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Re-thinking Weblog Advertising

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December 18th, 2006
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Blogging Essays, General

This is the twelfth entrant in The Blogging Essay Contest from WeblogToolsCollection.com If you would like to participate, please email me your entry at mark at wltc dot net. Please rate this article using the star system below. The competition will be judged primarily on the input from readers like you. Thank you.

This is written by The Private Intellectual

It’s probably something which you hardly notice, something which is there, but also not there. You see it every single day of your waking life – some people even dream about it – and yet you don’t see it or, at least, it doesn’t register in the same way. Advertising is as much a part of our lives as eating and drinking: no matter where you are or what you are doing, there is something close at hand which is advertising a product someone wants you to buy. It could be in a magazine or newspaper, on a billboard or the side of a bus; it pops up whenever you visit a website and, in our open and commercial times, it is becoming an integral part of blogging.

I use it myself. Everytime someone visits my weblog to read and praise (one hopes) the latest post, to leave a comment or attempt to insert a piece of advertising spam, there is a clear and obvious link to a commercial website. Every single page, every single entry brings this new form of advertising to the fore and attempts to catch the eye of the visitor, and draw their mouse over a wealth of interesting articles which, the advertiser feels, they really should take a closer look at and then purchase.
The bulk of these advertisements have precious little to do with the blogger themselves. They sign up for some form of linked advertising – be it thematic or buzzword related – and then simply let the whole thing run. Some take a much closer interest in exactly what appears on their weblog, changing deals or bringing in specific words to force a link or, as in my case, insisting that only specific products may appear. Then there are those who have a much more subtle method of advertising; hidden within the text of an entry, perhaps, or linked with a write-up, a review or criticism.
It is said – according to an advertisement on Technorati, as it happens – that there are roughly fifty-five million active weblogs at the moment: all vying for attention; all covering a multitude of themes from the most mundane to the highly technical, from guesswork to actual knowledge; all hoping to force their way up into the public consciousness and the Top One Hundred or better. Many of these bloggers will have read about the wonderful opportunities weblogs have to make their owners money; the careful writer, placing the right adverts prominently next to related entries, they claim, can make money hand over fist. It is virtually time to retire from the mundane nine-to-five world and retire to the virtual world of the Internet, where people will rush to your site merely to ensure you have enough commission coming in from the adverts you’ve placed here and there.
Obviously, with so many weblogs, few stand a chance of coming anywhere near the Top One Hundred in Technorati’s rankings, or any of the other ranking systems. That, by a process of commonsense, means that few, if any, are going to be making enough money from advertising to retire early, if at all. Adverts are, after all, everywhere. Why should anyone wish to click on the adverts in this weblog or that weblog, when they probably have the main websites saved in their favourites already, and can click through to purchase and browse at their leisure? Few of the adverts we see on weblogs are out of the ordinary: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ZVAB, eBay, Craigslist, ABEBooks. We know them already, we use them already.
As with the technology behind weblogs, behind the Internet itself, advertising is going through a time of flux, of change and revitalisation. It is being modernised and new, subtler ways of bringing a specific message, a certain product are being brought before the public. The idea that there is nothing new under the sun hasn’t, perhaps, managed to sink in yet, but there is the belief that, while it may not be as new as some may wish to claim, the method is new to the medium and, as such, worth marketing as new. Advertising on weblogs is moving towards the hidden recommendation; the review or recommendation which has been paid for and doesn’t come out simply because a person genuinely appreciates a product, has used it themselves and given it as a present to someone more worthy than their mother-in-law. The recommendations have links within the text. Occasionally they have stock photographs – clearly not shot quickly on their webcam or digital camera and uploaded to the site – which show the product in the best possible light. Their recommendation is enthusiastic, but refined. No more of the teen- age gushing over the latest issue of Seventeen or the swarming of twenty-somethings over a wedding dress design in Cosmopolitan. The reviews are polished and careful. The links go to the main page for the item, and often contain a personal reference to the original poster. Links go to sites which require paid membership, or offer a service such as motor insurance, the latest CDs and DVDs, updated software and similar.
The way ahead this coming year, it would appear, is the more subtle form of advertising. A blogger is given a product to review in more than one hundred words, provided with a link and, often, stock photography and a set fee for their work. Or the blogger picks out an opportunity with a set fee from a list and allows their work to be assessed, approved or denied. One might almost term it Freelance Advertising, a hit and miss form of journalism aimed at the consumer who, in some cases, shouldn’t realise that they are reading an advertisement in the first place.
There are several sites which offer such services, moving away from Google and the other buzzword related advertising. ReviewMe or PayPerPost have both come to the fore of late and both operate a similar service. The former allows weblogs to be listed and rates them according to content and ranking: the blogger then waits for an advertiser to approach them. The latter functions the other way about: the weblog is registered and approved and then the blogger selects products (or opportunities) to review. In both cases the work is assessed by the middle-man first, the advertisers themselves have no say in the matter, which is where a denial can come into play. Advertising reviews must then remain on the weblog – although not necessarily on the front page – for a specified period of time before payment for the work is made.
Recently there has been a mild form of uproar over this style of advertising – meaning, several big names in the blogosphere have spoken out against or for the method and then moved on as a few others have linked to or copied their comments. The worry that such advertising might fool readers into honestly believing such reviews are genuine has caused a small change: at least one of the middle- men companies now insists that a Disclosure be published somewhere on the weblog; financial interests rather than a personal review.
Perhaps a storm in a teacup, perhaps genuine cause for concern. Either way, this form of advertising, being considerably more subtle than blocks of links in the sidebar, is likely to catch on. Perhaps it is also a form of future for the weblog itself and will evolve into a business similar to that practised by many glossy magazines; whereby specific products are praised in long articles neatly placed next to the adverts for the same items, as if by chance rather than design. Perhaps it will evolve into real recommendations and honest evaluations in reply to the paid advertisments and give more bloggers something to write about, aside from their cat and complaints that no one leaves comments on their weblog. It is unlikely to bring anyone’s retirement closer than we all expect, but it might help boost the housekeeping now and then and, without a shadow of a doubt, it will evolve with time. This form of paid advertising will integrate itself into the blogospher just as comment spam has, just as Social Bookmark Icons have, just as tales of the woes of emotionally-disturbed teen-agers has. It is not the future of the weblog as such, but it is a part of that future.

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  1. [...] Quite some time ago, Bloggers were called upon to submit essays on the art of blogging, or anything about blogging which they felt to be of interest. The idea is that readers of these essays would then rate the work and cast their votes. Below is my offering for the competition, which can be read and voted upon on the essay website here.  The complete selection of essays (twelve at the time of writing) is here. [...]

  2. [...] Anyone who has seen the Web Tools Collection Essay Competition (which I also entered), will know that there are far better voting systems available. In this case, readers are asked to grade each essay on a scale of one to five. They can vote once for each essay, rather than once overall. When the essay appeals to them, a higher vote is recorded; a lower vote for less interest or agreement. The overall score averages out accordingly. [...]

  3. [...] First Prize of $150 goes to The Private Intellectual for the essay Re-thinking Weblog Advertising. [...]

  4. [...] First Prize of $150 goes to The Private Intellectual(wish he could reveal his name) for the essay Re-thinking Weblog Advertising. And, the second prize of $50 goes to Bes Zain for the essay Importance of Transparency in [...]

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