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Random Thoughts: The Pros and Cons of Blog Advertising

I have been noticing lately that several of the book blogs I visit have begun to place advertisements on their sites. And, I don’t mean the promotional info about books coming out and links of where to buy, or information on sponsors and partnerships, but just regular adverts or options to “place your ad here.” I haven’t fully investigated to determine whether they’ll accept any type of ad or just those related to the book world, but I find myself slightly upset seeing these adverts.

When I visit a blog I go there to read what the blogger has to say about books. I want to hear their honest opinions about what they’ve read, and I also want to see what they recommend for me to purchase. But when they’ve opened themselves up to accepting advertising, I begin to question how honest their opinions will be.

I don’t want to be blatantly sold to or to even think that the blogger isn’t really recommending the book or other product or service, but their advertiser is. If their advertisers suggest they push a certain item, will they do it even if they don’t like that product or service? And if so, will they let their readers know that they are suggesting it solely because they are being paid to do so? (Isn’t this the whole FTC situation with accepting ARCs and giving honest reviews?) So, if they accept advertising for something they don’t stand behind, will they then give a positive review to a book that they don’t believe is good?

I totally understand that it can be costly to run a blog. I know I’ve shelled out quite a bit of money for postage, envelopes, books and on. But I do it because I love books, I want to share my love of books with the world and I also enjoy having people visit my site. I consider these things the cost of doing business and just like with writing books, sometimes blogging can feel like a business endeavor. You’re providing a service and people are visitors are like your customers. But, ugh, as a reader I absolutely hate to think of it like this!

Now, perhaps not everyone can afford to ship and mail and buy all the necessary items, so I completely get that they need to get their funding from somewhere. I’ve seen the “donation” bars on blogs and I actually have donated to a couple blogs that I really want to see continue. But advertising is a whole different arena. I can’t escape advertising anywhere on the internet anymore, it seems. I have grown to expect those ads on Google, Facebook or Twitter and on magazine and newspapers sites. But I’ve always liked the fact that when I head over to my favorite book blogs I could read ad free.

I would feel less troubled if I knew that the ads were selectively chosen based upon the bloggers liking of, or recommendation of, the product or service. If I knew for certain that all ads on the site were recommended, then I might not feel as manipulated. But the blogs I’ve visited don’t seem to have listed their criteria for accepting advertising.

An “ad” that I don’t seem to mind too much is the Amazon widget. At least these are for books that are selected by the blogger. If they happen to make money as an Amazon Associate for placing those links on their site, that’s great. As I use a widget from Amazon – but have elected to not get any referral fees – I know that I’ve individually picked out each one of the books I’ve added to my carousel, so there is a personal touch to it. They are my recommended books. So bloggers who have these carousels, that happen to get paid, I say go for it. Although if they are getting paid, I wish they would have a note stating that they are.

I do not mean to put anyone down for putting ads on their site. We all have to do what we must in order to continue. It’s just when I see a blog that has three or more advertisements flashing away, I feel like I’ve headed to a commercial website and not a book blog. And as I don’t particularly enjoy commercial websites because of their ads, it has made visiting certain blogs less appealing to me. Further, at least when visiting those commercial sites, I know that the person writing the article isn’t generally the same one who’s accepting the ads. On personal book blogs it’s typically one and the same.

Promotional material is NOT the same. I love seeing promotional material on blogs, after all we are all about promoting books and authors. But bloggers aren’t advertisers or marketers. Even if it is the publisher that is hoping for the promotion by sending the blogger books or swag, it is still the bloggers choice whether to use or mention it. And all they are receiving from it is a hopefully fantastic book and some cool book-ish materials.

So, since I headlined this piece “The Pros and Cons of Blog Advertising” I’ll list what I think are some of the pros and cons:

Pros:

1. The blogger can make money so that they continue blogging and readers can continue reading.

2. The blogger can make money so that they can host more giveaways and contests so that readers can win more free goodies.

3. The blog will look like a much more professional website, similar to Kirkus Reviews or Publishers Weekly.

Cons:

1. They may turn off some of their readers who want to enjoy an ad free reading experience.

2. They may hurt their credibility for their open and honest reviews if they take advertising for products and/or services that call into question their impartiality. It can severe the trust that readers have in the blogger if they think the blogger can be bought.

3. They may find that accepting an ad will actually cost them their reputation with a publisher or author if that publisher or author finds the product or service to be in competition with them or if they have had a negative experience with that product or service.

Is it worth it?

The question comes down to whether it is worth it to put ads on your site. Before doing so you may want to ask yourself the following:

1. Will you be compensated so richly that it is worth any harm to your reputation?

2. Could you not continue blogging without those ads?

3. Will your readers be let down by your decision to accept advertisements or will they be excited to know that you are being financially compensated?

4. If you are a blogger that is also a role-model for other bloggers, will your decision potentially harm bloggers who follow your every move?

5. Have you set up any criteria for what ads you will accept? And if so, have you made that criteria publicly known?

6. Could the products or services you are advertising have any unforeseen consequences? (This could include products that may be harmful, scams, etc.)

7. Have you thoroughly investigated what you are advertising on your site?

8. Do you realize that your placement of these ads may be seen as a reflection on you? That you might be seen as the spokesperson for these products? Are you okay with that?

The Slippery Slope

Accepting advertising can be lucrative but can also be a slippery slope.

The scenario: First you accept an ad for a product you believe in. Then you stretch that belief as you see your purse being filled. You then are willing to accept ads for products you aren’t quite familiar with but that seem okay. You get even more money and realize that your blog can go from being a hobby to a career. So you accept even more ads that pay good money but are less reputable. You can officially quit your day job and focus exclusively on your blog. This was your dream. It’s come true.

But then your biggest advertisers begin to make demands. They don’t want their ad placed if you have a book you are reviewing that has subject matter that they might not be comfortable with. They state that as long as their ad is being run you cannot review that book. They point out the fine print on your agreement that you didn’t carefully look at when making the deal.

You begin to feel stifled. Your freedoms are hindered. Your love of reading and writing reviews begins to pale.

Your other big advertiser then states you can’t accept ads from company Y because they are competitors. Company Y may be willing to pay more, but you’ve made an agreement with Company X. Or even worse, you place both ads, not realizing, and Company X sues you for breach of contract.

Your blog is shut down and you are taken to court for violating contract law.

End result: Was it worth it? Maybe not so much.

Yes, this scenario is a bit of a stretch, but it is still a slippery slope. You may think that the quick money you are making right now is fantastic, but the choices you make and the consequences of what you do may have a bigger impact on your readership and reputation.

Unless your blog gets so popular that it gets sold to a huge corporation, your blog is a reflection of you. If you begin to appear as someone just in it for the money, people may be less inclined to visit your site and those hit counts may start to diminish.

The few blogs that I’ve been a regular visitor of, that have almost more advertising than content, I cringe at every time the page loads. I keep hoping to be desensitized to the ads so that I can still enjoy my visits, but I think it’s simply going to cost that blog one visitor. I may not count for much as one visitor of many, but lost visitors do add up.

I know this can be a controversial topic, but what do you think of ads on a blog? I would love to know!

Of course, if you tell me that the money made through advertising is so lucrative, I might just rethink my argument…

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