Where can I get free product reviews?

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We're interested in finding out how to go about soliciting free (or very cheap) online reviews for our company's products.

I understand that recently Google has cracked down on self-promotion techniques, like posting press releases online, because this is seen as webspam - or at least, not a genuine endorsement of a product.

It's been next to impossible to get any kind of visibility ourselves, and any idea we come up with that seems promising turns out to be something that is frowned upon by the search engines.

Without falling foul of Google, what can we do to try and get decent quality reviews online?

P.S: We're happy to give reviewers access to our stuff so they can do a good job.

Focus on reviews that reach your target audience

I think it is important to make a distinction between whether you want a genuine review exposed to the right demographic, or whether you want to build backlinks and improve page rankings in the SERPs.

So rather than show a list of all the best reviews sites on the Web, let's look at what to look for in the abstract.

Google doesn't dislike promotion and marketing. They understand that this is an integral part of life and business on the Web. They have a problem with that marketing being used to unfairly manipulate page rankings.

If you are after coverage in order to drive more organic search traffic from Google, then you are walking a fine line that might land you with an algorithmic or manual penalty (if taken to extremes).

So, you can either decide to have articles written for humans, or for search engines.

Articles that are targeted at search engines are called webspam and will only end up hurting your business in the long run, so avoid this altogether.

This leaves you with two sub-options:

  1. solicit content written for human audiences
  2. encourage organic editorial reviews

Let's explore each one...

Solicit content for humans

Writing a good product review is not an easy thing. It takes time and effort to research and understand the product and its market as a whole.

There is often very little value for publishers to incur these costs for smaller businesses that aren't likely to generate the same interest as, say, Apple or Google.

What this means is that you need to pay for good coverage. This, in turn, means that you need to spend some time identifying the sites that carry the most influence for the target market you want to reach (so that your marketing dollars generate the best return possible).

Essentially, you are paying for the labor costs involved in creating a professional quality article, and then having that shown to the type of people who would be interested.

There's a good case study of how we did this for Volusion, a leading hosted shopping cart solution, on our writing & publishing services page.

In some instances, you might find bloggers who are willing to write a review in exchange for a free product, or some other form of non-cash payment.

You are free to come up with any type of arrangement that suits both parties, but any type of promotion for which there is compensation, in any form, should have its links nofollowed.

A nofollowed link doesn't pass page rank from the publisher's site to the advertiser's site, and this means that it won't unfairly improve the rankings of the advertiser (or land that advertiser with a penalty).

Because this type of promotion is not supposed to manipulate Google's search results, it needs to be directed at humans, which means that it should have a strong focus on quality.

Alternatively...

Encourage organic editorial reviews

Editorial reviews generate buzz and improve page rankings and traffic volumes, but are more passive, and rely on the quality of your:

  • products and services
  • content & website
  • networking
  • social influence, trust & authority

Basically, the better known you are within a specific industry, and the better your reputation within that niche, the more likely you are to have people write about you.

These reviews are allowed to use followed links because they are genuine endorsements, and this is what Google uses to assess the quality and rankings of a site/business.

This is without doubt, the best way to get online exposure, but it takes time and effort and is a medium to long term thing.