Blogs and Blog Advertising
By Peter Figueredo
Smart online marketing, or a waste of money?
It seems that lately you can't pick up a trade publication without reading about blogs. As an online marketing executive, you may be wondering how—if at all—it can help you meet your e-commerce objectives. This column takes a close look at this "buzz topic" to help you evaluate this emerging area of online marketing. It could prove to be either a very valuable marketing tool or a waste of time and money.
What are Blogs?
According to Blogger (www.blogger.com)—a company acquired by Google in early 2003 that provides users with an easy-to-use platform for building blogs—a blog, or weblog, is defined as follows:
A personal diary. A daily pulpit. A collaborative space. A political soapbox. A breaking-news outlet. A collection of links. Your own private thoughts. Memos to the world.
Your blog is whatever you want it to be. There are millions of them, in all shapes and sizes, and there are no real rules.
In simple terms, a blog is a Web site, where you write stuff on an ongoing basis. New stuff shows up at the top, so your visitors can read what's new. Then they comment on it or link to it or e-mail you. Or not.
This definition may be a little confusing, but what it boils down to is that blogs are Web sites where people or businesses can post content on one or a variety of subjects. Other users can read the posts and discuss them through the Web site.
A great example of how blogs have emerged as a valuable news source could be seen during the presidential election. A select few bloggers were granted press passes to both the Democratic and Republican national conventions for the purpose of reporting developments to their readers.
Why the Hype?
A blog gives the average person, with very little knowledge of Web design, an opportunity to build a personal Web site to discuss any subject he chooses. The ease of use, and support of free speech, has helped the blogging world grow exponentially. The world of blogs is vast, and it covers limitless topics. Famous bloggers include Al Roker (www.alroker.com/journal.cfm) and Jeff Bridges (www.jeffbridges.com/main.html).
Conversely, blog advertising has been growing slowly, very slowly. Typically, a blog ad is sold on a cost-per-click basis and appears as a text or display ad somewhere on a blog page with relevant content. The process is very similar to paid search engine marketing.
I know of only a few colleagues who have tested the waters, and they all have gotten mixed results. A handful of companies have emerged to capitalize on this new marketing tactic and facilitate the process for advertisers. Essentially these companies have become ad networks for blogs, offering anyone with a blog the opportunity to monetize their content. Google has tied its AdSense product—an ad-serving program based on Web page content and site search activity—to Blogger for just this reason. In addition, a company called BlogAds (www.blogads.com) has built a robust blog ad network.
Who Reads Blogs?
According to a survey of more than 17,000 blog readers conducted by BlogAds, 61 percent of readers are 30 years of age and older, and 75 percent earn more than $45,000 a year. A surprising 66.7 percent of blog readers have clicked on a blog ad in the past. This study helps draw a picture of blog readers that may be very different from what you previously may have pictured. A promising stat for e-commerce companies is that most blog readers shop online and indicate they trust blogs as a valuable news source.
Should Blog Ads Be a Part of Your Current Marketing Plan?
While some signs look promising for this online ad medium, this type of marketing still has not proven to be an extremely effective means of acquiring customers. On a cost-per-click basis, the risk is, it's difficult to manage this form of advertising to a target cost-per-acquisition. Furthermore, blogs offer unique challenges in the areas of branding and control. Many blog ad networks have little control over the content on pages where ads are displayed. While the larger players, such as Google and BlogAds, claim to have sophisticated technology that scans the content of blogs to ensure their quality, they also acknowledge that the systems are not infallible. This provides a risk that many brand-conscious advertisers should not take.
Budgets may be better spent on proven tactics such as search, affiliate, media buys and e-mail marketing. For the majority of e-commerce companies, blog advertising should not be a part of the current marketing plan. It's wise to monitor the blog advertising space for future opportunities that may arise in a year or two.
However, blog ads may offer a unique opportunity for e-commerce companies with niche products and audiences. This is because a greater chance exists of finding a relevant blog to advertise with, given the vast number of topics. Successful blogs develop an extremely loyal user base. They also can dominate search engine results for niche keywords and phrases as a result of the increased content produced by bloggers. This wealth of content is looked on favorably by search engines when they determine keyword ranking based on Web site content relevancy. Online marketers who sell niche products should look to test this medium as a way to hit their elusive target audience.
Paid search marketing pioneered the concept of displaying ads next to relevant content, and the results have been extremely successful. Blog advertising will continue to grow slowly this year if for no other reason than the fact that search marketing budgets are increasing at a much faster pace than search inventory. Marketers who have found success with search will be looking for alternative vehicles that can deliver similar results. Blog advertising still is too young for most e-commerce companies to benefit. However, this could change by the end of the year if a growth spurt even close to the one search marketing experienced occurs.
Peter Figueredo is cofounder and CEO of NYC-based NETexponent (www.NETexponent.com), an online direct marketing agency for companies looking to maximize their online customer acquisitions. NETexponent recently was named an AD:Tech award finalist for "Best Affiliate Marketing Campaign" for its work with The New York Times. Figueredo can be reached at (212) 981-2700 or peter@NETexponent.com.
I read blogs for:
Faster news — 85.9%, of 10,504
Latest trends — 35%. of 5,587
Transparent biases — 50.3%, of 8,023
Better perspective — 77.9%, of 12,421
More personality — 47%, of 7,493
More honesty — 61.4%, of 9,788
News I can't find elsewhere — 79.7%, of 12,713
Other (please specify) — 14%, of 2,241
Total Respondents — 15,951
(skipped this question) — 1,208
Source: © 2004 Blogads/Pressflex; www.blogads.com/survey/blog_reader_survey.html
Which of the following have you done because you clicked a blog ad?
Changed opinion — 7.4%, of 871
Discussed ad with others — 16.4%, of 1,925
Forwarded link to others — 22.8%, of 2,681
Contacted advertiser — 10.3%, of 1,211
Recommended product/service 9.4% 1,103
Purchased product/service — 22.3, of 2,624
Donated money — 39.4%, of 4,636
Volunteered — 6.9%, of 807
Joined mailing list — 22.7%, of 2,665
None of these — 35.1%, of 4,129
Total Respondents — 11,763
(skipped this question) — 5,396
Source: © 2004 Blogads/Pressflex; www.blogads.com/survey/blog_reader_survey.html.