The Ins and Outs of Sponsored Blog Posts

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I‘ve been blogging for just over a year, I have a nice niche following, consistent stats and I make a decent amount of money each month from banner ads.

I’ve always said I wouldn’t do sponsored posts because I only ever wanted to write about things that I really believed in but I’m now starting to see that might have been a bit naive. However I’m totally lost and confused and every time I start to think about doing them I get really worried that I might be end up doing it wrong or something. How is best to manage it and how do I know what to charge?

Does having sponsored posts forfeit my right to write about things I like when I’m not getting paid? For example, how do I justify charging someone for a post when I might write about another company just because I want people to know about them? I would obviously only write about things I thought were good but it still feels confusing. 

I’m also really worried about putting off or upsetting my readers. Is there a knack to writing sponsored posts that people still enjoy? I’ve read some really bad ones where it all sounds really fake. How do you keep your sponsored posts interesting for your readers while still getting the message across?

And finally where do I draw the line? I’ve built great relationships with a lot of companies and often if people want to be featured I’ll get them to write up useful and informative copy so it’s still interesting for my readers but how do I know when something is in sponsored post territory and when it’s not? 

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Love them or loathe them sponsored posts have fast become a big part of blogging life. If you’ve worked your little blogger butt off and built a site that readers flock to regularly, soon enough brands, PRs and small businesses will start to approach you wanting a piece of the pie. If you have an engaged and loyal audience (this is key – bigger isn’t always better) they’ll see your blog as the perfect platform to promote their product or service.

When should a post be sponsored?

OK so first things first, how do you justify charging someone for post when you write about others for free? I’m not going to lie, this is a tricky one. You, and only you, can decide when charging for a post is right for your specific blog but you must do so before you start accepting any payments or it can all get very confusing very quickly.

As a general rule I’d probably say that if a company is approaching you for coverage then you are well within your rights to explain to them that there is a fee involved. However it is still your prerogative to occasionally write about things you’ve found or experienced that you really loved and think your readers will enjoy or benefit from. It is your blog after all and holding back on publishing things that you know will be popular just because you’re not getting paid is only going to hamper the success of your site.

You are right though, you do need to draw a line. I feel that if someone is coming to you for coverage they clearly value what you have to offer and therefore it needs to be a mutually beneficial relationship (i.e you have to get something out of the collaboration too). Again, only you can decide what that might be. Does an engaging guest post benefit you? Would you accept a sample or gift? Or do you only want cold, hard cash?

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I personally don’t guarantee blog coverage or reviews in exchange for gifts, freebies or experiences. I do sometimes get things sent to me but I’m always clear that doing so does not guarantee a post. Does this mean I’ve missed out on getting some nice freebies and I’ve felt a tinges of jealousy when I’ve seen other bloggers getting lots of lovely gifts because they will? Definitely, but I personally think valuing your worth is much more important. This is a business I’m running, one that supports my family, and unfortunately I can’t pay our mortgage with free handbags!

Finally, I do often link to things I’ve seen online that I think are awesome, unpaid for, in Thursday Treats or via my social media accounts. Obviously they’re not getting a full bells and whistles promotional blog post but it’s my small way of alerting my readers to companies or products that I think they’d be interested in without blurring the lines between my sponsored and non-sponsored posts.

Having the uncomfortable money conversation

You need to be upfront with companies about what kind of content is paid for, right from your first conversation with them. If you have a media kit that you send to potential advertisers make sure you have a page in there about sponsored posts – what they are and how much they cost. If companies approach you for coverage but with no mention of money, let them know in your first email back that while you’d love to work with them this kind of coverage would be paid for and ask if they have any budget allocated. It can often be awkward to have this conversation later down the line.

I will only accept a sponsored post if I write it myself. I don’t want to be posting articles that would result in boring or overly salesy content. It’s important to me that my blog is written in my own voice and shares my personal opinions as (hopefully!) that’s what my readers come here for. Unfortunately there are many companies that aren’t at all bothered how the post looks or reads, all they want are key word links to manipulate their Google Rank and improve their SEO. I don’t sell text links, I sell access to an engaged, targeted and niche readership looking for companies just like them.

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How do you know what to charge?

This is a difficult question because there really is no ‘one size fits all’ pricing structure that will work for every blogger. Prices vary widely from blog to blog and from niche to niche. If you want to do more sponsored content or brand collaborations I’d start by making them really cheap, or even free for a while. This will enable you to build up a portfolio to show other potential advertisers in future. You should also definitely get testimonials from the people you work with at this stage to include in your media kit.

As a general rule though I think sponsored posts should be more expensive than the majority of your banner ads. There is a greater call to action with a sponsored post. As they appear within the editorial of your blog it will also show up in RSS feeds, be promoted via your social media and hopefully be shared by others who have enjoyed them too. Also remember there is a lot more work involved for you when it comes to writing a post rather than simply uploading an ad and you should charge for your time accordingly.

The price you come up with will obviously have to depend on your blog traffic but start by thinking about the very minimum you would be happy with. Remember to consider the time and effort publishing this post will take – the admin, the emails back and forth, coming up with an engaging concept, taking and editing photographs, not to mention physically writing and editing the post.

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I limit my sponsored content to a maximum of four posts a month. Most people understand that bloggers need to earn money but if you post too much paid editorial it will undoubtedly start to rub people up the wrong way. You can also probably charge a little more if you do less of them because these advertisers will be in a much more exclusive club. Keep an eye on your demand though. If you find you’re getting too many enquiries or your wait list is getting really long it might be worth putting your price up a bit. If you’re sending out your media kit but no-one is coming back to book, try lowering it for a while.

Another point probably worth making is that I take 100% of the payment upfront and I won’t start working on a post until it’s been paid for. You don’t want to put time and effort into an article for the advertiser to pull out before you publish it.

Always be authentic

Your readers love your blog because of you. They visit your site to read your thoughts and opinions and because they expect a certain kind of content. It’s really crucial that you only work with companies that reflect the style and ethics of your blog. If you don’t it will be totally obvious that you’re only writing about them because you’re being paid.

For example people read my blog because they know they’re going to get inspiration for alternative weddings. If I posted something about how amazing this new range of off-white chair covers with matching sashes were people might start to wonder what the hell was up. I’d lose all credibility as the place to go for alternative wedding inspiration pretty darn quickly.

Similarly, don’t ever take the easy way out and copy and paste a press release. Your readers know your voice and tone, and republishing someone else’s copy completely is not only lazy and boring, it’s really bad blogging. Of course you can quote them in the article (I often do) but never ever EVER just repost the whole thing.

In fact I often don’t even want to see a company’s press release. I ask them my own questions and form my own ideas about them without reading the salesman’s spiel. My biggest piece of advice would be to, if possible, try out the product or service before you write about it. Then, instead of just towing the company line, write your article as if you were telling a friend about them. Come up with an engaging title and start the post off with a little story or something personal to hook people in. Include your honest opinion and share your own experiences. For example, my post about the Clean Program promoted their new product but my readers also really loved it because I shared my own experiences of not only trying it out but also of detoxes and getting healthy in general. I tried to make it as relatable, informative and as non-saley as possible.

Most importantly, trust your gut and if something doesn’t feel right it probably won’t feel right to your readers either. If you ignore this you run the risk of losing loyal readers or publishing lacklustre content. In the long run, and no matter how much money you’ve been offered, your readers should be worth more than any payment or freebie.

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Transparency, Transparency, Transparency!

Finally, and most importantly, you always always need to disclose when you’ve been compensated for a post (whether in money, gifts, vouchers or an experience). Some companies will try to push you to not disclose as they don’t want people to know that they’ve paid for the coverage, but you should never ever agree to this. I personally wouldn’t want to be associated with any company that is that dishonest or chooses to blatantly flout the rules.

Guidelines have been set by the Federal Trade Commission in the US and the Internet Advertising Bureau in the UK (I’m sure there are similar guidelines for other countries) and if you are accepting payments for things you publish on your blog you need to familiarise yourself with them. Even if you are unsure if these guidelines are applicable to you, it’s just good practice to follow them and to always be as transparent as possible. As far as I know, no bloggers have yet been prosecuted for not following these protocols, but who would want to be the first?

You don’t need to make a big song and dance about disclosing, a simple ‘Sponsored Post’ byline at the bottom or ‘item gifted by…’ will suffice (although I do hear that FTC guidelines might be changing soon, requiring US bloggers to be a lot clearer with their labelling).

The majority of your readers won’t abhor you earning a little money or getting the odd freebie from all the hard work you put into your blog, but they will get annoyed if they feel like they’re being duped or lied too. “Sell out!” they’ll cry, and worst case scenario, they’ll never trust anything you write ever again. The key to blogging success is that your articles are relevant, interesting, engaging and useful for your target demographic. This shouldn’t change because you’re being compensated.

Phew that was a much longer post than I expected but I guess it is quite a complicated subject and one that can seem quite subjective. If anyone has any further questions about sponsored blog posts or blog advertising in general, I’d love to help. I’d also really love to hear from other bloggers who do sponsored posts, how did you come up with your system and prices?

For more information on sponsored posts and advertising check out The Blogcademy Home School module on the subject. There is also a module available all about Media Kits!

Supporting Cast

37 comments

  1. Epic post, Kat, and so useful for people who are trying to navigate the choppy waters of sponsored content! Thanks xxxxx

  2. Great post as ever Kat. I run sponsored posts, because as you say this is my living and a girl has got to earn some cash to pay the bills.
    I get SO many requests on a daily basis from PR companies, owners of business all looking for coverage from the blog. I’d love to write about everyone but I just don’t have the room or time.
    I send out a reply email on each request and tell them politely that there is a fee for a feature on the blog and atache my sponsorship pack, which includes clear pricing as well as a few suggested ideas for sponsored posts. Different sorts of posts suit different companies.

    BUT yes as you say there is a lot of work in a sponsored post, a lot of emailing and co-ordination. I post maybe 4 a month, but currently have quite a long waiting list, so maybe I need to look at raising my prices as you suggested!

    But yes the key is staying true to your brand and your readers. i won’t write about companies I don’t think fit in with my business model, other wise they would stick out like a sore thumb!

    Great advice as ever Kat
    xx

  3. Very helpful, Kat. As I am on the other end of these sponsored posts, it helps give insight as to what bloggers are having to deal with!

    It’s always a struggle for smaller companies, such as myself, to come to a big blogger asking for an a chance to be seen by them. Whether it’s a paid post or not I always try to just let blogger know that my company is out there. My hope is that even though I may not have the marketing dollars to spend now on their media kits, they will take the chance to at least look at what I have to offer and decide for themselves if it’s worth promoting.

    It’s funny that you mentioned companies are just out for the keyword links which is true! You make money off the sponsored posts and we make it by having those keyword rich links! =)

    Great post!

  4. Sing it, sister! Sponsored posts seem to be becoming more prevalent in all areas of blogging recently. It makes me happy – content, a bit of income, and (hopefully) value to the reader.

    I guess the thing is, I only post about things that I know would interest most of my readers, but also interest me, so it ignites my writing worm within. There NEEDS to be a personal spin on it, otherwise, anyone else could post it, or the company could just pay for an ad. It’s most beneficial if everyone involved feels some sort of spark about the product, company or services offered. Don’t get me started on premade blog posts that some companies send. Ugh.

    I do wonder how many readers actually notice sponsored content posts – when done well. As a blogger I spot sponsored posts a mile away now (even if not specifically marked as such – naughty bloggers!) but when I was not as invested in blogging as I am now, I don’t think I really noticed. I always appreciated when someone disclosed it was a sponsored post though. Just like advertorials in mags or newspapers, it’s always good to be informed and to treat your readers with respect. No need to trick anyone!

  5. Also, perhaps a dumb question, but I also run a food blog and I get SCADS of PR emails for food related stuff because I once got on some list, somewhere deep in the marketing machine.

    So does anyone have any sources to sign up for wedding PR emails? Just a contact or two would be great, as these things have a way of mushrooming. (I know some of you drowning under such emails are probably laughing your heads off at this request…)

  6. Brilliant post – favourite bit – “This is a business I’m running, one that supports my family, and unfortunately I can’t pay our mortgage with free handbags!” xo

  7. Kristen, Belle Memorie

    This is such a timely post for me. I’ve gotten my following up a bit and it’s consistent. Over the past month or two, I’ve been getting inquiries about sponsored posts and I’ve been clueless as to how to respond to them. There are some that don’t even take the time to find out my name and in all honesty, I ignore. For those that seem like my readers might like, I don’t know where to start. I’ve shied away from those that want to do a fee only post as I feel that I should at least have some familiarity with the service or product they are wanting me to review. Do you have any recommendations or guidelines for what a smaller blogger (12k unique hits a month) such as myself should charge or sources to help develop a media pack? I’d love to make it to one of your Blogcademy workshops, but have some physical limitations that prevent me from doing so. Have you considered an online workshop? Thanks for this post, it’s definitely give me some food for thought. :)

  8. Post author

    Kristen – I personally didn’t start taking any advertisers or doing any sponsored content until I was getting at least 1000 uniques a day, so 30k a month. I can only tell you what I did as there are really no guidelines, but I started by charging £50 for a post at the point. I hope this helps!

  9. Post author

    Oh and in terms of the media pack… no I dont think there are, or not that I know sorry. We do cover this in depth at the blogcademy. I know that’s not much help to you if you are unable to make it though! Sorry! We may do another livestream when we’re together in New York next month so maybe we can try and cover it then if you ask the question?

  10. Hi Kat,

    Great, informative post!

    I have been contacted by a company asking me to do a sponsored post. She has said she will pay me after my post goes live. I never thought anything of it until I have read your post. Is it a good idea to email her back asking for the money upfront? I have not done one before, I’m new to this but she’s paying me a fair bit just for me to include a link somewhere in the post.

    What do you think I should do?

    Thanks!

    Charlotte

  11. Hi Kat,

    This is so helpful!
    I have recently been asked to do sponsored posts and wasn’t sure at first and had no idea how to go about it but this has answered pretty much all my questions! Thanks :) x

    P.s I love your blog!

  12. I don’t have a very big blog but I get a lot of PR emails, a couple a day! This is a super helpful blog and yes, I really do hope that you guys turn the Blogcadamy into a book and/or e-course for those of us who can’t make it, bloggers need you!!

  13. WOOHOO! This is exactly the info I was looking for. You make the twisted, tricky navigation of sponsored posts seem so simple. I just got my first sponsored post pitch and I want to knock it out of the park. I feel confident to do so after reading this post. I especially appreciate your honesty about being transparent. It’s very respectable! Thanks again for the great information!

  14. Such a great read! I recently got my first request for a sponsored post and started doing some research before anything else. I am definitely going to be sharing this in some blogger fb pages!

  15. OMG I came to your page for this article but I was totally swept away by the pictures! You two are so damn cute! Those pictures are amazing! Oh and thanks for the info…it was exactly what I was looking for!

  16. I’m taking my [then little] blog into next step, and glad that I found this. Just recently I received an email regarding with a sponsored post and tried it of course with considering my niche. This is my first time. Now I was wondering how much should I really charge and really I’ve learned a lot from this post. Thanks!!

  17. Thanks so much, I was trying to figure out how to run a sponsored post when the company sponsoring doesn’t want the word “sponsored” anywhere in it, so thank you for the reminder that this is probably not a good company to deal with. I also liked your point about writing the post all on your own instead of using their (usually badly written) article. Great post and thanks!

  18. Hi Kat ♥ Great article! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with sponsored content. I love your style, and I’m going to stick around as a reader.

    I have a question, though. What is your take on the FTC rule that you have to disclose material relationship in sponsored posts BEFORE your first link to their product or other website, as well as at the end of your post?

    I have done it two different ways – writing a short tag under an image before the first link, or putting in disclosure language in a conversational tone into the post right before linking – but I don’t really care for either method, especially the 2nd. Feels…contrived.

  19. Really a awesome post i was wondering how sponsored post works…. Thanks for sharing such a valuable information :)

  20. Hi,
    Thanks so so much for this post!! I was googling the issue as I have been approached a couple of times, but I was terrified about how to handle it all. I am so glad your blog came up! This addressed all of my concerns and was SO helpful!
    I hope I get some more offers now so I can go through the process with confidence!
    Next to research media kits – so scary haha.

  21. First let me explain how I ended up there – I work for a German company and have a gmail account so Google decided that with me looking for sponsored postings and some confused way of how I surf blogs it would be a great Idea to push this article to my Google now on my mobile.

    And it was, I really enjoyed your article. Coming from the other side – the one looking up the bloggers for the possible postings – I’d like to add a few pointers. Given that we are in limited beta for Germany only for now hopefully explains that I do not think it problematic to post these things here. ;)

    First: Ask yourself if a good friend who reads your blog comes up to you and says “explain that posting and that comment please?!!”. If you feel embarrassed explaining, then you where not authentic. No matter the money now, that will hurt you in the long run.

    Being a blogger myself, I often receive tech gadgets which I do not write about – because that would only come out as a scathing teardown. Usually the company understands.

    Do have limits: The more limits you have, the more limited you are of course, but it helps my side to understand what you want or dont want. Usually we do have a task “find me a blogger who .. and ..” and then we go looking. As soon as we find enough, we stop. Then we look at their pricing (and what they are delivering for it) and then make a pick.

    If you say you do not do sponsored postings or as oyu mentioned only 4 month, write so. Would you like to see more options and be contacted? Write so on your media / pr page. Having that will help me understand you better.

    As much as bloggers might want that, in most cases the companies will not research very deep. If your blog does not tell me in 10 min what you are about I will go to the next one which does explain it better.

    Small is okay but show your numbers. Sometimes I am searching for a blog with good reach. Sometimes I am searching for one with a middle reach. Sometimes it is with Instagram, sometimes with Facebook. Show me the links, show me the numbers on your blog!

    Always Always disclose. Both from the legal side and towards your reader and as well to google (nofollow links). If you have a posting which is relevant to you and your readers, they will not mind that you got compensation – if you have integrity. If I get the feeling you have integrety, I will not mind the paid postings but trust you as the blogger to only put things on your blog which you can believe in.

    Do you have a price and fees? Put them on your web page and don’t just wait for the mail to pour in, giving you effort to attach the files.

    What to charge? Be clear about what you do and want to do. Usually companies will set up something with a budget. Like 6 blogposts for 100$ or 10 for 3K total. Depending on the description people in my position will try to get the best bang for the buck. So should you.

    If I have the blogger who is quick to reply, gives me the information I need, shows me what she can do, does more than copy and paste a press release, that will win over somebody who just does the job. The next time I go to blogger a right away.

    Don’t have time right now but find it interesting? Do tell me. Maybe there is wiggle room in timing. “Not now, thank you but keep me posted” is completely acceptable.

    Budget is important to know because the effort you put into it might not be what people pay for. We do have great food bloggers (oh the tease in the afternoon seeing those pictures) which take huge effort per posting. The results are wonderful but if I do not have the budget, I will go look somewhere else.

    Also if you need 10 hours to do something which other bloggers only will need 30 min for, then I will be paying according to that. Not 30min as in hour base, but those kind of bloggers usually come up with “i need 10 hours for this and I need to go shopping which is why want Y” Look around what others are taking – and do share numbers between each other – and adjust.

    Do not forget that this is income and part of your payment must cover those kind of fees: taxes, office, equipment etc.

    Now if you excuse me, I need to find some more german bloggers to work with me. ;)

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