Think Beyond the Link – The Right Way to Conduct Reviews for Outreach

In my first blog post, The Scouting Report for Link Building Rookies, I discussed the ins and outs of blogger niches for outreach noobs.

As a rookie outreacher, my natural curiosity was a HUGE asset when prospecting for potential guest posts and pitching infographics.  As time passed, new clients brought new challenges. Guest posting for exact match keywords made outreach life more challenging and I found prospecting to be more difficult. Creating guest posts around keywords like language learning software, toilet paper, and flowers can tough. Especially if you’re trying to stay informative, non-branded, and educate readers. New outreachers tend to give up easily when they run into a roadblock. Good outreachers keep going. Great outreachers accept the challenge and find new tactics to reach goals. What new tactics did I discover?

Reviews & Giveaways! BOOM!!! <Crickets chirping noise>

OK. To industry veterans reviews and giveaways are a total “DUH!”.  But as an outreach rookie I thought I had struck gold. And if rookie me could see current me, he would know that gold was indeed struck, my friends.

When I first pitched the idea of giveaways and reviews it was met with a bit of resistance. Some clients were turned off by the idea. The thought of giving products away that one is in the business of selling can be a tough pill to swallow. Getting product from a client can become a logistic nightmare, or if you’re in-house, getting signoff can be a headache. With the support of my team and using examples of our past work, I got signoff to start my first giveaway.


Oprah showed us that everyone loves giveaways and I like playing Oprah online.  Please don’t tweet that last sentence out of context ;-)

How to find a perfect match for your giveaway

  • Ever find a blog that’s a great fit but won’t accept a guest post or share an infographic? Pitch the idea of a giveaway.

My first real giveaway did way better than I ever imagined and is still one of my best wins to date. I outreached to an awesome blogger in a very particular niche. He turned down my guest post ideas and was too busy for a review, but I didn’t give up. I think the blogger saw a giveaway as a reward to his readers. He said “yes” but he wanted to do a [insert niche brand] giveaway week, not just one measly giveaway post.

I got sign off because of the blogger’s strong Domain Authority and active network of readers – comments, shares, and tweets (which are especially important when prospecting for a perfect blog match for a giveaway).

What to Look For in a blog:

  1. I look for blogs that care about content - A strong DA is a good indicator of this.
  2. If there is an overwhelming amount of contests/giveaways from networks or blogger programs, it is usually a red flag to me. They’re copy/pasting contest and not adding anything new.
  3. Are readers entering, commenting, and sharing the contests?
The reward was nearly 300 comments each day for five straight days, plus numerous shares and tweets. And because the blogger was so busy I offered to write the content for each giveaway, including where readers could learn more about each product and purchase if they weren’t the lucky winner – how nice of me, eh? The total outcome included a preview post, five giveaway posts, and five posts announcing each winner and earned the client A LOT of attribution.

I was a green outreacher when it came to giveaways, but I got lucky and struck gold.  I learned a lot right off the bat about what works and what doesn’t.

What Works for Giveaways

  • Offer to help draft up the contest – It really does save time, but don’t get greedy with attribution.
  • Make the giveaway awesome – play Oprah online! A grand prize or a week’s worth of prizes is better than one small prize, BIGGER IS BETTER!
  • Suggest a post prior to the contest to build excitement.
  • If you can, send prizes directly to the winners – it’s much easier.

What Doesn’t Work for Giveaways

  • Giveaway/coupon sites – no real value here IMO.
  • Think beyond the link. Use your budget on domains that fit your brand best and will add value.


Product reviews are always going to be part of ecommerce and will always have a place online.  If you’re dabbling in reviews, be sure to understand Google’s Webmaster Guidelines  and FTC regulations.

Again, think beyond the link. There are an overwhelming number of sites that participate in reviews. Find ones that fit your brand and create exceptional reviews. Outreaching for reviews is fun because instead of asking for an opportunity (like guest posting), you’re now the one offering the opportunity – the dynamic shifts.

Take control of your reviews


Submitting to BLU really made my review process more efficient. Instead of prospecting and pitching, bloggers were coming to me with press kits and statistics telling me why I should work with them.

Evaluating a list of prospects is much easier than using advance search to find sites that offer reviews.

Using SeoMoz’s Open Site Explorer I could quickly evaluate which domains met my minimum criteria and then dive into the details to see if the blogger’s reviews fit my standards. If I was ever unsure I would ask the blogger to send me examples to discover if they were indeed a good fit.

My Review Criteria:

  1. Again, I try to work with blogs with a strong DA. I view this as an indicator of quality and as such higher value domains usually earn a larger budget for their reviews.
  2. Overall look and feel - This blog will be a reflection of my brand, so does it fit? Look for visual cues, the standards they set in prior posts. You can tell quickly if they just want free stuff.

When I found a site that fit exactly what I needed, I shared their own work with them. “I LOVED your review on [blank], I’d like to work together to produce something like that.”

Look for reviews that actually add value and are useful. What to look for:

  • Does the review educate readers on the pros/cons of said product?
  • Is the blogger using actual images in the post?
  • Do readers comment and share

Don’t forget to follow up! We’re building relationships, right? Ask if they have any blogger buddies that would also be interested in working together.  Once a review is done it opens the door for guest posting. “Hey, are you still enjoying that [blank]? I wanted to run this guest post idea by you.”

What Works for Reviews

  • Let Blogger Link Up do your prospecting! Submit in the ‘product review section’ and have bloggers come to you!
  • Encourage great content – share a review with your blogger to set expectations .
  • Set expectations on time frame of completion before sending out any items. Make sure they are understood and agreed upon.
  • If you can, send products out directly – cut out the middleman.
  • Include branded accessories – If you have branded items like stickers, magnets, trinkets, etc. send them along with your item. Let them know you included them for free, chances are they’ll end up in the images.
  • Is there value in the blogger’s past reviews? – Look for in-depth writing and original images.
  • Don’t forget to follow up!

What Doesn’t Work for Reviews

  • Blogs with a lack of content or meat to their reviews – If they are not willing to write they are not worth the product.
  • The site does not have original images on their past reviews – That is just plain lazy, run away!
  • I steer clear from bloggers that fill their posts with Amazon affiliate links.
  • If none of the blogger’s reviews fit your standards, chances are that will not change for your review.


Whether you’re a link building noob or seasoned veteran, giveaways and reviews are a nice addition to guest posting.

Capture2 Think beyond the link and find domains that fit your brand. If you are strictly thinking about links maybe giveaways and reviews don’t fit your outreach plan. It is important to recognize that giveaways/reviews DO NOT GUARANTEE links. Giveaways/Reviews are a component of a bigger outreach plan.They add value to your brand through awareness. Focus on creating quality relationships with bloggers that fit your brand and the rest will follow.

Giveaways can open doors to new blogs. Reviews can create relationships that open doors to new outreach opportunities. Have you had success with reviews? What works for you when running a giveaway? Help an outreach noob by sharing your experience in the comments below.

James Daugherty

James Daugherty

James joined Distilled in November 2011. He comes from a background in marketing and social media. His passion for the Internet and “get stuff done” attitude fits in perfectly with Distilled’s Seattle office. James Dh264 // He was born in the...   read more

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  1. Great article. Never heard of BLU before but v useful to know it has a product review section. Thanks James!

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  2. Great article James! Will be actioning the majority of the ideas asap. One bit of trouble I'll be having however is with the reviews, the products we offer are courses and they are not online either.

    Wanted to see what you're thoughts were on the problem above - would it be best to leave the reviews until we have an online product/service or just make it much more location based? e.g. UK only etc.

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    • Glad you liked the article Marius.

      Your product does offer a challenge. Hmm... until you have online products/services available you must focus on your local community.

      Have you considered speaking or giving introductory courses at a local conference or meetup? You could personally invite bloggers and set up one-on-one sessions for interviews and Q&A? Just a thought.

      Good luck!

  3. Didn't Interflora UK get penalised for doing this recently? Would love an explanation how your method of giving away items is different to how Interflora did it as they were penalised for their blogger outreach and advertorials.

    reply >
    • You are correct, Interflora did get penalized. Google has not released an official statement on why they were penalized.

      It was brought to light that they were purchasing Advertorials, so many speculate that was the root of the penalization.

      Google did reiterate Google's policy on paid links, expanding their definition to include “entire advertorial pages with embedded links that pass PageRank.”

      There are a couple great articles on Search Engine Watch from Danny Goodwin and Adam Stetzer that cover the Interflora topic, I recommend you check'em out.

      But to answer your question... giveaways/reviews are a play for awareness, not links. They are part of a bigger outreach plan that lives at the top of the conversion funnel.

      Thanks Angela!

  4. Great post--really creative thinking. I always knew free stuff is the best stuff. Who doesn't want to be Oprah?

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  5. Hi James,

    On our site we host fitness product reviews and are also looking at adding competitions and giveaways to our community members.

    Would we need to "nofollow" any links to companies that provide competition prizes the same as we are told to do for Reviews ???

    Using nonfollow may "turn off" some companies but hopefully they will read this post and see the bigger picture regarding business-2-blogger relationships...


    James AKA The Fitness Blogger

    reply >
    • Hey James! Great blog BTW.

      If companies are providing you with good/services for links then, YES nofollow those.

      Your blog offers expert advice and hopefully the companies you work with understand that your voice and readership is an asset to increase awareness for their target market.

      If the brands you're working with offer no value to your readers, I'm sure they'll be turned off, but brands in your niche will see the bigger picture.


  6. Kevin

    Hi James,

    I've racked up quite a few big wins in the outreach column but have always steered clear of giveaways, although many SEO's in my niche have used them and garnered favorable results. In my opinion, it's a step above cold hard cash for links. Do you use nofollow on these external links or do you feel they would pass a manual review as dofollow?

    In Eric Ward's new book (page 16), the author mentions working with a client having no linkable assets, in which case prizes in raffles and other types of contests were used as linking opportunities. I found this very surprising and am a bit confused on the ethicality of this practice.

    Would you mind sharing your opinion?

    reply >
    • Hey Kevin, you're right, it is very confusing... hopefully I can help.

      Exchanging goods or services for links is against Webmaster Guidelines.

      Think beyond the link, reviews/giveaways are a play for awareness. Having review/giveaways on blogs that are relevant to your niche is valuable, links or no links.

      Again, this is a play for awareness. I don't even mention links when conducting reviews/giveaways. That is left up to the blogger.

  7. Kevin

    Thanks James! It helps some and I understand the value of a giveaway without links, but there is a strong underlying connotation in your post that suggests contests/giveaways are another way to acquire hyperlinks. Essentially you are exchanging gifts for a post that passes PageRank, whether you mention links or not, since most bloggers will link. In that case, do you ask for nofollow?

    Do you feel that a contest of this nature would pass a manual review, even if the blogger was the one who added the exact match anchor text?

    I really appreciate your feedback. Thanks again, James!

    reply >
    • It is ultimately up to the blogger, I don't make a habit of asking bloggers to change links to follow/nofollow no matter what the situation is... Err I haven't yet!!! LOL

      As far as that particular example you shared with me, it would NOT pass my personal review. Think beyond the link Kevin, what VALUE is a reader getting?

      Sure there is a chance to win something. What do readers learn about the brand? The content only shares the contest, but nothing about the brand. Where is the USP? They look like cool cards!

      It does not pass my personal review because it looks like this post is copy/pasted, in fact several other blogs have the exact same post:

      I focus on building relationships with bloggers. That way I can help create giveaways that adds awareness to the brand and value to the readers, which benefits everyone involved.

      Thanks again and good luck!

  8. Great post James. We've found that another great source of prospects for product reviews and giveaways is often in the comments section of an existing giveaway. We now sometimes stipulate to bloggers that the comments section is to be used as the entry form, that way we can go in afterwards and pick up a new bunch of prospects from anyone who's included their website in the comment, it works especially well with Mummy bloggers.

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  9. I agree to this post. Who doesn't want a giveaway? When I was still a blogger, I had received lots of giveaways as exchange from doing product reviews... from organic beauty products to Lord of the Rings DVD set. How I wish I'm still blogging. :( But yeah, this is the most excellent way to contribute a guest post for a website.

    reply >
  10. hey,
    Excellent post. I think that we should go for making new relations with blogger rather then asking for links, Outreach is the name of building relations not by getting links.
    Yes BLU is great indeed. I will try it for sure.

    reply >
  11. Thanks for imparting this excellent article! Very useful and interesting. Keep it up!

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  12. These are genuinely great ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some fastidious factors here.
    Any way keep up wrinting.

    reply >

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