The Ins and Outs of Sponsored Blog Posts

Brighton Photo

May 29, 2013

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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!