If you have been operating a website for a while, you likely figured out early on that simply displaying banner advertisements is a fairly poor way to get affiliate conversions. In this scenario, all the customer knows about the merchant is that their advertisement looks interesting. The merchant is responsible for the entire process of converting him into a customer. I don’t know about the accuracy of this statistic, but Wikipedia’s article on behavioral retargeting suggests that a company typically needs to “touch” a consumer at least seven times before he becomes a customer. By the time that person gets around to making a purchase, he probably will have left the merchant’s website, looked around for some expert reviews and clicked someone else’s affiliate link, leaving you without a commission.
By providing expert reviews of products and companies you support, you position yourself closer to the end of the chain between first contact and final purchase, greatly increasing your ratio of conversions to clicks and putting more money into your pocket. To write a truly great review, however, you need to own the product. Getting product review samples can be difficult for newer websites, because each sample mailed out represents a significant investment for the merchant. The merchant wants to be reasonably certain that giving away a review sample will result in clicks and conversions. In many cases, providing the product in question isn’t something extremely expensive like a MacBook Air, requesting a review sample from a merchant is easier than you might think.
If you are a new webmaster and have just launched your first website, you are better off not asking for product review samples. Think of the thousands of affiliate marketers who have come before you thinking that they were going to get rich overnight and fizzling out after just a couple of months. If a merchant sent free products to everyone who asked, they’d go broke. You should already have an established website with plenty of high-quality content and consistent traffic before you start asking for review samples. If you want to start a new website to promote a specific product, give the merchant a couple of examples of your previous work. You should attach a traffic report from Google Analytics to your request or state that you are willing to provide a traffic report on request. How much traffic and content are enough? Just a few thousand hits each month should be sufficient to grab a merchant’s attention, if the traffic you receive is highly relevant to what the merchant offers.
If you already have a portfolio of high-quality reviews, the merchant will be far more likely to provide review samples because they will have an idea of what you will produce for them in return. While you can certainly use free products as the basis for these reviews, it may be necessary for you to actually buy a few products before you start asking for free samples. Why? Because reviewing a free product requires no investment on the reviewer’s part, which means that’s exactly what everyone else is doing. If you need to buy a product to provide an in-depth review, then buying and reviewing that product gives you an automatic advantage over the other small websites that are probably “reviewing” it on features alone. This helps your website build consistent traffic, which is one of the things you’ll need for merchants to take your sample requests seriously.
How many hundreds of poor-quality affiliate websites have you seen that attempt to get conversions through poor-quality “reviews” that only list products’ features without providing any real information? When someone looks for an expert review, he isn’t interested in a feature list — he’s already seen that at the merchant’s website. To maximize the traffic and conversions that your reviews generate, you should make it clear that you actually own the products. You can do this by taking your own pictures instead of using stock photos, or simply by providing in-depth information not found in other reviews. Believe me, Web users are savvy people; they can tell the difference between a real review and bad affiliate click bait. People don’t click through click bait — they click Back. Again, adding these touches to your reviews and proving that you actually own the products puts you ahead of your competition, getting you that much closer to getting free review samples instead of purchasing products yourself. Believe me, if you write great reviews, it won’t be long before your investments pay for themselves. Having a good history of conversions can also benefit you when you ask for samples, as you can then tell merchants about your previous successes with other companies.
If every review on your website is positive, your reviews will lack the legitimacy that they need to generate conversions. Merchants and consumers both respect honesty, and you’ll lose your readers’ goodwill if you recommend a product that turns out to be garbage. Somewhere on your website, make it clear that although some of your outbound links are affiliate links, your affiliate relationships do not compel you to review products positively. I have never been removed from an affiliate program for writing a negative review, and if I did, you can bet that I’d be calling the merchant out. As long as you write professionally and try to find the positive aspects of products whenever possible, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
Let’s recap. If your website has all of the requirements on this list, you are ready to begin asking for free review samples from just about any merchant with a high degree of success.
If all of these statements are true, find a product you want to review, join the merchant’s affiliate program and contact the affiliate manager.
While no single method of asking for review samples will work 100 percent of the time, I can tell you that I rarely pay for products for my review websites. I receive a steady flow of requests from merchants asking me to review their products, and my requests for review samples usually receive positive responses. I’d like to give you an example of the type of letter I might write if I were to inquire about a review sample for a fictitious website. Remember, if the first merchant turns you down, don’t get discouraged. If your website fulfills all of the requirements above and you aren’t asking for products worth thousands of dollars, I can virtually guarantee that some companies will send free products for review.
Dear Affiliate Manager,
My name is Aiden Clinton. I am the administrator of TheWidgetReview.com, where I have reviewed widgets of all types since 2010. The Widget Review has enjoyed a steady flow of traffic from the widget community, which you can verify by viewing the attached report from Google Analytics. I am writing because I have just signed up for your affiliate program and believe my readers might be interested in an in-depth review of your Blue Widget. I’d like to ask if you might be willing to provide a sample for review purposes. Please take a look at the links below to see some of my previous reviews:
Although I am careful not to let my affiliate relationships get in the way of my mission to provide honest reviews to my readers, I can promise that my review of your Blue Widget will be of similar depth and quality to the reviews listed above.
Please take a look at my website, and let me know if it would be possible for you to provide a review sample.
Top photo courtesy of VFS Digital Design, Flickr.