I started writing reviews on Amazon back in March 2008, when I purchased a computer I liked and noticed that no one had written reviews about it. I love the idea of a community of consumers getting together to share their thoughts about products. I've learned a lot from what others have taken the time to share in their reviews, and I try to give back a little whenever I can, because I'd like to pay their generosity forward. On this page I talk a little about how to write helpful reviews.
Top 500 Reviewer
As you can see in the screenshot of my profile to the right, I am one of the top 500 reviewers. Does this mean I write great reviews? I'd like to think so, but my score is determined by a secret algorithm of some sort that seems to rely heavily on positive votes for my reviews, and these numbers may not correlate with the quality of my work. Although I know of better reviewers with lower rankings, and worse ones who rank higher than me, I think the system works fairly well, and generally rewards honest efforts to help inform other consumers.
According to Amazon, Vine Voice is "an invitation only program that gives Amazon reviewers advance access to not-yet-released products for the purpose of writing reviews. A review written as part of the Vine Voice program always includes this label: "Customer review from the Amazon Vine Program." This is a permanent badge." I hope this means that Amazon evaluated my reviews highly, but again, I do not know if quality factored into the decision. I take it as a sign that I am more helpful than not, I am grateful that Amazon invited me into the program, and I try my best to write fair and balanced reviews of the products they give me an opportunity to review. If you want to become a Vine member, I am afraid I cannot say how Amazon determines who to invite, or when they do this, because they don't tell anyone about these details.
Writing Helpful Reviews
Amazon gives some of the best advice for writing helpful reviews. They say:
- Be detailed and specific. NLee the Engineer is one of the top reviewers who has mastered this skill. His review of a battery charger back in 2007 was so well-done, I remember emailing it to friends. If Evernote had been around back then, I would have clipped the review and saved it for posterity.
- Not too short and not too long. Aim for between 75 and 300 words. This is something that NLee and I definitely do not manage! One of my most popular reviews was quite lengthy, but I'd like to think it was helpful nonetheless. I wouldn't worry too much about length, as long as you break the review up into sections with about 75-300 words in them. No one likes a wall of words.
- (For video reviews) Make it fun! I am a fast reader, and I like to gather information at my own pace, so I generally avoid clicking on video reviews. If you want to make videos, that's great, but if other people are like me, then I think your reviews are unlikely to reach as many of us, and that is a shame.
Also, don't forget about lists. I wish Amazon would make these easier to find, because these can be really helpful when you stumble across them. My lists are woefully out of date, but there might still be some relevant stuff in there.
How to Increase Your Ranking
There is some correlation between helpful reviews and rankings, but if you are looking to increase your ranking, you have to consider a few more factors. I recommend you post well-written, helpful reviews of popular products as soon as they become available. To elaborate:
- There are people who (apparently) game the system and still manage to achieve high rankings with poorly written reviews, but what is the point of that?
- There are also people who are passionate about obscure products, and write a lot more high-quality reviews than I do, but no one is likely to read those, so if you are looking to improve your rankings, it is not an efficient use of your time (I recommend doing it as a kind gesture to your fellow consumers, but don't expect any rewards in the rankings).
- Finally, it is a good idea to review products as soon as they come out, because your post will be the first one people see, and they will be more likely to vote on it and keep it at the top. Unfortunately, you really cannot comment on the durability of a product within the first few hours, so a conscientious reviewer will add updates later. Although it usually does nothing to help your rankings, even if you purchase a product late in its life cycle, it is still a good idea to post a review in order to help your fellow consumers, especially if there is a problem).
These are just my impressions of activities that help to improve your rankings. For advice from the experts, I recommend visiting the Amazon Top Reviewers discussion forum. There, you will find a lot of fellow consumers who are passionate about helping others, and you'll get a better sense of how you can help contribute to the quality of the reviews.
- Evernote provides an easy way to keep track of your reviews, and a place for you to clip helpful reviews that you see on Amazon's site.
- The Amazon Top Reviewers Forum has all sorts of great advice, like what you'll find in this thread, for getting into the Vine program.
- Bakari Chavanu has written a helpful blog post about his experience getting into Amazon Vine. There are lots more of these all over the Internet.
- Amazon's Top Customer Reviewers are easy to find on Amazon's site. Reading their reviews ought to give you a sense of how to construct thoughtful and helpful reviews of your own.
- Market Watch and others have written critically about Amazon's reviewer system. I think they raise some important points to consider. However, as someone who has benefitted a lot from reviews by others, and someone who tries to write helpful reviews as well, I naturally disagree with some of what they write. Still, it is good to read both criticism and praise of oneself, so I've included it here.