I’ve recently been posting a series on tiers in online advertising networks. Maybe you heard something about it. Over the course of writing those posts what became apparent was that there was a real need for a set of my recommendations for blog owners of varying sizes who are looking to monetize, given these new pieces of information regarding how revenue is affected by ad inventory, traffic-based, and CPM tiering in networks of all kinds in the blogosphere. So I’m going to start posting some thoughts for you guys and putting them here, take them or leave them . . . bear in mind that these are ideas for people who are specifically trying to grow their blogs into businesses and/or attach them to businesses (e.g. using them to market some other form of business), rather than people who specifically blog for fun or “community.” I have personal thoughts on the use of ads for those kinds of blogs as well, but that’s not really the point of this blog, so if you want to know about my unsolicited advice in those cases, you can email me and I’ll happily unleash a torrent of verbal diarrhea on you. UPDATE: Alternative network resources for people who want to meet hosting fees, etc., but aren’t necessarily professional bloggers: check out these lists here and here (ignore the first ad network name, though), and also check out Project Wonderful (hat tip: Maria Melee).
- Running Network Ads Are Not Worth It At This Stage.
If you are currently at a traffic level less than 10K pageviews per month, then in my opinion, putting network ads on your blog is not worth the space and the editorial guidelines with which you will have to hassle, provided your ultimate goal is to turn your blog into a business. This is for a couple of different reasons: (1) your blog sidebar real estate’s value and (2) the value of gaining experience in selling ads and growing a list of blog advertisement sales leads. Some people are tempted to put network ads on their blogs at this stage to lend your blog credibility to outside observers. I have done this myself, and I do think there was a time in which this was a valid move to make. I think that time has passed, and here’s why: it is comparatively easy to get into a blog advertising network these days. It may still be difficult to be accepted into certain networks (cough — Federated Media — cough), but many networks will let you in once somebody drops out, and there are few quality control guidelines barring people from entry. Therefore, you are not getting any kind of professional stamp of approval anymore by running a network-affiliated ad on your blog they way you might have done at one point.
More importantly, you are going to get a lot more money and a lot more valuable experience by going out and convincing a small business to buy a sidebar ad from you. All you have to do, at this traffic level, is convince a small online business to buy one sidebar ad for $25 a month to beat a BlogHer ad contract, and they are probably the best paying network at this point, with the possible exception of Federated Media and I’m not even completely sure about that because Federated does not have many (if any?) blogs on its network that have traffic levels taht low. So, just do it. You’re going to be in much better shape in the long run: these days, and in my opinion, a blog stands out more by exerting control over over both its editorial and its advertising content.
- You can’t just put up a call for advertisments and call it a day. When BlogHer first announced they were taking a bigger cut of their commissions about a year or so ago, I announced private ad sales and put up an advertising sales page. Then I forgot about it. I got some bites every now and then but no sales. This is because nobody really responds to things like that. You have to chase sales down, they don’t usually come to you. Even when you have good traffic, the sales pitches you get tend to be bad. Example, I occasionally get unsolicited ad offers in my email now, and I’ll get all excited until I realize that the people have not even looked at my media kit yet. The other day I got one from a payday loan place that was looking for advertising space. I hate payday loan places, naturally, but I directed them to my media kit anyway. The guy wrote me back, “leveling with [me]” that what he was looking for was a sponsored post, and that even a negative post about the payday loan industry would be fine, provided I didn’t malign his company specifically. I wrote him back and told him that, for $5,000, I’d be pleased to write a post about how morally abhorrent I found the payday loan industry, that disclosed a sponsorship relationship between myself and his company. And that for an additional $5,000, I’d be happy to write a post about how I’d brokered this deal between myself and his company. He never wrote back. His loss, because it would have been AWESOME product placement. But anyway, those are the kinds of unsolicited deals you get offered when you hit about 75,000 to 100,000 pageviews. At 10,000 or less, you might not get any yet. Don’t get discouraged. This hit home for me at Mom 2.0 when I heard Design Mom (300,000+ pageviews) say she kept all her solicitation emails so she could email them with ad offers. We ALL have to hunt down potential advertisers, it’s the name of the game! Look for small Etsy shops that will appeal to your readers, people that advertise on blogs you read, people that read your blog who have online shops, people you know who sell online, eBay sellers, etc. for prospects. Those are people who might be good prospects for buying your ads.
- Be tenacious with your advertising solicitations. If you figure that you’re going to get $20 per month from BlogHer (or a similar ad network) for running ads on a blog at this size, then you need to set about getting a sidebar ad at the price of $25 per month. The $5 extra is your commission for finding a sale, along with the experience you get in hunting down prospects. You need to work on a media kit and a pitch letter. You also need to compile a list of contacts to solicit. And then you need to keep asking places to advertise, even when they are turning you down left and right. Many, many places will turn you down. Many. Keep asking. You only need one, expect like 99% to not even return your email, that’s normal. Even if the one that finally agrees has to be begged, and it’s an ebay who is your brother-in-law, and you have to design the 125×125 button, it still counts. Because once people have seen that you got that one ad, then they’ll think about buying one at some point. you get one, then another one will be that much easier to find. And every month you do this, it will get easier and easier.
- Treat all of your readers like gold. This should really be true at all levels, but it’s especially true in the beginning, because many of the people who find you in the beginning are the ones who will end up being your biggest evangelists and who will shape your readership the most. I cannot emphasize this enough. The early days are the ones in which you will have the most time in which to interact with your readers and make them do your dirty work for you. I know you want tips on how to make money, but when you’re just starting out, a lot of what you can do is community building, long-term stuff. You have to be in it for the long con. Build relationships. Make friends. Build a community around your blog with people you really like. Not everybody will stay, but make sure the ones who do are people that you really like, because they will end up getting more people that you really like to show up further down the road.
- Think about other opportunities for monetizing. At low traffic levels, your ability to sell a display advertising opportunity is limited. However, if you can demonstrate that elusive “influence” that people are always talking about, you can do a bunch of stuff. Throw a party at a conference, and you can get tons of sponsors. Organize a an event for your real life friends with a small business sponsor, take lots of pictures, and set it up in your media kit as a sponsorship opportunity for anybody who wants to get involved. All you have to do to sell these kinds of things is convince one company to do it and boom! everyone else will think it’s a thing.
How about you guys? Suggestions from the peanut gallery?