The next session that I attended was Andrea Tomkins talking about how to make money through advertising on your blog. She started with ways that blogs can pay off without direct monetization, such as driving other sorts of business (just as this blog often drives first contacts for my consulting business) and leveraging free trips to conferences, but her main focus was on how she sells ads on her blog.
She believes that selling your own ad space results in higher quality advertising by allowing you to select the advertisers who you want on your site and control many of the design aspects. Plus, you get to keep all the cash. She believes in charging a flat monthly rate rather than by impressions or clicks, and to set the rates, she looked at the rates for local newspapers; however, newspapers are very broad-based whereas blog audiences are much more narrowly focused, meaning that the people reading your blog come from a specific demographic that certain advertisers would really like to have access to. Andrea’s blog is a “parenting lifestyle” blog – a.k.a. “mommyblogger” – and she has 1,300-1,400 daily views, many of whom are local to her Ottawa area.
She started out charging $50/month/ad, and bumped it for new clients as well as an annual increase until she reached a sweet spot in the pricing (which she didn’t disclose). She doesn’t sell anything less than a 3-month term, and some advertisers have signed up for a 12-month spot. Her first advertiser, who is still with her, is a local candy store that she and her family frequented weekly – she felt that if she loved it so much, then her readers would probably enjoy it as well. She approached the store directly to solicit the ad, although now many of her new advertisers come to her when they see her blog and how it might reach their potential audience.
She controls the overall ad design: the ad space is a 140×140 image with a link to their website, with the images being updated as often as the advertisers wish. New ads are added to the bottom of the list, so advertisers are incented to maintain their relationship with her in order to maintain their placement on the site.
She also writes a welcome post for each advertiser; she writes this as her authentic opinion, and doesn’t just publish some PR from the advertiser since she doesn’t want to alienate her readers. Each advertiser has the opportunity to host a giveaway or contest for each 3-month term, although she doesn’t want to turn her blog into a giveaway blog because that doesn’t match her blogging style. She also uses her social network to promote her advertisers in various ways, whether through personal recommendations, on her Facebook page or Twitter; because she only takes advertisers that she believes in, she can really give a personal recommendation for any of them.
Before you call a potential advertiser, she recommends understanding your traffic, figuring out an ad design and placement, and coming up with a rate sheet. Don’t inflate your traffic numbers: you’ll be found out and look like an idiot, and most advertisers are more interested in quality engagement than raw numbers anyway. Everyone pays the same rate on Andrea’s blog; she doesn’t charge more for “above the fold” ads or use a placement randomizer, so sometimes has some new advertisers (who are added to the bottom) complain about placement.
A rate sheet should be presented as a professionally-prepared piece of collateral coordinated with your business cards, blog style and other marketing pieces. It needs to include something about you, the deal you’re offering, your blog, your audience and traffic, and optionally some testimonials from other advertisers.
Handling your own ads does create work. You need to handle contacts regarding ads (she doesn’t publish her rates), invoice and accept payments, track which ads need to run when, set up contracts, and provide some reporting to the advertisers. Obviously, there has to be a better way to manage this without resorting to giving away some big percentage to an ad network. She also writes personal notes to advertisers about when their ad might have been noticed in something that Andrea did (like a TV appearance) or when she is speaking and hence might have their ads be more noticed. She does not publish ads in her feed, but publishes partial feeds so readers are driven to her site to read the full posts, and therefore see the ads. She has started sending out a newsletter and may be selling advertising separately for that.
This started a lot of ideas in my head about advertising. I used to have Google ads in my sidebar, which pretty much just paid my hosting fees, but I took them out when it started to feel a bit…petty. As long as I get a good part of my revenue from end-customer organizations to help them with their BPM implementations, it would be difficult to accept ads here and maintain the appearance of independence. Although I do work for vendors as an analyst and keep those parts of my business completely separate, with appropriate disclosure to clients, it is just as important to have the public appearance of impartiality as well as actually be impartial. An ongoing dilemma.