Blogs are a dynamic medium that promote conversation and are part of the consumer movement toward user control. An increasing number of people are reading, writing, and commenting on blogs, influencing the way people use the web. Consumers are no longer content to be passive receivers of information. Blogs give everyone a voice, allowing consumers to be active participants in marketing.

Blogs have experienced rapid growth because they allow millions of people to easily publish their ideas on the web. Millions more will then blog their own thought on these ideas, allowing the blogosphere to spread like wildfire. Some blogs have become very influential, especially political blogs. Some are authoritative with a huge audience while others are personal for family and friends.

A Pew/Internet study estimated that 50 million Internet users (about 11 percent) are regular blog readers. Blog search engine Technorati has data indicating that 75,000 new blogs are launched each day. Bloggers create approximately 1.2 million posts daily, resulting in about 50,000 blog updates per hour in Technorati.

Advertising in Blogs

You can advertise on blogs through blog ad networks such as Blogads, AdBrite, FeedBurner, WeblogsInc and CrispAds, to name a few.

Advertisers can get run-of-network or run-of-site graphical ads on a cost-per-click basis, as well as keyword-based text ads. Some services will let you upload your own ads directly, advertising across categories and using third-party ad tracking to monitor stats in real time.

Google AdSense distributes blog ads matched to the characteristics and interests of the blog site. Yahoo offers blog advertisering through Yahoo Publisher Network. As yet, Microsoft does not provide blog advertising options but is likely working on it.

Creating Blog Ads

Blog advertising differs from other types of online advertising. It requires ads that are honest and connect with the audience. The usual attention grabbers wonít work. You need to address a specific audience and ensure your landing page matches that audienceís expectations.

The best ads are entertaining, informative and edgy. You canít talk down to the audience, and you must let them know that you are part of the community. Make sure your message delivers value. This is a highly educated and sophisticated audience. They wonít respond to ad-speak but will take notice of a quality, well-targeted message.

Consumer Control

By now, everyone is familiar with the concept of consumer control in advertising. This phenomenon begs for a paradigm shift because of its influence on how ads are created and the way they are distributed. RSS feeds and blogs have contributed to consumer control by virtue of consumer selection for delivery. This makes consumers the gatekeepers for ads served. Since this is a highly selective audience, in order to please, advertisers must create ads that inform without pitching. Ads should tell a story that commands user interest.

Blog advertising can outperform other online advertising strategies, sometimes yielding an 8 percent click-through rate (Pheedo Network). However, these results require highly specialized planning and effective execution in order to leverage the consumer control factor to ensure campaign success.

Creative Freshness

If consumers had a vote, they would demand fresh ads informing them of new and interesting products without over-repetition. Most consumers donít mind advertising, per se. But they resent being captive to noisy TV ads with relentless repetition.

Ad theory says outrageous creative grab attention over the clutter. This may be true, but it can also be annoying if ads are irrelevant to consumer needs and overly repetitive. When ads are interesting and non-repetitive, most consumers do not object to viewing them. If consumers could ignore irrelevant ads and view only those of interest, this would be ideal. And this is whatís happening on the web today with consumer control over viewed content.

Blog content is continually updated; therefore, blog ads must be updated regularly to be effective. A rule of thumb for advertisers is to change creative for every six new posts on the feed. Thatís because the RSS environment is based on real-time freshness itself and stale ads in the feeds will decrease click-through rates. No matter how interesting the content of the ads, if they are not periodically refreshed with new copy, they will lose effectiveness and will be overlooked. Thus advertisers must update creative and keep it fresh.

Feed Selection

Content delivery with RSS feeds varies depending on the feed and the forum used to view the feeds. My Yahoo displays only headlines, whereas Bloglines displays all available feed text. There are also variations among publishers. Some provide the entire text of an item within their content feeds, while others provide only partial text. The latter option forces a click-through to the publisher site to read the entire news feed item. Because of these variations, marketers must be aware of how content is presented before they can create an effective blog ad campaign.

One factor worth exploring is full-text versus partial-text. For example, if a publication has high readership and the publisher offers partial text of each article in the feed, this means many readers will go to the website for the information without viewing the other ads in the feed. While readership may be high, this publication may not be a good option for advertisers because the ads can be ignored. On the other hand, another publication with fewer subscribers, but providing full text feeds, may deliver more clicks on an ad. It is important to test and evaluate potential feeds for your ads to determine suitability for your campaigns.

Relationship Building

It is important to create a relationship with potential customers. Blog advertising provides a compelling platform for building relationships with readers. Blogs are strictly opt-in, and consumers return on a regular basis. This gives advertisers the ability to communicate with them over time on a deep level. With well-targeted, relevant content in the creative, your ads can address the interests of the reader knowing that many in the target audience will read your content. Serial story telling works well. Selling is a turn-off.

Audience Segmentation

With blog advertising, you have to recognize that though the audience may be small, it will be extremely targeted. Therefore, precise execution is a must. Compared to other types of online marketing such as email, blog advertising is quite different. With email you want a wide reach; with blog advertising, you want to zero in on a small market segment.

For instance, a Toyota Prius campaign might target two types of online publications, automotive and environmental sites. However, when advertising to these two different audiences, the creative must change based on the demographic. While the automotive site readers will be interested in Prius performance data, the environmental site readers would rather know how the Prius benefits the environment. The message must be narrowly targeted to be effective.

Blog advertising is in a nascent stage, and audiences are generally small, well-informed early adopters. Blog ads can hit the mark with targeting by specifically defining the audience. When audience segmentation is done correctly, marketers can realize high click-through and conversion rates that provide an excellent ROI.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

September 25, 2006

Bruce Clay is president of Bruce Clay, Inc. Since 1996, has been one of the foremost search engine optimization Web destinations. Services include: tool subscriptions, training classes, site assessments, consulting services, and full-service projects. Areas covered are SEO, PPC, Analytics, e-mail, ad programs, and consulting.

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