There's a potentially dangerous trend afoot in the blog world. With more than 63 million bloggers online and more than 175,000 new ones being added daily, there's no doubt that people are writing AND reading blogs. With that in mind, advertisers are realizing that there's good money to be made from the blog reading public. The problem is, they've also realized that that same public is learning to tune out the ads that run along side good content. The solution? Pay the bloggers to write the ads into the text of their blog posts.

According to the latest data released by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, just 15% of bloggers are doing it with the intent of making money. That vastly reduces the number of blogs that are available for advertisers. Subtract from that 15% the number of blogs that are money-oriented, but too small to offer much in the way of eyeballs and you've got an even smaller number to work with. In some ways, the interest in blog advertising is larger than the availability of good advertising space.

Beyond those limitations, there's also the problem of integrating ads in a way that gets them viewed. Bloggers and advertisers have long been matched up through contextual ad programs like Google's AdSense and Chitika MiniMalls. The problem with this approach is that blog readers are learning how to screen those ads out, the same way that they learned to ignore traditional banner ads and flashing skyscraper ads.

See, in some ways, the content on the Internet can be compared to the content on television. The advantage that TV has always had over print and online media is the ability to FORCE consumers to wait through commercials to get back to the "good stuff." Print ads are easily ignored, commercials, not so much. Until the rise of digital video recorders. These days, many TV viewers simply record all of their favorite shows and watch them at a later time, sans commercials. The solution? More focus on closely integrating products (and product pitches) into the television shows that people are watching. We saw this happen earlier this year when The Office included a scene that was pretty clearly hawking a new shredder sold by Office Max.

While it's technically possible for companies to insert video or flash ads into the content in such a way that they must be viewed before the page loads, the Internet is full of stiff competition. Similar content is just a click away and site owners have to be conscious about the fact that pushing ads too heavily can send their visitors off to a competing site in a nanosecond. So what's the solution?

Apparently it's to follow televisions' lead and to work toward convincing bloggers (and other writers) to include product mentions or product pitches in the actual page copy. Businesses have long sent free products and trial services to writers in the hopes of securing product reviews. That's nothing new. These days though, there seems to be an increased interest in tapping into bloggers as a way to reach even more potential customers.

In many cases, that's as innocent as contacting a blogger to see about sending a product to be reviewed. However it's becoming more and more common for companies to simply offer to pay for mentions of products that a blogger may never even have seen. Services like PayPerPost and ReviewMe match up advertisers and bloggers. On PayPerPost the advertisers make a listing explaining what they want (a review, a mention, a link, etc...) and what they're willing to give in return (free products, direct payment, etc...). Bloggers that have been accepted into the network may then decide which offers they'll take action on. On ReviewMe, blogs are put into a database that categorizes them by topic and ranks them by things like page rank, incoming links and estimated traffic. Prices are assigned accordingly and advertisers have the ability to purchase product mentions or product reviews on registered blogs.

It remains to be seen how the general public will react to this new trend. Since full disclosure usually goes hand in hand with paid posts, there's a good chance that they'll be fine with it. After all, we're getting used to seeing characters on TV eating certain brands or movie characters driving certain cars while using certain cell phones. Most everyone knows and accepts that those product choices aren't simply the decision of the writer to plug a random brand. Companies have long paid for product placements in key locations in television and film.

It's possible that Internet users will react to "blogvertisements" the same way. Perhaps they'll accept the occasional paid post as the cost of blogging, but who knows. After all, we enter a whole different realm when the advertisement moves off of the sidelines and into the content. Ultimately it will probably depend on how blatant it gets and how good of a balancing act bloggers manage to pull off in terms of mixing "true" content with "paid" content. Besides, few bloggers will continue down the route of mixing ads with their content if they start to loose too many readers.

Discuss this article in the Small Business Ideas forum.

January 11, 2007

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.

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