If you missed the first series in this blog post, the business of blogging / money matters, you can find it HERE.
I have wanted to write a post about the ins and outs of ads and sponsorships for years, but it seems like such a hornet’s nest that I have decided to stay away from it. Well, I’m going to beat that nest with a stick today, so let’s hope I don’t end up running away with a swarm after me!
I think it’s such a hot topic for two main reasons…
If you ask anyone if they like watching commercials or being pitched to, I bet 99% of them would say no. Including me. When I answer the phone and I think it’s a telemarketer, I immediately bristle. When we had cable/dish TV, we would always record shows and watch them later, so we could fast forward through commercials. I hate ads that pop up at me on websites, blink, and/or make noise that scares me to death when I’m surfing the net in a quiet room. Probably much like you.
But, there are times when I like being pitched to, even when I say I don’t. For example, I love it when I get an e-mail from Anthropologie letting me know they are running a 40% off sale. I have bought many things because I read about it on a blog, saw it in a magazine, or spotted it in my Instagram or Pinterest feed.
So, it’s a fine line between advertising we like and advertising we don’t like and we can be fickle.
It’s a source of income for bloggers and other people who make a business out of an online presence and when someone criticizes that, it feels like a personal attack, even if it’s not meant that way. Like, we have to defend or apologize for how we make money or even that we do make money.
So, a debate ensues between someone who is bristling and someone who feels defensive and you can imagine how well that goes. I’m sure you’ve seen it play out at some point.
Now that I’ve put that out there, let’s talk about ads and how they work.
I was going to talk about sponsorships and affiliate links in this post (all known as monetization), too, but I realized that it would be a novel rivaling War & Peace, so I’m going to break them up. This post will be long enough.
In each post, I’m going to break it down even further into one section directed to readers who might be curious and one directed to aspiring or new bloggers who want to know about monetizing their blog.
How ads work for the reader
Ads are the boxes you see on my sidebar, header, footer, and sometimes between images or posts, depending on the kind of device you are using. They are advertising products, services, and companies based on a combination of what I write about and what you read about. For example, if you’re shopping for a camera and then pop over to my blog, you’ll start to see a lot more camera ads on my blog. They’ll be mixed with what I write about, too, whether it’s home decor, photography, antiques, etc.
I do have some control over the ads that display on my blog, but sometimes spam or ads I’ve banned do sneak through the filters. For example, I block all political ads, “adult” sites/products, and a few other categories, because they just don’t fit with me or my brand.
I also don’t allow pop-ups, ads that cover my pictures, or videos with auto-playing sound. I personally don’t like them, so I don’t have them on my blog. I do have what is called a “sticky footer” and that’s the ad that hangs out at the bottom of your screen and moves with you as you scroll. Most of the time, you can just X out of it and it goes away.
The kind of ads a blogger has is based on their personal taste and threshold for how obtrusive ads can be on their site. My threshold is middle of the road, but I do not rely solely on my ads for income, so I can be a little bit more particular. I have blogger friends who fall on both sides of the fence, though. Some go the-more-ads-the-merrier route and others are totally ad-free. One way isn’t right or wrong, it’s just personal preference and what works for their business model.
How does a blogger make money from the ads?
I make money from ads per 1,000 page views and, in some cases, per click. The nice thing about a pay-per-view form of commission is that readers don’t have to do anything but see the ads on the screen as they read my blog and it brings me income. Now, it’s my job to get people here to see those ads, so it’s not “free income” or “passive income”. The income rate can pay anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars per 1,000 page views, depending on the time of year, hour of the day, place on the blog, quality of the ad, etc. Just like TV. The 30 minute infomercials are shown in the middle of night, not during the Super Bowl, because the ad space is cheaper.
I would say 90% of my monetization income used to come from this kind of advertising. Things have changed, though. More blog readers are using tablets or smart phones to view websites, some readers have installed ad blockers, and ads are diffused over more blogs and websites. Social media has been a game-changer as well. Instagram and Pinterest weren’t even around when I started my blog. Traffic is now spread out over all of these social channels.
Advertisers know these things, so ads that sit on the sidebar aren’t as desireable as they used to be. It’s sort of like a billboard that used to be on a well-traveled two-lane road, until the bulk of traffic was rerouted to a new expressway. So, advertisers want ads that are closer to or actually in the content. If you’ve thought that ads have gotten more in-your-face, you’re not going crazy. They are.
Again, it’s similar to TV and the way commercials are embedded in the shows we watch, since advertisers know that most people skip through the commercials if that option is available to them. Have you noticed your favorite TV spy driving a Toyota or TV doctor toting around a Starbucks with not-so-subtle zoom-ins on the logos?
Now we’re gettting into sponsored post territory, so we’ll stop here and I’ll pick that up in the next post in this series.
So, dear blog readers, I know if you had your vote, you would probably want all of your favorite blogs to be ad-free. But I hope you understand that when you read our blogs and see those ads, you’re supporting a person who is providing you with something you enjoy – whether it’s entertainment, inspiration, encouragement, or information – and it’s not costing you a cent.
How ads work for the blogger
Let’s say you have started a blog or are hoping to start one. In addition to that, you’re hoping it will make some money. Maybe it’s just some money to help with groceries or maybe you’re hoping to launch a full-fledged online empire. Either way, side-bar ads are a great place to start monetizing your blog.
Unless things have changed, you can put Google Adsense ads on your page regardless of your traffic. You just need a Google account, which I’m pretty sure they have started assigning at birth, since Google owns the world. Kidding. Anyway, at first, you’ll earn just pennies a day and it seems like a big joke. We used to laugh at my Adsense income, but pennies become dollars and it all starts to add up.
Just so you can see how sad (or funny) it was, let’s look at my Adsense for 2010, which was the year I started monetizing my blog…
In 2010, I was posting at least once a day, so let’s say I posted 365 for the sake of this illustration (and so I don’t have to go back and count all of those posts.) Do you see that number at the top right corner of the graph above? I made $1,933.54 total in 2010 from my blog. That works out to…drum roll, please…a whopping $5.30 per post. And that’s rounding up.
For me, though, I believed in this. I was able to be home with my very young sons (they 2 and 3 in 2010), I was contributing something, no matter how little, to the family income, and for the first time since I worked at Walt Disney World, I really loved what I was doing. So, I celebrated the little milestones and pressed on.
When I first started, you could only have three Adsense ads on a page (that may still be true), so I had to work with other ad networks to try to break into the double-digit dollars for a post! I signed on with a few other networks, like BlogHer, Yellow Hammer Media, Ligit, and a few others. I don’t even remember all of the names, because there are so many that have come and gone over the years. Most ad networks require a certain number of page views as well as a commitment to post regularly to accept you as a publisher.
Apply to all of the ad networks you can to give yourself options. I used to rotate my ads depending on which ones were performing well. It was always a drag, though, and most bloggers, including me, really struggled with the games you had to play with ads to maximize your income. Then, ad management companies came along and that’s what I use for my ads now. I work with AdThrive and they do all of the technical stuff to make sure that the ads being served on my site are going to earn me the most money. Ad management companies have a page view minimum for clients as well, so expect to work for free and/or manage your ads on your own while you grow.
As I mentioned in the reader section, the amount of ads you have, the type of ads, and where they are positioned is up to you and it’s a personal preference. I used to really struggle with even having ads on my site. I felt a little like I was selling out. One of my blogging mentors really encouraged me in this area. This is a business and I didn’t need to feel bad about getting paid for my work. So, find a level you’re comfortable with.
There is another ad option available and that is private ads. These are ads from companies that you work with directly as opposed to through an ad network. See the “sponsor” section on my sidebar? Those are my private sponsors and they pay a “rent” each month for their space.
I use a plug in called OIO Ad Manager to automate the process of renewing, removing expired ads, etc. I have a soft spot for my sponsors, since some of them have been with me for years and I know them personally. It’s also a great way for me to support other creative entrepreneurs and ministries by offering space for trade, at a discount, or for free.
Private ads are a perfect place to start when you’re first getting into monetization, because you control the rates and can reach out to individuals or brands who would be willing to work with a smaller blog. When I first opened my sponsor section, I charged $5/month and I reached out to peer bloggers, small Etsy shops, etc. to see if they would be interested. I also swapped sponsor spaces with my friends, so we could promote each other (and keep our sponsor section from looking pathetically empty.) It took a lot of chasing and maintenance in the beginning, but eventually companies started coming to me and I was able to increase my rates as my traffic grew.
There is a lot more that can be shared about ads, but since I no longer manage my own ads, I am going to stop here. There are a lot of great blogs about blogging that share more of the technical side of monetization, so I suggest checking those out if you need more details on the “how”.
All of this can seem overwhelming when you’re first starting out, but just take it one step at a time. Blogging as a business can be a slog at times, but that’s true of all jobs. It can also be rewarding in ways that go well beyond monetary value.
And that’s all I have to say about ads. I hope you’ve found some nuggets in there that are helpful, informative, or at least entertaining!
Next time, we’ll keep whacking away at the hornet’s nest and have a chat about sponsored posts…
You can find that post HERE.