_reviews pages

Top tips for better Reviews pages

Reviews pages can form the backbone of a magazine, offering solid, reliable information. Some magazines live or die on the quality of their reviews (What Hi-Fi, Computer Shopper, PC Gamer), while for others the reviews section plays a more minor role in the overall proposition.

How to add value to a review

1. Personality. Some magazines combine experts and readers in some reviews. Think about how some websites offer scope for readers to add their own opinion - this works great in printed reviews too, taking pullquotes from readers... it also works at redirecting readers back to your website. In the copy, use ‘we’ more than ‘I’, and ‘you’ more than either of them.

2. Explain. Think about using annotated detail to give a feeling of depth and explanation.

3. Show alternatives. Consider adding a regular element where you show readers alternative (better?) products to the one you're reviewing. In the case of holdiay reviews, this could be other destinations that offer a similar experience.

4. Make an event of your big review. Think about ways to make the lead review something special. In the case of What Hi Fi, its lead review is often the cover story so they need to make it a big event. Consider a group test or a separate feature about the product. Add in reader opinion. Make your lead review a reason to buy the magazine. And if it's the sort of product that all your readers would be interested in, don't be afraid to devote lots of pages to it. For example, when Microsoft launched a new version of Windows it wasn't uncommon to find 10- or 15-page reviews, all claiming to be the most definitive.

5. Setting the criteria. This shows how the test was done and what you should look for in such an item. This is particularly important for more technical reviews. If your reviews section has an intro page, this is the ideal spot to explain your criteria for reviews. If you have any special USPs then this is the place to mention them. For example, CondeNast Traveller promotes the fact that they only review holdiays the magazine has paid for itself. Think about why a reader should read your reviews over those of your competitors.

6. Tips and techniques. Good tests and reviews not only show what products can do, but also explain how you can make the most of them. This is useful for anyone who already owns such an item but still wants to read the report. It adds more value to the review. Space permitting, these tips can be put into boxouts and given a common logo.

7. Humour. Make your reviews more entertaining. Don't let the section become dull and boring. Find opportunities to liven up the copy and add humour where possible. Great reviewers are good writers AND good reviewers. When I relaunched PC Zone for Dennis Publishing we had Charlie Brooker and a wealth of great writers contributing to the magazine. The quality of writing always surpassed that of our nearest rivals and it meant we had a loyal and committed readership.

8. Testing shots or details. These show you have done the review and give depth.

9. Vary the writing. Play with the pace so readers do not become too familiar with one style.

10. Interesting presentation. Start off with spread reviews at the beginning, dropping to full page reviews, then halves and quarters. Find ways to vary the section so that it doesn't become too formulaic. Think about adding extra elements like top 10 lists.

You won't go wrong if...

1. The reader can instantly identify a test or review. Show a list of items on review with prices at the start of a test.

2. You vary the signposting so readers do not become too familiar with the your test logo.

3. Say which is best and rate clearly with symbols the readers understand. Put Best Buy tags in text where they must be read. Consider a rating key on each review page.

4. Always publish a verdict. This is usually labelled VERDICT but is sometimes more subtle (Why the winners won).

5. Use personality. Anecdotal comment and technical testing gives credibility and authority.





EXAMPLES (click for a larger view)

What Car
What Car
Healthy contents page
What Car
What Car
What Car
Rock & Roam

Rock and Roam Contents page

This page from Rock & Roam magazine shows a review of Miami. It has many of the crucial ingredients of a successful reviews page. There is a single, large image to draw the reader into the page, there are two additional images to add information. The strip down the side of the page is a regular on all reviews pages. This offers advice for families, climate and highlights, ensuring every reviews page draws out the criteria Virgin Holidays consider most important. As this is a customer publication there is no point in adding scores to the holiday. Note that the addition of reviews pages in this publication opened up opportunities for sponsored reviews. Now tourist boards will regularly pay to sponsor these pages