Yes, Blogs Are A Great Advertising Environment

I've been reading posts about how blogs are great for advertisers and how blogs reach desirable audiences.

If you're here, you likely know that I'm a founding partner of a media agency called Underscore Marketing. It's my job to know how blogs can tap into desirable audiences from an advertising perspective. I can give you some anecdotal evidence that blogs get the job done, but please know that clients are usually very skittish about talking about their online advertising publicly. (So what I'm about to say here needs to be somewhat vague.) Suffice it to say:

  • I have a client that was willing to test a blog this quarter.
  • We did.
  • Said blog kicked ass and was one of the best performers on the campaign.
  • It performed very well despite the fact that mainstream sites cover the same category, have larger audiences and have offline components (like print magazines).
  • If I had to attribute its success to something, it would likely be the dedication of the audience to said blog and the audience's trust in the blog's coverage.
  • Our next media plan for this client will include more blogs. This is driven by the success of the blog we tested, plus the desire to tap into audiences that haven't seen the client's message before.
  • We will likely renew our deal with the first blog, and possibly increase our commitment to them from a monetary perspective.

A few other things I want to mention...

There are quite a few media buyers who end up here for one reason or another. I have this message for them: If you're not considering advertising on blogs that deal with topics of interest to your clients and their target audiences, you're doing your client a disservice. Put down the @Plan runs and the MRI crosstabs for a sec and take a calculated chance for your clients. It will pay off. Relevance is one of the prime drivers of success in online advertising. Blogs have dedicated audiences that come back again and again to consume quality topical content. Your client wants to be associated with such editorial environments (or at least they should). Propose a small test with a blog, gauge its success, and you'll likely find it to perform particularly well.

Here's another thing...I like the concept behind BlogAds, but major advertisers are going to want to run larger size GIFs, Flash and rich media. My preference is to cut the deal directly with the person running the blog for an ad package that's more robust than what you can get through BlogAds. And I'm looking for something that's persistent, so that every person who visits the blog is exposed to the ad. That means sponsorships, locked-in positions on the home page, and possibly ads on every archive and story page.

Some words of advice to bloggers hoping to attract advertisers:

  • Place an "advertise" link somewhere on your homepage. Link this to a page that lists contact information for someone who can sell advertising on your blog. Make sure this isn't a submission form that sends an e-mail out to whoever is handling ad sales. Reason: When online media buyers are putting plans together, they're typically dealing with tight turnaround times (usually just a few days). When they find a site they want to advertise on, they want to get someone on the phone to discuss that possibility, asap.
  • Know everything you possibly can about your audience. I just got an ad proposal from a blog that was absolutely terrific - It contained a snapshot of traffic growth over several months, names of companies whose executives visited the site regularly, and plenty of other statistics that painted a picture of the audience for me.
  • Know how your blog's competitors set pricing. If your blog competes in a category with non-blogs, know what their prices are (usually available on a "rate card" linked on the site itself). Advertisers tend to have a range of CPMs (Cost Per Thousand ad impressions) that they pay to reach audiences in their particular sector. If your blog is priced too high, the advertising opportunity looks less attractive to the advertiser.
  • Offer test rates. Most advertisers haven't advertised on blogs before, and they consider blogs an unproven vehicle. If you can put together small test packages, consisting of ad runs that span 2-4 weeks and cost between $2,000 and $5,000, you'll have more success attracting advertisers. And those advertisers will likely renew once they've pulled off a successful test.
  • Don't get discouraged if media buyers say no. Most media buyers are lazy. They don't want to be bothered with smaller sites that are unproven. They're so used to buying ads on the Yahoos, MSNs and AOLs of the world that they tend to ignore niche opportunities. You'll know within a couple minutes of talking on the phone whether or not you're talking to a media buyer who is interested in blog advertising. The uninterested ones will harp on "potential reach of the site" and say "your site is too small." The interested ones will ask you questions about who your site reaches, what kind of repeat traffic you get and what ad opportunities are available to reach your audience.

I think blog advertising will be a force to be reckoned with eventually, but it's going to take some time. First, blogs need to get on the radar screens of major marketers with money to spend. Then it's going to take some time for them to engage in small-scale testing before they make serious commitments. My advice to the blog community is to be patient and to keep doing what you're doing. Content truly is king, and as blogs draw more eyeballs away from mainstream news and topical sites, the dollars will follow the eyeballs.