One blog monetization method that is usually surrounded by differing opinions and sometimes controversy is the use of sponsored content. Bloggers can make money from sponsored content in a number of different ways, and we’ll take a look at the most common methods in just a moment.
The main reason that there are a lot of differing opinions on sponsored content is because it can, in some cases, put the blog at risk of a penalty from Google. Because Google’s search algorithm puts so much emphasis on inbound links, many marketers and site owners are willing to pay for links from quality websites and blogs. Google doesn’t like paid links because they can skew the results of their search rankings, so they often penalize sites that are selling links in order to discourage it. A penalty may involve a decrease in Google’s PageRank, a drop in the search engine rankings, or even a complete removal from Google’s index. Paid links could be sidebar links (such as those in a blogroll or friends list) or they could be within the post content, which is typically the case with sponsored content. Most companies that are paying for sponsored content will want that content to include a link to their site, and that can be viewed by Google as a violation.
Because of the risk of lost search engine traffic from Google, most bloggers and website owners choose not to make money from sponsored content. However, another option is to use nofollow tags on links within the sponsored content, which will keep you in compliance with Google’s guidelines. A nofollow tag tells the search engine spiders to ignore the link. This means there is no SEO benefit to the sponsor for that link, and it reduces the risk for you in selling the sponsored content. Of course, the SEO benefit is what many sponsors are after, so selling sponsored content with nofollowed links is not as easy.
If you want to use nofollow tags on links in sponsored content, the code for the link would look like this:
<a href=“http://example.com” rel=“nofollow”>Link anchor text</a>
Types of Sponsored Content
Here is a quick look at some of the more popular types of sponsored content that can be used to monetize a blog.
The most common type is sponsored reviews. This is where the sponsor pays you a set fee for you to publish a review of their product/service/website. In most cases you’ll get the product or service for free in order to try it out, and then you’ll write and publish the review based on your opinions. Some sponsors may want you to guarantee a positive review, which can put you in a difficult situation if you really don’t have a positive experience with the product/service/website.
Another type of sponsored content involves a giveaway. This can be done in any number of different ways, but the most common would be that the sponsor pays you a set fee, you publish a giveaway announcement on your blog, your blog readers enter the giveaway, and at the end one reader (or maybe a few readers) win the prize.
Sponsors like giveaways because they typically include a brief description of the product or service being offered in the giveaway, a link back to the sponsor’s site, and they generate some excitement and interest from readers. Most readers are far more interested in a sponsored giveaway than a sponsored review. The benefit for the sponsor is added exposure and a link from your blog.
The downside for the sponsor is that they are giving something away for free, and they are also paying you for the publicity and exposure.
Not all bloggers will be able to make money with sponsored giveaways. Having a decent-sized audience is usually needed in order for sponsors to feel like the fee is justified. You may get a lot of inquiries from people who are willing to offer their product or service for a giveaway, but are not interested in paying you for the exposure. However, there are plenty of companies out there who are willing to pay for that exposure. My advice to most bloggers who want to charge for giveaways is to try it out and see what type of interest you get from sponsors.
Most bloggers get emails rather frequently from people who want some publicity for their new product or service. An example would be if you run a diet blog and you get an email from someone who just released a new e-book on some topic related to dieting. That person is asking you to consider publishing a post on your blog to make an announcement about that e-book. Of course, the person emailing you is looking for some exposure, and they’re hoping that their product or service would be a good fit for your audience.
This presents another opportunity for sponsored content. You could publish the announcement post if the person contacting you is willing to pay for sponsorship of the post. Another option that many bloggers choose to use is to publish the announcement post with affiliate links. This way you are not charging the sponsor a flat fee, but you can still make some money if your readers buy the product. However, if you’re not sure how well the product will convert with your audience, you always have the option of asking the sponsor to pay a flat fee instead of using the affiliate links.
Sponsored Blog Posts
Reviews are sometimes referred to as sponsored blog posts, but that is not what I am referring to here. This is in reference to a fairly typical blog post that includes a sponsor. Going back to the example of a diet blog, instead of publishing a post as an announcement for a sponsor who is releasing a new e-book on dieting, you could include just a brief mention of the sponsor at the beginning or end (or both) of a normal blog post. Your post may be on a related topic, but the content of the post itself is not promotional. You would just include a sentence or a paragraph saying something like “This post is sponsored by ABC Company and they just released a new e-book Dieting 101.” And of course it would include a link to the sponsor’s website.
This type of sponsored post is less intrusive to readers and it can be very effective for sponsors, especially if it is a lifetime sponsorship where their ad will remain in the post content forever. Visitors may arrive at the post months and years down the road through a search engine, and if the sponsorship is relevant to the post content it can be highly effective.
In addition to sponsored posts, you could also create a sponsored series. The series would involve multiple articles on a topic, and each would include the sponsor’s brief message.
Regardless of what industry or niche your blog covers, there will be opportunities for this type of post sponsorship if you use some creativity. Let’s look at a few more examples. A blog that published graphic design content could post a tutorial to show readers how to design a business card. The post could be sponsored by a printing company that offers services for printing custom business card designs. Or, a travel blog could publish an article about the top 10 things to do when visiting London. The post could be sponsored by a company that offers guided tours of London.
As you can see, there are plenty of possibilities. A few years ago I was looking to increase the revenue from one of my blogs so I actively pursued sponsors for some posts. I wound up making about $1,000 in one month and I sold the blog shortly after that. From my experience, sponsors really liked the idea of having an in-post mention on content that was highly relevant to their product or service. The challenge was that I had to pro-actively pursue the sponsors, and then had to explain the opportunity to them. Most sponsors typically buy banner ads and text links, so there were some questions and communication needed in order to make the sale. Also, determining the price was a little bit tricky, but you can adjust that as you go by simply gauging sponsors interest at different price levels.
Sponsored messages on Twitter (or other social media sites) could be considered sponsored content as well. Most bloggers have a Twitter profile to go along with their blog, and sponsored tweets are pretty common. Some ad networks, like BuySellAds, offer the option to sell sponsored tweets. You would be tweeting the message of a sponsor, typically including a link to their site, for a fee. Twitter’s guidelines indicate that sponsored tweets need to be marked as an ad, so that is something to keep in mind.
The amount of money that you can make with sponsored tweets will depend on the number of followers you have, and the amount of responsiveness those followers have to your tweets. You may have a huge number of followers, but if none of them click on the links in your tweets it won’t be very valuable to sponsors. On the other hand, if you have a small number of followers but they are extremely receptive to your tweets, that will be valuable to sponsors.
Pros of Sponsored Content
There is no shortage of advertisers out there who are looking for sponsored content. Some of them are looking for something in particular, such as a review that includes a dofollow link (a link without nofollow tags). In many cases, sponsored content is easier to sell than banner ads because the demand is higher than the supply.
Can Be Effective for Advertisers
The reason for the high demand is because sponsored content can get great results for advertisers. The dofollow links can help for SEO purposes (although there is certainly risk involved), and the location of the sponsored content can help it to be highly visible. Most blog visitors ignore banner ads because they are so used to seeing them, which means the click through rates are typically very low. But in-content post sponsorships can get a much higher click through rate. Also, in the case of sponsored reviews or announcement posts, there is the possibility of having a considerable amount of content included in the advertisement. A review of 500 – 1,000 words can say a lot more about a product than a 125 x 125 banner graphic can say.
As a blogger your primary concern may not be the effectiveness of ads for sponsors, but that will have an impact on the long-term profitability of your blog. If advertisers get a good return for their investment they are likely to continue to advertise on your blog. If they get a poor return on investment they won’t continue to advertise.
High Rates are Possible
Because it can be so effective for advertisers, you may be able to charge high rates for these ads. Of course, the rates will vary depending on the popularity of the blog, the responsiveness of the audience, and the industry or niche that it covers, but in general there is potential to make good money with sponsored content. Many popular blogs charge more for a sponsored review then they charge for a month of banner advertising.
The Content Can Potentially Be Useful for Readers Even Though it is Sponsored
This is not always the case, but if you are careful about the types of sponsors that you accept, it’s possible that even the sponsored content can be highly useful to readers. Just yesterday I read a sponsored review on a blog and I wound up purchasing the product. I knew the blogger was making money from the review, but the content and the product were of interest to me, so I found it to be very helpful.
It’s always a bad idea to publish sponsored content when the product or service being advertised is not likely to be of interest to your readers. But if you accept only sponsors with relevant advertisements there is no reason why that sponsored content can’t be useful and helpful to readers. Readers especially appreciate the opportunity to participate in sponsored giveaways where they have the chance to win a great prize.
Lots of Room for Creativity
Although I have covered some of the most common types of sponsored content, one of the great things is that there is plenty of room for creativity. Sometimes added creativity will help to make the ads more effective for sponsors while still keeping the content interesting and relevant to readers.
If you use some creativity you can certainly come up with some opportunities that would be great for sponsors and would make you some money in the process. For example, instead of publishing sponsored content directly to the blog you could put together an e-book and give it away for free download. Using a previous example, instead of publishing a tutorial on your graphic design blog about how to design a business card, you could put together an e-book about how to design business cards, and then include the sponsorship within the e-book.
Doesn’t Require a Huge Audience
Unlike some monetization methods, like selling banner ads, you don’t need to have a huge audience in order to make some money with sponsored content. Of course, the size and responsiveness of your audience will influence how much you can charge sponsors, but if you have a relatively small audience you may be able to get started making some money, even if it is a smaller amount.
Sponsored reviews are valuable to advertisers even if they are on smaller blogs. Having positive reviews with a link to their product come up in the results of a Google search can be great for their sales, so many sponsors will consider paying to get a review even if your blog does not have a huge audience.
Cons of Sponsored Content
While there are plenty of opportunities with sponsored content, most blogs will have limited availability. By this I mean that your regular blog content should not be overpowered by things like sponsored reviews and giveaways. Readers will get turned off if they feel like you are constantly publishing sponsored content.
Can Turn Off Some Readers
Even if you are not publishing excessive sponsored content, some readers get turned off by seeing any sponsored review. From what I have seen this is a relatively small percentage of readers, so I would not allow it to stop you from publishing relevant sponsored content if that is one of your main strategies for monetization, but it is something to watch.
May Require a Lot of Your Time
While sponsored reviews can bring in a decent amount of money for you, there will be some time requirement to do a thorough review. Not only will you have to take the time to write the review, but you’ll also have to dedicate time to use the product or service that you are reviewing. Depending on the product or service, this can add up to a significant amount of time. Whenever you are pricing a sponsored review, think about how much time you will need to try out the product and factor this into the price.
Can Put You at Risk for a Penalty from Google
As was mentioned earlier, if you’re not using nofollow tags on links within sponsored content you could be putting your blog at risk for a penalty from Google. My advice is to always use nofollow tags on sponsored content to avoid this risk. It may reduce the amount that you can charge, and it may mean that some sponsors won’t be interested, but the risk is simply too high. If your blog winds up losing a lot of traffic because of a penalty for link selling you will wish you had been using nofollow tags.
Tips for Making Money with Sponsored Content
Decide What You Want to Offer
In this chapter we looked at several different types of sponsored content. Not every one of them will be a good fit for your blog, so take a look at the options and see if any of them interest you. If so, decide on the specific types of sponsored content that you want to offer. It is much easier to communicate with advertisers when you can give them specifics about what you have to offer.
Experiment with Pricing
It can be a challenge to know how much you should charge for things like reviews, giveaways, and sponsored tweets. The best thing you can do is simply test the demand. Make your best guess at a starting point and go from there. If you’re offering reviews for $50 and the first 5 sponsors that you talk to ultimately purchase a review, chances are you could be charging more. If you’re offering reviews for $50 and no one is taking you up on it, chances are you are changing too much. My advice is to avoid listing prices anywhere publicly, such as on an Advertising page of your blog. That way you can quickly adjust and try out different prices with different sponsors.
Use nofollow Tags
As was mentioned earlier, I recommend always using nofollow tags on any type of paid links, including those within sponsored content. It’s simply not worth the risk of a penalty from Google.
Remember, this e-book is written assuming that you are running an authority blog. As an authority blogger part of your approach is to look to the long-term. A Google penalty can be devastating in the long run. I don’t think selling links is a bad idea for every blog, but for authority blogs in general it is. If you start a blog specifically for the purpose of selling links and you have little to risk, that may be a different situation.
Be Pro-Active if Needed
Depending on the popularity of your blog you may have sponsors approaching you, but this is not always the case. If that is not your situation, you may need to be pro-active if you want to make money with sponsored content. That means you may have to make an effort to reach out to companies about the opportunities that are available for sponsored content at your blog.
Limit the Amount of Sponsored Content
The amount of sponsored content that is ok for your blog will depend on how much “typical” (unsponsored) content you publish, how much trust you have built from your readers, and the amount of relevance of the sponsored content to your readers.
In general, with most authority blogs I would recommend publishing no more than 1-2 sponsored reviews per month in order to avoid overdoing it. If you are offering sponsored giveaways, I would also recommend sticking to 1-2 per month, but you may be able to do more since readers are often more receptive to giveaways.
Whatever your publication schedule may be, pay attention to reader feedback on sponsored content and use that to help you determine how much you should publish.
Look for opportunities to work with sponsors in creative ways that may be beneficial to the sponsor without being intrusive or overpowering to your readers.