Is now the time to take sponsored posts on your blog?

by Heather Cowper on July 26, 2012

I’ve been taking sponsored posts on my travel blog at Heather on her Travels for 18 months now and a trickle of enquiries has now become a steady stream, if not a river of requests. In the last 6 months since all the Google updates (I get my Penguins mixed up with my Pandas) there’s been a noticeable shift in the requests I receive, away from the banners and links in the sidebar and towards sponsored posts.

Many advertisers and link builders are fearful of Google’s attempts to stamp down on excessive link-building activities that capitalise on the ability for link ‘juice’ to be conferred from one well regarded website to another. The thinking seems to be that sponsored posts are a ‘safer’ way to build links by placing the link in the context of a relevant article that adds value for the reader.

With things swinging this way, is it time for you as a travel blogger to consider publishing sponsored posts on your blog?

Different kinds of Sponsored Posts

Money

  • An article that is supplied by the sponsor for you to publish on your site, containing sponsor links within the text or in a product details section at the end.
  • An article that you write yourself, sometimes on a related subject, that will contain sponsor links in a disclosure paragraph at the end of the post.
  • A review article that you write and receive payment for, in addition to normally trying out the product or service.

Why you might not want to accept Sponsored Posts

Dilutes your personal voice – this is the issue for many bloggers, who feel their readers are coming to them for a personal perspective and that publishing articles written by others will lessen their authority for their audience.

Low Quality articles – historically many of the articles submitted as sponsored posts were ‘thin content’, outsourced to writers with little or no knowledge of the places being written about, based on a quick bit of internet research padded out by empty prose.

My blog’s not commercial – different people have different reasons for blogging and if your blog is a showcase for your talents and services that are already making money in other ways, then you may not wish to commercialise your blog in this way.

Fear of the Big G reprisals – Let’s face it, Mr G is the biggest player on the search engine block and they can throw their weight around. If you’re going to stick to the letter of their guidelines, you’ll be putting no-follow tags on your commercial links (in which case no-one will pay you for them), or you take a bit of a risk and hope that by producing otherwise great content, you’ll escape their all-seeing eye. For some blogger, a penalty by Google could jeopardise other income streams, which makes it a risk not worth taking.

Your blog’s just starting – It’s always a good idea to establish your blog as a purveyor of entertaining and valuable content before you start trying to bombard your readers with advertising, or you may turn off your readers.

The work’s not worth it for the money – Unless you are prepared to stuff your blog with sponsored posts there’s a limit to how much money people will pay and how many posts you can publish. If you’re the conscientious, quality-minded blogger I know you are, there’s a fair bit of work answering enquiries, editing substandard articles, sourcing photos and generally making sure that you don’t publish anything you’re ashamed to appear on your site. The extra revenue may only add up to a few thousand extra quid per year so you have to decide for yourself whether the work is worth the reward.

It distracts me from writing my own articles – I find that handling Sponsored Posts is more time consuming than you’d expect and if your time is limited then you can easily fall into the trap of spending it all on this instead of writing great content for your readers.

Why you might want to accept Sponsored posts

Money Money Money – if you’re starting to monetise your site, then the tide is moving towards sponsored posts, and this is one of the easiest ways to earn extra money, once your travel blog has built up a bit of reputation and standing in the search engines.

Portfolio of Monetisation strategies – even if it’s not huge income, it could be a useful part of your portfolio of monetisation strategies, which together all add up to enough to keep you on the road for longer or even make you enough to blog full time.

Variety of content – if you can persuade sponsors to give you half decent articles, sponsored posts may provide more variety on your site than you could produce alone (there’s a limit to how many countries you can personally visit).

Being paid to write your own content – increasingly sponsors are looking for you to write the article yourself, which makes it more credible both in your reader’s eyes and to the search engines. Also it removes the hassle for them of finding a writer who can produce decent content. If the sponsor website or link is relevant to an article that you would be writing anyway then you are effectively being paid to write for your own website – a nice position to be in.

Tips for accepting Sponsored Posts

These are the techniques I have formulated to maximise the benefit and minimise the pitfalls of accepting Sponsored Posts;

Set clear and easily available guidelines for sponsored posts – I have a page on my site that covers sponsored post guidelines and guest post guidelines, to save me repeating myself endlessly in emails. I also have standard e-mail responses that summarise these guidelines, that I use to reply to enquiries. Clear guidelines on the kind of articles you are prepared to publish will help to improve the quality of sponsored posts and make them more relevant for your blog.

Offer tailored guidance to improve quality – if am told the name of the website that will be linked to, I will review it and offer suggestions for article topics that I feel might be suitable for my site and relevant for the client.

Maintain Quality standards – ultimately you want to have a blog you can be proud of and not publish any old rubbish that will tarnish your reputation. This might mean that you have to turn down articles that just aren’t good enough, although hopefully through the previous 2 points you will have avoided this before the article arrives in your in-box. I’ve found that in the last few months I’m getting far more approaches from those who are interested in supplying a decent article rather than insubstantial articles that are just for the link, and the overall quality of articles is improving. This may also because, as I’ve eased my prices up, I’ve become too expensive for those who are only looking for a cheap link.

Review and edit – Even a decent article may benefit from a spell check and some light editing to ensure the article flows well. You might like to add some topic headings to break up the article and keep the reader’s attention.

Add great photos – I publish destination related articles, so I always ask for photos that are relevant to the article. Often I don’t get any, or they are not great quality. In this case I will source photos to add to the article which improve the overall impact. Occasionally I have relevant photos of my own to use or can find some on Flickr (using the advanced search to find images that have a suitable creative commons licence) or on the press area/photo library of destination websites. I always make sure I credit the photos used at the bottom of the post and in the case of Flickr photos I will leave a comment on the photo itself to inform the owner.

What to charge? – This is a tricky subject. You need to price yourself in line with the market but also reflect the time you will need to put in to set up sponsored posts as well as factoring in your blog’s traffic and reputation. When you’re starting it’s worth canvassing other bloggers who may be happy to privately share their rates, or will publish them on their site – you’ll find my sponsored post rates here. Normally you would charge more for an article that you write yourself than for one that is provided to you. I’ve always taken the approach of gradually easing up my rates in line with supply & demand. If you have a waiting list for a few months ahead it’s probably time to put your rates up.

Links – I always make sure that any links open in a new page so that the reader doesn’t lose track of your blog completely. Whether the links are no-follow or follow is your decision, but if you insist on no-follow you’re unlikely to get any takers and if it’s follow then you may find yourself on the wrong side of the Google guidelines which you’ll find here. You may also want to set guidelines for the number of sponsor links you’ll accept in a sponsored post – 2 is average and 3 is about my maximum.

Limit the number of sponsored posts v your own posts – I want my blog to have the stamp of my personality and ‘voice’ and too many sponsored posts would dilute this. For this reason I limit sponsored posts to 1 per week and publish 2 of my own in between every sponsored post. The downside of this approach is that it limits the income that I can make from sponsored posts.

Disclosure – To comply with UK advertising standards & US standards you need to disclose where the content is being paid for. If you value your readership you’ll also want to be fair to them and make them aware of the paid relationship – they’ll appreciate you more for being transparent & they can make up their own mind about the content. Most bloggers add the disclosure at the bottom of the article, using terms such as “sponsored post” or “this article was brought to you by”. Occasionally (and I think this less than transparent) bloggers will make their disclosure on another part of their website, but personally I think it should be on the sponsored post itself. Some sponsors will request that you don’t use the term “sponsored” as it seems to raise the red flags with Google, in which case you need to find another mutually acceptable form of disclosure or not accept the article.

Guest Post v Sponsored Post – You may already be getting plenty of those tiresome emails offering free content in return for just a couple of links (“…and best of all I won’t charge you a penny”). I make a clear distinction between what I’ll allow in a Guest Post (written by a travel writer or blogger and only linking to their personal site – no charge) and a Sponsored Post (provided by the sponsor and containing links to commercial site – chargeable) I have a standard e-mail template that I use to reply to these kind of enquiries.

Whether you decide to publish Sponsored Posts on your travel blog is a personal decision, but it’s certainly a useful monetisation option to have in your Portfolio

More articles on this topic

What should I charge for advertising on my blog?
Why the web needs a new model for sponsored posts (David Whitley’s guest post on Travel Blather)
Cracking the Sponsored Posts Code: 25 Bloggers reveal what they charge (Momcrunch)

This article is originally published at My Blogging Journey. You’ll also find lots of great travel stories, videos and podcasts at our travel blog at Heather on her travels

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