Product Review Tips from a Pro

When I think of great product reviews, I think of Outbound Dan. He is one of the best reviewers I know of- not just on HubPages, but on the Internet at large. His review Hubs, mostly covering outdoor gear, are succinct, useful, honest, well-written, and very well-illustrated. His great insights and clear photos demonstrate that he really puts the products he reviews to the test, which makes his work not only helpful, but trustworthy.

We can all therefore learn something from this fantastic noteworthy Hubber that can boost our chances of writing online reviews that see long-term, sustained success (and of winning a Rigorous Review Contest prize or two). Read on to learn Outbound Dan’s essential elements of a good online review, tips on research, and more.

What inspired you to review your outdoor gear online?

I worked at an outdoor retailer for a number of years, where I helped people make informed decisions on everything from hiking boots to kayaks. Though some patrons came armed with the latest gear guides and years of knowledge, others were newbies to this world. You see, often the success of a trip is based on the right gear for the climate, the terrain, and the individual.

To keep up on every product that we sold, I scoured the net for reviews and then realized how poor most of them were. Most articles listed as reviews weren’t reviews at all, and merely a rephrasing of the marketing material. It was then, that I decided that I should start reviewing the heap of outdoor equipment that had served me well (and sometimes not so well) in my thousands of miles of adventures.

Before you joined HubPages, did you create online reviews elsewhere?

Though I have written a few reviews for my personal blog, I have submitted dozens of reviews to manufacturers on their web pages. Though these reviews are concise, it is impossible to convey all of your impressions in 200 words or less. The HubPages format is extremely “review friendly.” I love the ability to incorporate multiple pictures, video, polls and quizzes within the mass of text blocks. Because my reviews go beyond a few lines of text, many of them have gone viral thanks to social media and the good graces of outdoor industry advocates.

Your reviews are incredibly detailed. In addition to analyzing how a product stands up to rigorous use, you include lots of great photos and careful listings of the product’s pros and cons. What would you say are the essential elements of a good online review?

There are a few essential elements of a good online review: credibility, methodology, readability, and honesty.

With so many reviewers out there employing dubious methods, you must prove your authenticity as an individual. Though people can always visit your profile page for more information, briefly include in each review why you are qualified to write this product evaluation.

You can further assert your expertise by including pictures of yourself actually using the product. Though stock pictures may look pretty, seeing someone wallowing in the mud with a weather beaten widget goes a long way in providing that street-cred that you need as a reviewer.

Explain your methodology and procedure for testing. Sure, you can always say that this whatchamacallit is “good” or works “well,” but you need to go further. Your readers want to know that their hard-earned cash is going toward a product that withstands abuse while accomplishing its intended task.

Another component is readability: break up those Text Capsules and make the information you are providing easy to find, devour, and worthwhile to share.

The fourth component to a great review is honesty. I can tell within the first paragraph if the person has actually used the product and if other agendas are afoot. If I suspect that the author is misleading me, I immediately retreat to the safety of the search results in my browser.

The online review space is pretty competitive- in addition to competing with other articles, you have to contend with online shopping sites, such as Amazon, which feature lots of customer reviews on product pages. What do you do to give your Hubs a competitive advantage? Do you research search results ahead of time? Do you title your review Hubs in any special way? Or do you focus more on creating a resource with more information than any normal review could provide?

Though I don’t do a lot of keyword research, my ear is continuously to the ground listing for hot trends in the outdoor market. For instance, new technologies like polymer-coated down and new waterproof / breathable garments are setting the outdoor industry ablaze with anticipation. Writing a product review that highlights these new advances is a sure way to garner web traffic.

For most of my product reviews, I have a fairly specialized target audience that needs durable and lightweight equipment for backcountry adventures. I always keep my readers in mind while writing, and tailor my style and voice to meet the expectations of that audience.

One of the most difficult things about writing evergreen product reviews is that the models often vary by year. Therefore, I suggest writing titles that include a brand, a model, and a purpose. Though the model may change, the brand and the purpose probably will not.

Don’t think of your review as a few words extolling the virtues or flaws of a product. You are developing a resource for people to use. As you weave your piece together, stay informed, be thorough and write clearly.

Does it take a certain kind of person to write good online reviews, or is this something anyone can do with the right format and know-how?

Though anyone can write a review, it is best that people stick to what they know. Surely, I could write a review on my DSL router, but it wouldn’t have the same credibility as my outdoor reviews have. Of course, I doubt that I could summon enough words to adequately critique it or find enough interest to stay awake. No, I’ll leave those reviews to the techies amongst us.

Everyone has a voice and an expertise over certain topics. Well-written rigorous reviews are a traffic-driving and reliable way to cement your online presence as an authority in your niche.



For more product review inspiration, see Outbound Dan’s Hubs for yourself!

An Interview with the Adventurous Outbound Dan

HubPages plays host to Hubs by an incredible variety of writers, many of which lead exciting, adventurous lives. One of our more intrepid Hubbers is Outbound Dan, a self-described avid backpacker, mountaineer, kayaker, canoeist, and snowshoer. Having only been on HubPages for six month, Outbound Dan has already sparked the inner explorer of many a reader with his inspiring Hubs.

For the sake of getting to know this impressive Hubber a bit better, we interviewed Outbound Dan about his writing background and strategies for success. Enjoy!

On HubPages you publish a mixture of camping and survival guides, gear reviews, poetry, and the odd article on holidays and parties. Which sort of Hubs do you enjoy writing the most?

Though I primarily consider myself an outdoor writer, my eclectic tastes lead me to publish Hubs on a variety of topics. The outdoors is however, where my heart resides. I’ve spent most of my life experiencing and talking about outdoor adventures and HubPages is a fantastic avenue for sharing. When prose can’t quite capture the moment, my poetry compositions are an expression of my experience with the wild.

Holidays and social events are something I always get a kick out of. Sometimes I think that my background in anthropology helps me see things objectively, to see the odd and the quirky in what many of us consider mundane. My cultural commentary on these “fun Hubs” allows me to be little less serious and let my odd sense of humor emerge through my writing.

Your reviews of outdoor gear are the best product reviews I’ve seen on HubPages. What tips might you give to Hubbers who are interested in sharing reviews of various things they’ve bought?

First of all, only write reviews of things you have actually used and are passionate about. If I am reading a review and get an inkling that the writer doesn’t actually use the product, I click to the next site. Recount personal anecdotes of your experiencing using the product. An easy way to prove your authenticity is to use your own pictures of you testing the product. Using stock photography for a product review is a kiss of death.

Second, be honest with yourself and your readers. If a product has a downfall, admit it and include it in your write up. People are counting on you as the expert to illustrate the pros and cons of the item. You never know, a comment on your review may spark a change in the product line.

Third, know your audience. My product reviews are for outdoor items, and especially items for rugged backcountry use. Therefore, I write for an intended audience of rugged outdoor folks. Yes, I know that the casual reader may not care about a weight difference of two ounces, but the adventurer will. Knowing your audience allows you to organize the content, control the pace and gives voice to your review.

In addition to writing on hubPages, you have a blog called Outbound Dan’s Outdoor Musings. What is the biggest difference between your blog posts and your Hubs?

My Outdoor Musing blog is another vehicle for expression; however, I use it quite differently from HubPages. My blog posts are rough and consist of random thoughts on whatever amuses me at the moment. Rarely do I revise my blog posts and they go up rather quickly.

My Hubs however are different, more polished, and with a little more pizzazz. I reread each Hub several times before and after publishing. I even find myself revising Hubs that I penned several months prior.

Lately, I’ve discovered how my blog interacts with HubPages. I refer to Hubs I have written in my blog, backlinking and promoting them, while working on new ideas. I’m surprised with the traffic that comes from my Outdoor Musings site. Also many of the thoughts on my blog are making it into my Hubs. It’s almost like my blog is a rough draft for a future Hub article.

Your Hubs with backpacking, camping, and survival tips are amazing! What has inspired them?

I credit my parents with inspiring my love for the outdoors by strapping me into a canoe and venturing into the North woods when I was just a wee tike. As I grew older, progressing through Boy Scouts, I discovered backpacking. Now I had a love of the water and for the mountains.

Though I express myself through my personal relationship to the outdoors, I love sharing what I have learned. I worked for the outdoor retail industry for years, where I enjoyed outfitting people for their adventures and handing out unsolicited advice. My outdoor tips Hubs allow me to share what I’ve learned over the last three decades of adventure, and pass it on so other can have a safe and enjoyable time in the wild.

I am inspired to write by my favorite nature writers like Thoreau and McKibben and by travel writers like Bryson. Granted my scribbles aren’t up to their level (yet) but I still draw inspiration from them.

In your bio you share that you’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail and climbed the 46 highest peaks in the Adirondacks. You’ve made a couple of Hubs on those ventures, including An Appalachian Trail Thru Hike in Pictures, Hiking the Adirondack 46: The Cascade “Snow Princess” Slide, and Backpacking the Adirondacks: Hike the CL50 Cranberry Lake 50 Trail, which are packed with gorgeous photos. Did you plan on writing about these experiences before you went on them, or do you write Hubs and blog posts using material you already have?

Though I undertook my journeys on the Appalachian Trail and the Cranberry Lake 50 well before I started creating Hubs, when I hike now, I do so with the intention of writing about it later.

In an attempt to capture the moment, I take descriptive photos and now carry a waterproof notebook with me to jot down notes as I walk. Sometimes, I’ll mark interesting things on my GPS too. It helps while reviewing the journey later. When I wrote hubs on previous trips, like the Appalachian Trail, I’ve been relying on memory and unlabeled photos to piece together my experience.

As I rehike the Adirondack 46 High Peaks, an addiction of mine, I’ve been writing Hubs about the experience. Eventually, I hope to have Hubs on all 46 of the peaks, hence creating a hiker resource center.

Some Hubbers draw extensively from personal expertise, while others love to do a lot of research and publish their findings. Do you identify with one of these types more than another?

I like to think that my hubs are a hybrid of the two. For me, writing about something beyond the realm of my experience lacks responsibility to my readers. In my niche, it’s hard to write about backpacking if you never strapped on a pair of boots before. Also, with some of the topics that I write, there are no resources to pool information from.

That said, I research everything I write about, as I wouldn’t want to put out bad information on the net. This is especially true with outdoor writing where bad advice could lead to someone having a pretty negative experience.

Overall, your Hubs are wonderfully laid out, well-written, and attractive. Do you have any general Hubbing tips that you can leave with Hubbers looking to up their game?

Write about what you love and what inspires you, and you will produce quality hubs.
Keep writing, the only way to be a writer is to write and write some more – sooner or later, your style will emerge. The nice thing about HubPages, is that you can always revise your work later.

I’m a believer in quality over quantity. After finishing a Hub, let it mull over night. I have 15 different unpublished hubs, some of which are mostly finished but I just haven’t hit that “publish” button yet. Even after you publish, go back every few weeks and reread your Hub, usually there is a way to improve your article. If I’m not totally satisfied with my writing, how can I expect others to be?

In the few months I’ve been writing here, I’ve realized how different internet writing can be. I’ve realized that large blocks of text can be your enemy and that format is an important part of content. Make sorting out information easier on your reader by using capsule headers, place key words in bold, and maintaining flow throughout your text.