By Anne Holland, Content Director
Last week, I outlined six ways to calculate if a particular blog is worth sponsoring.
However, getting pricing and cutting an insertion order is work. Deciding which creative to use is work. Measuring results is work. All this work isn't usually worth it to reach a few hundred or thousand qualified readers per month. (By qualified, I mean ready, willing and able to buy the sponsor's product.)
That's why most sponsors prefer ad networks -- mainly Google AdSense but also sometimes BlogAds, Pheedo and others -- where they can make a single buying decision across dozens or hundreds of blogs based on topic or keywords and let it ride.
Contrarian view: here are four reasons why you should create your own network of handpicked blogs to sponsor, plus some tips on what your sponsorship should entail:
#1. Competitive positioning
Google ads show up as a group of generally 3-4 on the blog. Even if you show up in there for every posting on an influential blog (not always a sure thing given your PPC budget and keyword selections), your competitors are probably in there, too.
Do you want to be one of three or four somewhat related offers based on keyword or do you want to be the brand that stands in its own prominently placed spot alone? For the top blogs, I assume the latter is true.
#2. RSS ads
Google (for now at least) doesn't offer RSS feed ads to bloggers. Much of some bloggers' readership is via RSS feed -- both fans who subscribed to the feed and third party sites which carry the feed as part of their content. (Of which the latter may often be the biggest share.)
If you create your own network, you may also be able to insert ads into every 7th-10th RSS posting they run. (Any more and it's a little spammy. See below for ideas for creative.)
#3. Expanded creative options
If you own the ad spot, you're not restricted to the ad layout (generally brief text-only) of outside networks.
I'm not saying you should go crazy with colorful banners; instead, I suggest inventing a banner type which is informational and educational in nature -- useful vs salesly -- to fit the blog environment. The types of offers to run might be:
o A list of your top three most popular white papers or ecommerce bestsellers
o Sign-up link for your next webinar
o Free download link for samples, trials, or ecoupons
o Hotlinked headlines from your own newsletter or corporate blog
o Hotlinks to your new branded videos or podcasts
o Quiz or survey offers (for lead gen or market research purposes)
Plus, I recommend placing your logo at the top left corner, of course.
The content within the banner itself can be routinely updated on your end via syndicated XML feed into the banner so the bloggers don't have to do any work to change things out. (Note: This also can work extremely well for affiliate network banners.)
You will want to offer bloggers two versions, one vertical and one horizontal -- so they can pick which fits their layout the best.
I vehemently believe in church and state when it comes to editorial vs advertisers. So, I don't think you should use ad dollars as a stick to lead (or chastise) bloggers in your niche.
On the other hand, bloggers may be your brand's biggest evangelists and most intelligent critics. Why not support them? As MarketingSherpa research shows, your prospects are more likely to listen to a third-party blogger's opinion of your brand than they are to your own marketing messages … or even famous-name analysts. Often bloggers are perceived to be "in the trenches" with an "everyman" voice that's nearly trustworthy as the guy in the cubicle next door.
If you treat these bloggers well, giving them "special most favored nation status," they will treat you well in return. Yes, they may still criticize you on occasion, but at least they're more likely to contact their "evangelist hotline" person at your company for answers before haring off on rumors.
For this reason, along with ad dollars, you should set up a named blog-evangelist within your own organization to maintain relations with external blogs. I suspect that job will be in your PR department and routinely interact with advertising, sales and investor relations.
That point person becomes bloggers' evangelist in your own company. The goal: to treat key bloggers as you would highly influential press and analysts. Some areas:
- Invite bloggers to private meetings -- If they are in the area, invite them for a tour and meeting once a year. Also invite them to private webinars for key announcements and new product views in the same way you would other press and analysts. Advance and insider knowledge is gold to bloggers. Don't treat them like the rest of the public.
- Offer key bloggers press passes to your own user conferences and also to conferences where your CEO is giving the keynote. You can even do a private bloggers-only dinner party at the event.
- Add relevant hotlinks to key external bloggers on your own corporate blog's blogrolls and posts. (Bloggers adore hotlinks sometimes even more than cash for sponsorships.)
- Sponsor them directly -- a monthly flat fee paid quarterly would be sufficient for many. I would advise against CPM or PPC because they won't be adequately recompensed for their true influence, plus the admin burdens in both are extra work you don't need to take on.
How many should you sponsor? My suggestion is to conduct a research project every six months or year and review who is most influential. Then contact these folks directly to ask if they would like to join your sponsorship program. Be sure to note this includes insider meetings, but also that you too believe in church and state.
You're at the start of a beautiful long-term relationship. Useful links related to this article
My blog last week on how to calculate a blog's influence:
Past Sherpa Case Study: How CafePress tested offering affiliates (mainly bloggers) contextual ads based on tags:
(Note: This is Members-only. Membership trials are free.)