Make Money Blogging: Paid Reviews, Sponsored Posts

[This is a part of the Make Money Blogging Series.]

A penny for your thoughts?

This one might be obvious but you may be surprised to know that some professional bloggers have explicitly made this a significant part of their monetization strategy – in other words, they make a full time living simply reviewing products, services, and businesses that solicit them and subsequently throw large marketing dollars at them!

Now, wouldn’t that be nice!

But there’s been an on-and-off debate about whether or not this is a “legitimate” source of revenue and there are an equal number of people on both sides of the fence of the argument with some saying that bloggers who blog sponsored posts are “sellouts” while others extol the benefits fervently. It’s been a large enough issue that even the WSJ picked up on it at one point.

Ultimately you’re going to have to decide if accepting paid reviews and/or sponsored posts is acceptable from both a personal, professional, and community-perspective.

Here are some key things to keep in mind:

Who doesn't like Toy Story?

Context is Everything:

The largest and most important thing to consider in light of sponsored posts is the context of where the post resides. Specific things that contribute to this are:

  • The type of content that the blog historically/traditionally publishes.
  • The type of person that is writing the post and their background.
  • The type of blog (see blogging personas) where the post resides.
  • The type of content that the blog covers.
  • The quantity of posts and authors for the blog.

And more. Two examples to help provide clarity would be helpful.

Example #1 – ProBloggers

The blog is run by a bunch of professional bloggers who blog between 5-10 times a day covering very specific technology-related software development, focusing on cutting edge entrepreneurs, their businesses, products and services.

They run a sponsored post every other day, curating the buy and making sure it absolutely fits within the context of their very targeted subject-matter. The community, used to new markets and products, has no issue with the sponsored reviews since it’s helpful, saves them time, and directs them to new purchase potential. Everything is heavily disclosed and noted as “Sponsored.”

Example #2 – Casual Blogger

The blog is run by a casual blogger who blogs once or twice a week, blogging on an extremely wide array of topics, none of which necessarily follow a select pattern or focus. It is about this bloggers life. He has a large amount of traffic since he’s been blogging for years and a very eclectic community which magically appears when he blogs about topics that interest that sub-culture.

He denies sponsored posts because he isn’t interested in making money in that way and monetizes in other strategic forms, mostly from his books sales. He finds freedom in not having to worry about disclosure statements and is anxious-free since he doesn’t have to worry his large disparate community showcasing products that might appeal to only a select sub-group.

The first is obviously a healthy place for a blogger to throw in a paid review of a product since it is culturally acceptable from nearly every angle. The second example is not so fertile a ground since the blogger may end up offending more of his readers than providing value.

These are two somewhat extreme and polar examples but I help that provides a little more detail on how you might fit sponsored posts into your plan.

The Pros:

You certainly can get paid...!

There are definitely some very beneficial reasons why you would want to consider sponsored and paid review blog posts.

Here are a few:

  • It is the quickest short-term form of monetization out there. You could get one today if you wanted.
  • It could be fairly lucrative if you made it a consistent part of your blogging efforts and focus.
  • Doing sponsored posts can lead to long-term relationships with the businesses themselves, opening the doorway to other revenue-generating opportunities.
  • It’s completely an at-will type of blogging, which means if you want to do one this month you can and if you don’t feel like it you don’t have to. Very flexible.
  • You have control over the posts to a certain degree and can manage the length, content, media includes, and more with the vendor.
  • You also can control the pricing.

The bottom line here is that it may just be worth the risk because of the opportunities that exist. But, make sure to consider the cons as well.

The Cons:

Don't be a bad used car salesman!

Of course, there are a few “cons” to doing sponsored posts that you’ll have to consider smartly if you’re going to make the best of your time and efforts.

Here are a few to consider:

  • A few years back Google nuked bloggers pagerank for doing sponsored posts. This was interpreted a number of different ways but the net result was that bloggers needed to continue to disclose 100% their efforts and make sure they are above board on all of Google’s content guidelines.
  • The potential to abuse your platform and essentially annoy your readers is very possible. Balancing this fine line and tension is critical and sometimes more work than some bloggers want to deal with.
  • If you make this a significant part of your income strategy then the moment you stop blogging sponsored posts is the moment you stop making money.
  • Context is everything. Your readers can spot a fake a mile away (give them credit, they are a smart bunch) and you might do more harm than good depending on your community.
  • Management of payment, invoicing, and delivery based on the vendors or business’ schedules can get annoying and be a hassle to manage.
  • You may lose some control despite your own rules/regulations of quality; sometimes you may be challenged to compromise your standards for the post’s integrity (as the business sees it). That can be harmful.
  • You might not be comfortable with giving a “fair” review since money is now involved. You may even be worried about how your audience might see the potentially “skewed” presentation. If this isn’t a tension you’re comfortable with managing then you can stay away from sponsored posts.

You probably already know if these cons listed above are more than enough to make you not want to do sponsored posts and reviews, but think long and hard about your options and make the right one!

5 Elements That Make A Successful Sponsored Post:

Help everyone to end up happy!

Here are 5 things for you to remember if you do go the sponsored post route:

  1. Honesty and trust are your top priorities. Make sure that your review is fair and honest about how you see the product. Make sure that your disclosure policy states to your partner businesses that you may not give a necessarily “positive” review!
  2. Transparency is crucial. Make sure your readers are well aware that this post is indeed a “Sponsored Post.” Don’t even attempt to fool anyone.
  3. Make it relevant. If your post doesn’t fit in the context and culture of your community and content then you automatically fail. Relevancy is crucial for not only your continued success but the business that’s paying for your review!
  4. Remember that your credibility is on the line. Spend time writing the post and even have someone else review if it you’re not too sure that it communicates the most effective message that you’re trying to convey. You spent all that time building a community and platform, so don’t throw it away with a bad post.
  5. Aim for high value for all parties involved. You want to make it worth your while, your readers time, as well as those who are paying for the post. Go above and beyond in creating exceptional value for everyone and you’ll find that it pays off in spades.

Finally, remember that context is everything (as stated above) and only you and your community know if it’s the best idea moving forward!

5 Practical Things to Consider for a Sponsored Post:

Consider these...

Now that you have some of the elements down, here are 5 practical things to consider doing just before you hit that “Publish” button:

  1. Schedule your sponsored posts systematically. What you might practically do is release sponsored posts only on the first monday of each month, that way your community and audience expects it and isn’t shocked when they see it. If you post more than once a month, then establish another systematic routine.
  2. Make sure they fit into an existing category. Don’t make a “Sponsored Post” category which distances it from being relevant. Besides, if it doesn’t fit in an existing category it probably shouldn’t be published.
  3. Disable comments on sponsored posts. Some do this and some do not. I have historically kept comments open but I might try disabling them going forward.
  4. Use rel=’nofollow’ on links. This helps with keeping your sponsored post above board with Google and SEO. This relates to ranking your site down for sponsored posts.
  5. Provide buffer on your sponsored post with a post either before or after (or both) so that it doesn’t stand alone. This is just in good taste and provides your consistent readership with more of your typical flavor. It just makes sense.

Hope those tips help!

A few closing thoughts...

Some Final Thoughts:

One of the nice things about sponsored posts and reviews is that you can make up the rules for your own blog and community. In other words, there are “no rules” for how this is best done and executed (although there are, of course, some strategies as listed out above!).

You’re ultimately going to do what is best for your blog and your community as it relates to your business modeling and monetization strategies. Just like you can’t fault one blogger for doing it “one way” no one else can fault you for making a few dollars off of sponsored posts.

If you continue to provide high value for your readers then I see the tension seriously minimized. If you poach or take advantage of your readership expect some significant loss. You know when you see a blog that is “spammy” as all get out and you can tell when another blogger does it in good form and taste. Make sure you sit on the latter side of things!

Good luck, and have fun!

[This is a part of the Make Money Blogging Series.]