinks about this pocket knife. They can get the weights and measures from the manufacturer, though I like to sill do my own measurements to keep the manufacturers honest.
So, being a blogger usually involves having a casual writing style to build rapport with the readers, who share a passion for the subject matter, which in my case is outdoor gear. I’m not a journalist. I’m just a regular guy who likes talking about outdoor gear.
3. Be A Decent Photographer
I have been pretty much unable to shut up straight out of the womb. Words have always come easily to me, photography not so much. Being a software engineer by trade, the camera seemed pretty much straightforward. It’s just an eyeball in a box with a computer connected to it.
But like software engineering, photography is a weird mixture of art and science. In fact, I think the two disciplines are very much alike in the sense that both have huge learning curves.
Just like writing, having a basic knack for photography is a prerequisite. You can have a complete mastery over your camera and retouching abilities but none of that matters if you don’t have an eye for it. Without that “artsy eye” you are basically just a technician and not a content creator. The camera only sees what you see.
For me, knowing that I had an eye for it was a slim consolation for the huge learning curve. My Canon SL1 has recently rolled the counter over for the 8th time, meaning just this camera alone has taken 80,000 photos! My work is usually well received by “real” photographers, but some days I setup the tripod and turn on the camera, and feel like a beginner.
4. Come Up With Your Own Methodology
Don’t just copy the reviewers that you like. Come up with a methodology unique to you and your reviewing style. Structure your reviews and try to keep a similar structure as time goes on. You can refine your methodology as you go, and eventually your reviews will stabilize into some kind of routine. Once that happens, they go much faster.
Before you do your first review, you should be able to visualize things like format, layout, photos, etc.
5. Don’t Be A Whore
I struggled with a better and more politically correct way to say that, but couldn’t think of anything that didn’t seem watered down.
People tell me all the time “wow, I want to be a blogger and get free stuff” like what I do is all about getting stuff. I’m not in it for the stuff, and I don’t think anyone who is will last in the long run, mostly because of the work involved.
Let’s say on the upper end, that someone sends me a product worth $100. Most of the time it’s closer to $10, but I’ll use $100 for my example. Most of my reviews take 8 to 10 hours to do it right, and most of the time I can’t or won’t cut corners to do a decent review.
Assuming I reviewed high end products 40 hours a week, I would be making about minimum wage.
The reality is that I spend mostly my own money, and the few bucks my blog makes from products (which are usually given away) and ad / affiliate revenue gets put back into the blog. Putting the little bit of money I make back into the blog allows me to review more products.
Even if you run your review blog as a business, you still want to avoid selling yourself short. That’s the most important advice I can give to any new blogger: don’t sell yourself short!. Even as a purely business decision, your integrity is worth more in the long run than a few bucks of swag in the short term!
So, as a review blogger, your integrity is the most important thing you have. I see new reviewers getting a free $10 flashlight and it already sounds like they’re an employee of the company. It’s hard not to think “wow man, you just sold your soul for $6.99.”
6. Keep At It
Since I started this blog, almost everything in my life has changed. But through it all, I’m like Johnny Appleseed, spreading around outdoor gear like flashlights, pocket knives, sunglasses, etc., and haven’t lost any interest in blogging. Though I have taken a couple month-long breaks.
As a blogger, you’ll face lots of hurdles, some related to blogging and some related to your life. The solution for any obstacle is to just work through it. The words don’t come out? Tough it out. Your camera won’t co-operate? Tough it out. Whatever is thrown your way, work through it and keep blogging!