Hey kids. It’s time to check in with the great monetization project again, and I thought I’d get you all caught up on the ad situation here at ABDPBT. I’ve been selling my own ads here for over a month, with some success here and there, and I’ve picked up a few pieces of advice to share, as well as some thoughts on how to change my media kit in the short term to better reflect the needs of my potential advertisers. I thought it would be a good idea to keep this process transparent with you guys, so that those of you who are hoping to at some point replicate the process on your own blogs can take this advice and either use it for yourselves or discard it as you see fit.
Before reading, bear in mind that every audience is so different, and similarly, every advertiser is so different, so what I’ve found to be true might not be true of your own readership, and what you find to be true of your readership might not be true of mine, or your friends or whatever. You have to experiment. Oh, and before you ask, this advice is specifically for the ads I am selling myself, not the ads that are sold through my new network, BlogAds. The difference is that the top column in the right sidebar is a BlogAds ad, and then beneath that are smaller ads that are private ads sold through me. Not that it really matters all that much, but I’m speaking specifically about the advertising placements that I’m trying to fill myself, rather than the ones that are filled through any kind of network.
Choose Sizes That Reflect The Needs Of Your Target Advertisers.
The sizes in my initial media kit fit my template and the sizes I was using with my former ad network, so they were large size network ad friendly. These are generally not good for the kinds of advertisers I’m looking to solicit, even if they are at affordable rates. I’ve found that it doesn’t really matter that these sizes are offered at reasonable rates, I think there is some kind of psychological block there that small businesses have towards having a large ad like a rectangle or a skyscraper. They are just not used to being able to afford it, so they don’t look to buy it. Maybe they don’t even have the artwork for it. I don’t know. I’m not going to eliminate it as a possibility, but I’m going to add some new, smaller sizes, and the media kit now emphasizes those sizes instead of the larger ones.
Don’t Be Afraid To Change Prices To Get Things Moving.
I sold a few ads at my original prices as posted a little over a month ago. The overall results of my initial advertising solicitation are as follows:
6.4% responded to my solicitation;
3.2% expressed interest in buying an ad, either now or in the future; and
1.3% actually purchased ads.
Given that this was first month selling private ads, and from what I understand about advertising sales return rates, this is actually not as bad as it sounds. Still, I would like to do better.
Some people are stubborn and think that they should just keep their rates up no matter what, even if the market won’t support it. I call these people “bad businesspeople.” I understand sticking to your guns about pricing when you are getting a lowball offer from one advertiser in particular. But if you send out a bunch of inquiries that seem well placed and you’re not getting enough sales, it’s time to shake things up a bit. So that’s what I’m doing. Smaller sizes, and slightly lower rates on the sizes than I had before. Making less money than you hypothetically would have made in a perfect economy is way better than making no money at all. Also see: get over yourself. When there is a run on your sidebar space, you can always raise prices again, and you can bet this is what I will do (note to advertisers: get the ads while the getting is good).
Exploit People’s Natural Discomfort With Scarcity And Time Limits.
People are motivated to take action by scarcity and time limits. So instead of just having an infinite number spots of ads open, I’m going to limit my spaces to six, and set special prices until the end of May. I’m sending out a notice of this sale to my whole list today, in addition to posting it here for anybody who might want to take advantage of it in the audience.
Offer a special deal for multiple month purchases for advertisers who are particularly well placed. So this is the part that some people are not going to like. I would highly recommend that you offer, as a perk of multiple month purchases, an editorial option, as a perk of your display advertising. What do I mean by this? Well, I mean: it is in your best interest that your advertisers end up feeling satisfied with their advertising experience. As such, you should do everything possible to seek out businesses that you think your readers will like and want to buy from. Assuming you have done this, it should not be so difficult to go look at your sponsor’s website and find cool products to feature in an editorial post on your site, like the “Meet Our Sponsors” post I did for Magpie Lovely a while back. This is not technically a paid placement, and I wouldn’t necessarily advertise it as a guaranteed part of your ad sales, but it is something to bring up when you find an advertiser that is a very good match. These kinds of things will seal the deal with an advertiser because they ensure that your readers will see their products, and also that they get a permanent placement on the site, even after their sidebar ad is gone.
Now. It’s not going to work in all situations, which is why I would not recommend advertising it as a guaranteed part of ad sales. If an insurance company decides to buy a sidebar ad from you, it’s going to be tough to do this kind of thing, for example. But if the product fits, it’s another way to convince the advertiser to buy the ad, once you have them on the line. Many people will tell you not to do this, because it’s blurring the lines of editorial and advertising and blah blah blah — my comment to those people is to open up a magazine and explain to me why this biggest, most expensive ad in the magazine is always the same brand as one of the things featured prominently in an editorial smack dab in the middle of the magazine? This is the way stuff gets done. If you don’t want to do it yourself, that’s fine, but I think you will find that many of the advertisers out there will expect this kind of thing, just so that you know this up front. Look around at other sites who sell private ads and see if you don’t see this kind of stuff happening regularly.
Last Monday, I posted a list of recommendations for small bloggers looking to monetize. The recommendations I made prompted a few questions regarding timelines and what kind of results to expect, and as I began to answer I realized that perhaps it would be better to just write a post on the topic. In July, it will be two years since I first launched ABDPBT, and though the blog has since grown into four different sections, I have learned quite a bit since then about what it means to approach blogging as a business. Though there are countless other people who have been doing this for far longer than I have been, I am one of only a handful of people who started blogging as a business endeavor from day one and who have worked at it full time since then. Below are some observations and advice based on those two unusual characteristics of my blogging experience.
It takes almost two years really gain traction.
People want to start blogging and hit it big yesterday. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how long it take to hit it big, but look at it this way: Dooce was blogging for five years before her husband quit his job, and Ree Drummond published her cookbook after about three years of full-time blogging. Those are the two meteoric success stories of the mommyblogging world, and they are hardly overnight success stories, so you shouldn’t expect to be any different. In fact, you should expect it to take longer, if anything.
I think it is something like two years before anything tangible is likely to start happening.
This doesn’t mean that magically after two years, you are huge or an “A-lister” or that everybody loves you and you’re being invited to speak at conferences, represented by Federated Media, and have a book deal. But if you are working very hard and consistently, beating down every doorstep and not taking no for an answer, over and over again, for two years, you will have gained some traction and have a readership in that time.
At almost two years, there are many people who, maybe they don’t actually read my blog, but they at least know this blog exists by now, they are aware enough of its existence to be annoyed by its name. That’s with updates of not every section of this blog every day, but at least a few times per week, going to two or more conferences per year (even though these sometimes give me anxiety), keeping up with tons of other blogs (commenting when I can), returning emails (always), returning comments on my site (nearly always), returning @-replies and DMs on Twitter (very often), responding to PR solicitations (often), offering to help PR people when I think I can help them find people who fit their products better than I do (occasionally).
I consider this my career and treat it that way, even when I don’t want to — like the past few weeks, when I’ve kind of wanted to escape it. I have faced it. And even then, success isn’t handed to you overnight. It takes a ton of work. I rarely think about how long it is going to take, perhaps that is because of my background. But people who think that bloggers who are fabulously successful like Heather Armstrong and Ree Drummond are just lucky are sorely mistaken: it takes a ton of hard work and time to get where they are. You will probably have to work even harder.
You have to bring something new to the table.
It’s really easy on the outside to see a blogger who is successful and think, “I can do that.” Maybe you can. But they did it first. What are you going to do that is different? Because they’re already doing it. We don’t need another one of them. We don’t even need a better one of them, necessarily. We need a different something.
The easiest thing to do is to just figure out whatever it is that makes you you and make that your thing. Like for me, maybe being a pain in the ass critic is not necessarily something that you would consider an asset, but look, nobody can do that like I can. So that’s my thing, and that’s what I built this site around, different aspects of that, and my life. And all of the parts of the site feed into that. Nobody else is doing it because, well, nobody else can do it — and would they want to? And there’s a purpose to it, and there’s a market for it, and it allows me to do what I do best, and I can go through the web and be me, even if I have to take heat for it sometimes, I never have to hide who I really am, or worry that somebody will figure out that the way I present myself doesn’t really match my personality.
If I have one piece of advice to give a new blogger it is this: try to make you “online brand” match your real identity as much as possible — to the extent that you can control this. They don’t have to be the same thing, necessarily, but try to keep them from totally clashing. Discrepancies between the two can really cause problems down the line. This might not make sense to you now, but later on it will — you need to have a brand that allows you to be true to yourself, or else you won’t want to stick with it for as long as blogging takes to turn into a money making endeavor.
Very few can make it on display ads alone.
Very, very few bloggers can make a living solely on display ads. There are some who do: Dooce, Pioneer Woman, MckMama, and some others (Nie Nie?) I believe. But even those ones are plagued by the problems we have seen with ad networks being able to meet their ad inventory demands in a down market. You have to have crazy traffic to do so: I’m going to estimate that the point at which it becomes a full time income (when using an ad network, that is) is somewhere over a million pageviews per month, though this would depend upon where you live. If you live in Los Angeles, it would probably be several million pageviews per month, but elsewhere in the country, perhaps only 750K would be enough. If you sell private ads on your own, you might be able to make a full time living before that point, and if you broker your own placement deals, you definitely could make it long before that. The point is: display ads, at present, are only an option for full time income for a small portion of bloggers with very high traffic levels. You might be one of those people some day, but you have to be in it for the long haul and you have to really put in your time and be willing to sacrifice to get there. It is not going to happen in a year. It might not happen in five years. It might not ever happen.
There must be some kind of EVENT (over which you have no control) that brings you to the next traffic level.
This is the very cynical part of my analysis that is going to make everyone cringe, but when has this ever stopped me from doing anything in my life? If you look at the few people who have reached the very very high traffic levels, the ones who have a full time income from display ads, they all have some kind of EVENT that got them there with one very notable exception. That EVENT includes a firing for writing about a job on the internet that was covered extensively in mainstream media (Dooce), the heartwrenching struggle with sickness of child (MckMama), a horrific near-death accident that was covered by mainstream media and subsequent triumph of the human spirit recovery that was covered by Oprah (Nie Nie). The exception to this is Ree Drummond, who I think bypassed these through masterful use of marketing to get the word out about her site, and kept people around because the content was good and everything spread through word of mouth until mainstream media finally caught on within the past year. My point is not to lessen the merit of these bloggers but rather to call attention to the importance of these EVENTs in bringing up their traffic to income-generating levels. Without those EVENTs — over which a blogger cannot have any control — the blogger’s traffic might not ever have reached the traffic at which it currently resides. (And yes, I know I will be attacked as “heartless” for saying this.)
You must be an entrepreneur first, writer second. At some point in the history of the blogosphere, it might have been the case that you could end up finding yourself at the helm of a very profitable blog without a plan, but this is not the case anymore. Do I consider myself to be a writer? Yes. I always have been. When I was a child, I wanted to be a writer. But if you want to turn a blog into a money-making endeavor you need to think of yourself as an entrepreneur first and a writer second. Hopefully you have skills in both areas, and about eighteen other areas as well, because you are going to need them. Being a good writer is not enough. In fact, it’s not even necessarily required. There are tons of good writers, and not all successful bloggers are necessarily the best writers. If what is most important to you is to write, then just write. If you want to find a market for your writing, then blogging is a good way of doing that, but you will have to be willing put your artistic needs in the backseat on occasion to get stuff done. This does not mean it’s not important. It just means that there are many ways of being creative. The great thing about building a blog is that you never know which way you’re going to be able to express your creativity next.
Are you guys tired of this yet? (I am.) But we’re almost done. With the math part, anyway. (By the way, if you’re just learning that there are tiers in the BlogHer Ad Network now, you’re going to want to brush up on the issues raised in the first post on the topic here, then move on to the next post here, then go here, oh, and don’t forget about the last post here.)
Now, once I’m done with all the math and graphs, there’s going to be that inevitable “What now?” moment where everyone stands around wondering what we’re supposed to do with all of this information. Probably everyone is going to crave some kind of closure or acknowledgment from BlogHer. Maybe even people are hoping a “Ted, Just Admit It” kind of thing will happen. Except instead of Jane’s Addiction writing a song we will have Harry Connick, Jr. making an appearance at a conference, and he will crack jokes that manage to offend bloggers, loggers and lesbians in one fell swoop.
What I’m trying to say: do not expect BlogHer to comment on this beyond the clumsy tweets by Queen of Spain aimed at my head last weekend. Because as much as I am certain that this tier system is real, I am equally certain that there was some kind of email powwow begging people to STFU after that happened and that nobody from BlogHer plans to comment publicly on any of this unless compelled to by some kind of government entity like a court of law. Because what are they going to say?
Anyway, if you’re not yet convinced about there being tiers in the BlogHer Ad network yet, I’m hoping that this post will not only push you over the edge into believing me, but also show you how the tiers are not only based on traffic but also manipulated on various occasions to suit the ends of the BlogHer network. And after today, I’ll start giving you guys my unsolicited advice on what I think you should do about monetizing your blogs, based on various different hypothetical blog sizes, and various positions, and various different needs and considerations, different reasons for blogging, different approaches, etc. etc. etc.
Adding To The Pile: Mapping Tiers With Data From Other Bloggers
It’s graph time, kids!
The above graph maps percentages of unpaid ads served by BlogHer ad network members during November of 2009 versus March of 2010. I’ve used six different network members in this case to show the differences in the two months, and I think you can probably already see a pretty clear tier system emerging, but just in case you cannot identify it, let me help you out, and I’ll point out quarterly boundaries and ThePioneerWoman.com factor just for comparison as well. Please note that, when it’s an up quarter (in November, Quarter 4, the most lucrative quarter), everybody is more or less at the same point because even if they’re technically on different tiers, there are so many ads on the network at the time, and there is no Pioneer Woman factor yet, so everybody is serving ads at more or less the same rate with one notable exception (Blogger 5, who only had 12.5% unpaid ads in November of 2009, and this was because that blogger had a very large traffic spike that month for an outside reason not related to BlogHer tiers) That’s a distribution that you get with a standard-traffic based tier with a healthy ad inventory in an up quarter, from what I’ve gathered just looking at numbers in a very short period of time, and I’m not an expert, mind you.
Except. The problem with this distribution is when you look at the normal traffic for these blogs. Some of the tiers adhere to regular traffic patterns. For example, when you move into the post-PW period, Blogs 4 and 6 remain in the same tier, as they should, because they are blogs in similar traffic range. The same can be said for blogs 1 and 2. Those two ranges stick with what is expected, so the tier system is giving an unfair advantage to higher trafficked sites, but at least we can see the logic behind it. Things get murkier when we look at sites 3 and 5, and juxtapose them with my stats in particular. Both of those sites have traffic that should be on the same tier with each other, AND with my site, roughly, for that period, because we all have about the same traffic in pageviews per month. So let’s put ABDPBT on a graph with all the other sites as a comparison.
What’s apparent from the above graph is not only the fact that I’m not tiering with other sites in my traffic group, but that I’m tiering with sites way above my traffic group. Why? Well, as I said in the last post, I wrote a post about the whole traffic brouhaha post PW and I noticed that I had more paid ads all of a sudden. I suspect this is why I started tiering away from my traffic group. My site gets more attention, I get more paid ads, it’s that simple. What’s more difficult to understand (and more disturbing) are why the other ones in my traffic group not only don’t match me but don’t match each other. Now, Blogger 5 is an interesting case that I cannot speculate on too much here in the interest of maintaining confidentiality, but suffice to say that that blogger had a traffic spike that might have been interpreted by BlogHer as “unusual” (that was when Google was rolling out its “Caffeine” system, and I had the Gaga incident with the crashed servers, and search engine traffic all over the web was kind of crazy that month) and therefore the blog might have been bumped up a tier only temporarily and then bumped back down very quickly. It’s very hard to say. I’m going to just leave that blog’s tier movement alone because I just don’t have enough data to even speculate on its movement.
What about Blogger 3? Based on traffic alone, Blogger 3 and I should be in the same tier, and in November, we were in the same tier. But then some how in between November and March I got moved up with much higher traffic sites by writing some very high profile posts and Blogger 3 got moved down. Waaaay down. Why? Well, that’s what I’m working on for the next post, kids.
(I know, it’s starting to sound like a soap opera, I swear it’s going to be over soon, just bear with me . . .)
Hey everybody, we’ve got a new featured blogger ad up and running! Please check out Becky’s ad for Suburban Matron in the sidebar (another gorgeous one, you guys are really coming up with awesome logos and ads!), and visit her blog ASAP! If you’d like to participate in the ABDPBT Featured Bloggers Program, please email me and I’ll put you on the waiting list.
New here? Not sure what one of the references I made is about? It might be time to check the ABDPBT Glossary. To translate, you might want to check out the ABDPBT Glossary page, or just look for links within the text with folders next to them to see what various terms mean.
OTHER ABDPBT BLOGS
The blog that launched a thousand angry emails.
Tech for mommy bloggers. Or bloggers who aren't mommies, but hang out with them. Or Dads. Whatever.
ABDPBT Commodity Fetishism
This is where I post stuff that I think is cool. Maybe you will think it's cool, too.
Love her? Hate her? Want to be her? Of course she gets her own category -- she's the original mommy blogger businesswoman. And you can learn about all of Dooce's exploits, successful and otherwise, here.
Don't let the "Aww, shucks!" attitude fool you: Ree Drummond, aka The Pioneer Woman is a smart cookie and a shrewd businesswoman. You can read about her latest projects here.
She is quietly, tastefully, teaching us how to take the world by storm. Catch up on all the great things that Gabrielle Blair, aka Design Mom, has up her sleeve here.
My name is Anna. I like to blog. ABDPBT is a creative effort at understanding my experience as a wife, mother, recovering academic, popular culture enthusiast, satirist, and unrepentant fake American.