Advertising on blogs

neon open sign

I’ve never been overly keen about showing ads alongside my blog content — either because I don’t want to dilute my portfolio, or because I don’t want to align myself with the raft of blogs where it’s hard to find content through the AdSense, banners, and pop-ups.

I think there’s a decent middle-ground, however, and for the past two months I’ve been testing a single ad spot across this blog, Logo Design Love, and Identity Designed.

You might’ve noticed the AdPacks addition to my blog’s sidebar. AdPacks is a service from BuySellAds (BSA), a kind of middle-person between the advertiser and the publisher, that takes the hassle out of earning a little extra income (well, I say it takes the hassle away, but site traffic is still needed).

Update: March 2011
I’ve stopped my AdPacks partnership and I’m now serving banners from InfluAds. You can see how much money I get in return for how many Pageviews I serve here: Online advertising earnings.

AdPacks logoWhat attracted me to AdPacks was how the banner is fairly unobtrusive. Rather than having nine or ten ads shown one above the other, the ad spot contains around 10 advertisers inside a single window, rotated upon refresh. It’s a tried-and-tested method brought to prominence by the original invite-only service The Deck, followed not too long after by Fusion Ads. I sent emails to both those other providers, and although Fusion took the time to reply, there was no room at the inn for additional blog publishers. I also chatted with Carbon and the newly-launched InfluAds, but in the end opted for AdPacks due to BSA’s stronger footing in the market.

After we agreed on a monthly payment rate, I became one of the first publishers for the AdPacks banners. As such, I wasn’t entirely sure what advertisers would be shown. So I placed my trust in BSA, and having tested the service for two months, here’s who you’ll see featured.

AdPacks advertisers

I recently asked if there’d be changes to the advertiser line-up (for what it’s worth, BSA have been a great bunch to deal with), and was pleased to know that the current “design/development” advertiser grouping is to be split into “design” and “development,” with my three put in the former category. I’m hoping that’ll help tailor the ads so they’re particularly relevant to graphic designers.

What are your thoughts on blog advertising? At what point does it become detrimental to a website’s content? Do you know of any sites getting the balance right/wrong?

Neon open sign photo credit.

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30 comments

  1. I think you have taken the right approach David. While I certainly did notice it when you introduced advertising on your sites, it was unobtrusive enough not to bother me.

    Personally, I am not a big fan of ads dominating the sidebar of a blog – as has become the standard across many design blogs.

    If you can integrate advertising in a tasteful manner (as you have done) and you have the traffic to capitalise on it (which you probably have), why not do it. A man has gotta eat.

  2. Good to know, Duane. Thanks. If yours is the general consensus I’ll be chatting to BSA about an annual exclusivity deal, whereby I remove/decline all other ad offers. (I accept banners on LDL, no text links, though — too spam-like).

  3. I completely agree that advertising should be done in a tasteful way. Websites like Smashing Magazine are over-saturated with unhelpful and distracting adverts and it’s irritating – that’s why things like AdPacks et al are perfect. Especially when placed on websites such as this one and ID.

    Unfortunately for a lot of readers, certain companies care more about profits than providing users with a good experience, so they use obtrusive forms of advertisement to earn money. You’ve taken the perfect approach.

  4. Interesting post David. I think this is becoming more and more important as an issue as blogs and portfolio site achieve larger audiences – particularly through social networking.

    I was approached last week by Veer to see if I wanted to feature them as a sponsor on my own site and am currently considering the options. However, one important thing that has put me off the plan is the design of the ads that would typically feature.

    The selection of examples they sent over was rather disappointing – too brash and bold in their appearance. When approaching designers and design blogs I would have hoped for a much better choice of considered designs.

    As Duane mentioned, your Adpacks ads are pretty unobtrusive, something which other companies, including Veer should realise – especially when targeting the design world.

  5. A good blog, and the content it requires, takes time to build and maintain – no sane thinking person could deny a good blogger the chance to be compensated for the useful resource they provide their readers.

    In fact, I’d say that lately blogs that get me coming back, that seem serious, often have advertising on them – it separates the pros from the amateurs, perhaps.

    I hardly noticed, but good form for asking your readers and engaging in the discussion with them. Well played sir ;-)

  6. Luke, Smashing Magazine is a good example of what I want to avoid — the banner above banner above banner. Too distracting for my liking.

    Ryan, I was also emailed by Veer, about an affiliate program. In fact, for several months now I’ve been receiving a number of weekly emails from the company even though I never signed-up for any. The latest email was a couple of days ago, and this after I requested removal at the start of November. It’s been acknowledged now, so hopefully that’s that. Granted, many of the emails were sent by Weber Shandwick, who I guess handle PR (or try to) for Veer.

    I’m right with you on the design of the ads. I’ve turned-down quite a few potential advertisers in the past because they send banners that flash, move, light-up, etc. Okay, they might get a little more attention, but they don’t fit the audience, so it’s not going to lead to a click-through/sale.

    Clinton, I notice that with many of my favourite design blogs, too.

    Thanks, you three.

  7. I’m so used to seeing adverts predominantly down the right hand side of the page I just switch off now, as long as they don’t interfere with the content I am reading I don’t even notice adverts.

  8. It took me a while to notice that you’d introduced ads; they’re very unobtrusive. I’m so used to seeing images chosen by the author of the blog in the sidebar that it didn’t really register for me, at first. I think as long as the ads fit with the blog (in terms of design, and content), I’m OK with it.

    As Damian has pointed out, above, I tend to ‘switch off’ when those ads appear down the right side of the page, or as a banner at the top.

  9. I’ve noticed the huge amounts of ads on things like Smashing, but I’ve also noticed them creeping onto people’s portfolio sites.

    Strikes me as ever so slightly wrong, to be honest (while I say “yours” here, I don’t mean you specifically David) – even if the advertiser’s careful and doesn’t place ads for services in direct competition with yours, any one of those services could be a higher priority on a potential client’s to-do list than yours, and the effort of getting them to your site in the first place is wasted.

  10. Hello,
    Advertising on blogs is something i’m used to, we are all used to see blocks of Google text ads (as you said, they look like spam), many sites have sidebars full of banners and so on… usually I don’t pay any attention to them.
    But I want to point something else…
    Having just one ad on your blog (relevant or not to your content) is a great thing for advertisers. As a visitor, I can get the picture that the product or the service the ad is about is something YOU choose, suggest or support (something relevant to you).
    Having in mind your influence, advertisers can’t be anything but happy.
    The problem is that You may also be connected to services and products which can hurt your reputation (e.g. think of a elance.com or other SPEC work promoting services, web hosting services that everybody knows sucks, overused photo stocks…)
    As I mentioned, such advertising pass unobserved in google ad blocks but become more relevant in your case.

    On the other hand, don’t listen to me, I’m anyway too paranoid
    regards
    Marko

  11. Interesting post about a constantly changing issue. Personally, I wouldn’t have ads on my portfolio site or the blog part of my portfolio site. However, I could see the benefit in trying to find a way to generate income from my photo archive and my writing. So I set up a series of blogs with a purely commercial objective using affiliate products.
    It’s been a slow start but I’m now seeing a small income each day from the most popular and can use this information to develop the idea further.
    But my site that finds me clients will remain ad free.

  12. That’s definitely a consideration, Chris — this being my portfolio site.

    Even though Logo Design Love (LDL) attracts a little more traffic than davidairey.com, I place a lot more value on this (my original) blog. This one’s more than two years older, with two years extra content, and shows the work I do with clients. That’s one reason why the AdPacks slot has a little less prominence here than it does over on LDL.

    You mentioned that one of the services advertised might be higher on a potential client’s priority list than actually hiring me. If that’s the case, then brilliant. I want the ads to be useful to those who see them. I want people to click-through and find something they need. Sure, it takes them away from my site, but I helped.

    Marko, there’s more benefit to the advertiser, no doubt. And because of which, a higher premium can be charged, so the publisher and the middle-person are both better-off. At least, that’s how it should work.

    As far as I’m aware, sites like those in the UnderConsideration network (Brand New for example) cut-out the middle-person, so 100% of the ad spend is collected by the publisher. That’s an ideal, although takes a lot more time, planning, and maintenance.

    If anything remotely related to spec work was featured, I’d remove the ads.

    Neill, in terms of online advertising, you seem to be at a stage where I was a while back (earning a gradually increasing amount from one site, and wanting to keep the portfolio ad-free). This is the first time in four years when I’m serious about an exclusive ad spot here. It’s no coincidence that it’s taken four years to get to this point.

  13. Seth Godin published a blog post today that’s worth quoting from:

    “Once you overload the user, you train them not to pay attention. More clutter isn’t free. In fact, more clutter is a permanent shift, a desensitization to all the information, not just the last bit.

    “And it’s hard to go backward.

    “More is not always better. In fact, more is almost never better.”

  14. Gorgeous photography, by the way, Neill. I just had a look at your portfolio.

  15. Ah. What I’d failed to take into account is the fact that you already have the sort of reputation whereby you’re probably not weeping at the loss of a potential lead, and in fact this site is as much devoted to disseminating useful information as it is to landing new business.

    I think I’ll let my comment stand for the sake of the readers though, who’ll probably be in a different position and will be looking to optimise the design of their pages towards their own conversions.

  16. Good luck with this, David, I’m sure it will be rewarding.
    I hardly noticed your ads so I guess they don’t hurt.

    My site has very little traffic but I too have had several advertising offers. I’ve turned down all of them because I don’t want ads next to my name and my portfolio but I understand the need to make a living VERY well. If I could find a way to migrate my portfolio elsewhere without hurting my business I’d definitely introduce small ads to my site to ensure more and better content.

    I agree that you might become associated with people you don’t know and that’s a risk to take, probably. Keep us posted.

  17. I think you are spot on for this issue (as usual) David. I hate the sites that have endless ads running down the sidebar. One in particular that is terrible is Creative Cow. They have a great forum with good users, but I hate going to the site because of the christmas lights (animated gifs) flashing on not just one side, but both sides.

    One tasteful ad is just fine (as long as it is relevant). I hadn’t actually noticed it because I always read your posts in my email anyway. And like you said with the Seth Godin quote, once people get too used to the mass they will just ignore it anyway. For my own blog, I have one affiliate ad in the left sidebar and that’s it. Like Neill above, I don’t put it anywhere else on my site. At some point, if I want more advertisers I would do exactly like what you have here and put them in a rotation.

    Well done again.

  18. Although my blog, Creative Moxie, has a small following and not enough to actually make money off of it, I do have one spot that has advertisement, just to try it out.

    I think advertisements are ok when it doesn’t interfere with content and it is not in excess. There is no point in having a site that doesn’t have any meat to it. Also if the ad says it is an ad and is not disguised as content. Now those really bother me.

  19. Ray Campbell

    I agree that too much advertising traffic is just too much traffic! You do train the viewers to ignore many of the ads, especially the flashy ones that make most of us think, scam for spam! :)

    I used to work for the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and we used to experience the same issues with highway signage. In Northern Virginia, where we are inundated by many traffic signs, business signage, etc., when we have lane closures, accident scenes with lane closures, etc., many drivers would not pay attention to the flashing orange lights, traffic cones, etc.

    We would set up the traffic control in accordance with policy, but oftentimes had to go above and beyond the recommended signage just to keep the traveling public safe. When they would crash into our vehicles many of the victims would say “I didn’t even see the signs or lights.” What we found was that they were so inundated with everything else on and off the highways, they did not even see the emergency related stuff.

    So, to make a long story short…don’t distract the viewers to where they will ignore and/or miss the message you are trying to get across.

    Ray

  20. If a blog is cluttered with ads and even pop-up ads upon visiting, I would say that is enough distraction for potential visitors to stay away from reading what could be useful content. Nice decision David, your content should always be more important on your blog than other ads trying to promote themselves.

  21. I liked Marko’s idea of just choosing one (or a few) that you really like. Something you would recommend to readers, friends, and colleagues, and something you would even write a blog post on. Something you believe in. Letting someone else “hand pick” them seems impersonal to me.

    Otherwise, no matter how they’re formatted or presented, unless they’re within the blog post itself, most users are going to block it out. They came for the post, not the ads. I’ve MAYBE clicked a dozen links since I’ve started reading blogs. Google’s text ads? I’ve yet to click one.

  22. I used to have a number of advertisements on my site, but have removed everything except a couple from companies I know personally, and whose work I have featured. For me, advertising space going to real companies for a specific amount of time has been much better than syndicated advertisments, as knowing both the people and the product/service makes it easy to recommend them to my readers.

    The only thing I noticed about the sidebar ad on your site, David, was that it looked too narrow (I know that sounds very picky!).

  23. It’s well-known that viewers decide within seconds whether or not they want to engage with your site or move on.

    If the purpose of the site isn’t clear within those seconds, chances are people won’t stay. Advertising, along with all other unnecessary content that over-complicates things, detracts from clarity of purpose. Somebody mentioned Smashing Magazine – it’s the perfect example. There are way too many blogs/websites which take on this appearance; as a web user I won’t even take the time to explore what such a site is all about.

    The fact that we are talking primarily about blogs concerned with graphic design adds another element to the argument. Adverts taint design. If I am to read somebody’s opinion on this particular subject, I want their site to appear as if they know what they are talking about. To pick on Smashing Magazine again, I won’t read it because it doesn’t look well designed. It could be about anything. If the blog is about something else, I’ll give it a few seconds before judging on appearance. If it’s about design, I’ll give it one.

  24. Pop up ads are a definite turn off (literally). I often leave the blog if they are too intrusive. You seem to have found a good option with a rotating advert.

  25. I think the method chosen here is highly effective and it offers a solution to you both you and your advertisers/sponsors. You avoid the clutter and keep your blog clean and consistent while the advertisers still get some steady recognition since this is a high traffic, respectable site.

    Sure you could probably bring in a lot more revenue by splashing ads all over your page, but then what has the objective of your site become? Make money or talk about design? I think most places lose sight of what is really important when it comes to this. Yes the money/revenue is nice and all, but don’t sacrifice design and credibility for it in my opinion.

  26. I am in two minds when it comes to advertising, I can’t stand pop-ups, adverts that pop-up when you come within an inch of them or masses of adverts all over the website but I don’t mind the odd advert in controlled conditions. I think adverts should always be on the right so not to distract from the content when scanning a page and there should be a maximum of three to keep it low key. I like the way your adverts are in one box and change on refresh rather than scattering them all over the page. Yours is subtle an unobtrusive.

  27. Advertising on any website is a skill in its own, getting related products whilst not promoting competitors is a skill that many don’t master. I think the approach you have taken is well thought out, its very unobtrusive yet still noticeable and also has a connection that will interest your sites viewers.

  28. Advertising is OK as long as it’s tastefully done. That excludes all pop-ups, flashing lights, videos and soundtracks that play automatically. Maybe that’s a list of everything that works? :o

    John

  29. As a quick update, I’ve stopped my partnership with AdPacks and I’m now serving banners from InfluAds.

  30. I agree with you. I also like how you found a happy medium on your advertising. With so much traffic and work put into your website its tough not to want to monetize it a bit.

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