Insider Advice on Making Money with your Travel Blog: Part 3 Where to find Advertisers

This guest post is by Amar Hussain and is Part Three of a Three Part Series. Check out Part One and Part Two.

Yes it’s me again with more advice on making money with your travel blog. Sick of me yet? Before you read on (you don’t want to spoil the series do you?) I would suggest that you read part one for advice on how you can be more attractive to advertisers and how to manage them once you have them. If you didn’t catch the mini case studies in “part two” read them first, and collect your thoughts before you see the answers here. First let us explore how to find advertisers.

Advertiser Contact Lists

Over the past year I have managed to establish a decent sized advertiser network that regularly renew advertising with my website. At first I used to wait for advertisers to approach me which works fine. If you follow the advice in part one you’ll be more attractive to advertisers and should see a rise in advertising queries. An advertising page is a must!

I currently get around three advertising queries a week. I wanted more and started to approach SEO companies myself with speculative e-mails. They’ll always keep you on file if they have nothing at the moment, but be sure to chase them up every couple of months.

Being the businessman that I am (I can’t help it, it’s my business school background) that still wasn’t enough and started developing another strategy. When you look at a blog you can plainly see what advertising they have and their text link ads will be under a header like ‘Partners’ or ‘Featured Sites’ either on the sidebar or footer. Approaching those websites directly has mixed results. Ordinarily those websites will be represented by an ad agency or SEO company so contacting the site can be a waste of time.

You also have to think about is it ethical? I know since writing these posts quite a few people have been poking around my text link ads (yes I am watching you). One advertiser actually asked my opinion on another blog because they had gone through my ads to find them. I think there is better ways to do business.

A far more effective strategy is to contact the blogger directly. You might have an ad contact that they don’t. I think you’ve put two and two together here. Yes, trade contacts with other bloggers! Now it doesn’t always have to be a contact for a contact (you may not have one yet). Sometimes I have traded a contact for a stumble and a contextual backlink. Sometimes when I am feeling particularly generous I have given one away just because! Yes ,I am capable of being nice now and again.

If you are going to trade contacts, make sure it is a contact that you already have nailed down and have been paid by. If I have just completed a deal for a year text link ad I don’t see any harm in trading that contact with another blogger. It’s good to help out others in the community but use your head. If a renewal on your own ad is coming up, probably not best giving it out. Someone might undercut you and then where will you be!

Finding Direct Advertising

Have you ever considered approaching a travel company and doing a direct sales pitch? As much as I interact with travel bloggers I always see what else is going on in blogging in general. Sometimes I feel like I am in a house party but only stay in one room.

A blogger I know runs a successful blog within his niche (not travel). He receives approximately 20,000 unique visitors a month. Leafing through a small magazine based on his niche he noticed an array of different advertisers. He contacted the magazine to find out about distribution numbers of the magazine and their advertising rates. Here’s the genius part. He then approached the advertisers within the magazine pitching his blog and his advertising options. His blog’s readership rivalled that of the magazine and even though he offered the advertisers rates that were half of what the magazine charged, he was still making a fortune. Again, is this ethical or is it just business? We all know that the difference between old and new media advertising rates is huge. Perhaps this is just levelling the playing field.

In the same vein, seeking direct advertising can benefit you in other ways. Affiliate networks don’t always offer the best returns. Setting up private affiliate links with a company can often be more fruitful after the initial leg work has been done. The same blogger struck a deal with a company which meant a 10% commission on sales. Considering the products start at $300 I think you are seeing the benefits here.

I know a lot of bloggers out there are struggling to sell ads because they have a low Google PR. From my understanding there hasn’t been an update since April 2010 [Todd here, Google just updated in January 2011]. My advice would be for blogs that have a low PR to focus on building content and traffic and seeking direct advertisers instead of playing the PR/text link ad game.

Answers to the Case Studies

Here are my own thoughts on the mini case studies from Part Two. Let me know what your thoughts are.

Case Study 1.

An advertiser offers you a text link ad for $24 per month. They want it above the fold on the sidebar with the anchor text within a paragraph. The ad is to run for a year but the advertiser will pay every 3 months. Would you accept this offer?

On the face of it the deal is a good one. After all it’s close to the $30 mark and you could justify the discount due to the length of time the ad would be running. However in the end I decided not to go ahead. This is my own personal view but I like to try and keep advertising visibility to a minimum (not always easy with widgets). The advertiser wanted its own textbox above the fold with it’s ad in a paragraph. Realistically, the advertiser should be paying $30 for that. My final issue with this is that they have said the ad will run for a year but aren’t willing to pay for it upfront. If they really wanted a year they would pay for it. There’s nothing stopping them from pulling out after 3 months. Also, you have to think of your time. If you are dealing with 20 odd advertisers do you really want to be chasing one up every 3 months for payment? I took the ‘plenty more fish in the sea’ route here and rejected this offer.

Case Study 2

You are offered sponsored guest posts every week for a year. These posts will be well written and personalised for your site and contain two outgoing links to travel sites. You will be paid $40 per post. The agreement value is therefore worth $2080 for the year. Each text link ad, which is permanent, is therefore being priced at $20 each. What would you do in this situation?

Sometimes you have to think big and I countered with $95 per link per post which is nearly 5 times what they originally offered. They agree to 1 link per post at $70 each which is three and a half times what they originally offered. They will supply two posts a month for a year, which is less than their original offer of one a week. This deal is worth $1680. For the quick thinkers out there you’ll realise this deal is much better. You’re selling 24 links for $1680 instead of 52 for $2080. Is this deal still worth it? Ultimately, you are still selling permanent links in posts at $70 a pop, which is of course less than $30 per month. Would you make an exception?

In a situation like this you need to look at the bigger picture, not merely from a financial point of view. If you run a personal blog, then regular guest posts may not be the direction you want to take. As it states above the posts are well written. If another blogger approached you with great content and you accepted guest posts, you would think nothing of posting their article and including a link back to their blog in their bio. How is this any different? Provided it’s good content, they are easy to deal with, pay on time and it is only one outgoing link then you are actually getting a good deal. Especially if you are looking to increase your content or reduce the time you spend writing personally.

Case Study 3

An advertiser approaches you asking if they can do a sponsored post. The post fits in perfectly with your blog and includes one outgoing link. More importantly the advertiser wants the post to go live within the next 24 hours. They want to know how much you charge? How would you go about pricing this up?

It depends how bold you are willing to be. An e-mail like this reads to me that the advertiser is in a use it or lose it situation. Either that or the advertiser has a client that is in a rush. In this case you can probably risk pitching quite high. From personal experience I pitched at $400 which the advertiser agreed without any arguments provided I could get it posted within the next few hours. The fact that the advertiser didn’t even attempt to negotiate price indicates that I probably could have gone higher without much trouble. Nevertheless, this was a rather easy quick sell which was very profitable. These situations don’t come up often but if you judge the situation you can profit considerably. I don’t think you can teach this. Sales skills and instinct come from experience. My advice would be to be bold once in a while. It may pay off in unexpected ways.

Case Study 4

An advertiser approaches you with the offer of a 6 month simple text link ad to be placed in your footer. They are prepared to pay $150 up front which is the equivalent to $25 per month. They are incredibly easy to deal with and very prompt with payment. However, the link is for ‘identity protection’. Would you proceed with this sale? What could you do to make it ‘safer’?

Personally, I wouldn’t. My main concern is that the link directs to a website that isn’t travel related. This is always a flag to Google and as you should be aware, as per Google’s terms of use, websites that sell text link ads could be deindexed or have their Google PR removed. Considering how many advertisers I currently have I wouldn’t take the risk for the sake of $150. If you were to go ahead with a link such as this you could make it safer by surrounding the link with text to make it more contextually matched with your site e.g. ‘Identity protection whilst travelling’. With any link that is a dubious match to your travel blog have a think. If you were an average Joe and saw a link that had nothing to do with travel your instant thought would be that it’s an advertisement. If the average reader can spot that, what do you think Google can see? I saw a travel blog with text links for colon cleansing and Vegas gambling. The money might be tempting but you’ll only be hurting yourself in the long run.

 

Insider Advice on Making Money with your Travel Blog: Part 2, How Much to Charge

This guest post is by Amar Hussain and is Part Two of a Three Part Series. Check out Part One or Part Three.

For Sale

A common question asked by so many bloggers is “how much should I charge for a text link ad?” If you haven’t already done so I would suggest you read Part One of this series first.

Now I would love to give you a clear cut answer but there really isn’t one. Like any industry there are market forces such as demand and supply at play. All advertisers are different, all websites are different and the biggest variable of all is you.

My primary concern, as this is one of my greatest sources of income, is that the market has become flooded. If you’ve been a blogger for a little while you’ll have seen an explosion of ‘John Smith’s’ setting up travel blogs. You see new ones everyday; BackpackingJohn, NomadicJohn, WhereIsJohn etc. I want to stress that this isn’t a bad thing from a personal point of view, I encourage new blogs and enjoy the growth in the community. However, this is a business-centric post and if we are talking about ‘the threat of new entrants into the market’ then in travel blogging it is very high.

Supply (travel blogs) is certainly outstripping demand (advertisers) which probably explains why price is being driven down as bloggers scrabble to generate any kind of income. Even though I have seen my revenue increase I have seen a decline in how much links are worth. Whether this is a supply/demand issue, smaller advertising budgets due to the recession or bloggers not realising how much their blogs are worth, is open to debate. If you are one of the latter; stop it. You’re undervaluing yourself and your blog and we all deserve better.

Looking at my contacts list I have dealt with in the region of 50+ advertisers. That’s not to say I have gone with them all. However, this does give me a pretty good insight as to what is out there, the current trends and the answer to the question you are dying to know; how much to charge.

Let me put myself out there and use my own site as an example. My site has a Google PR3. It has approximately 40 outgoing links from the homepage (verging on too many I think, but that’s a separate issue for me) and has an Alexa Rank of 166,033. A rule of thumb that I go by for a simple text link ad is $30 per month. Price for different advertisers tends to vary slightly around this point, recently moving more towards $25 per month (remember I was talking about excess supply?).

Text link ad is such a vague term so let’s look at all the variations

Simple text link ad with anchor text only.

This is generally the most common form of text link ad and you will see these in sidebars and footers. The anchor text will generally be 1-3 words.

Simple text link ad with anchor text and accompanying text.

Similar to the above but the anchor text will be embedded within a sentence or short paragraph.

Widget.

You normally see these in the shape of a travel insurance or flight widget with a search function. There will be embedded text links within the widget.

Sponsored posts – provided.

An advertiser will send you a pre-written post with link(s) within it.

Sponsored posts – produced by you.

You are required to write a specific post on a particular topic or review a particular product or service and include link(s).

Sponsored posts – An old post.

The advertiser asks you to add a link within an old post. This may require you to slightly amendment a sentence so that the anchor text fits.

Here are factors that can affect the value of a text link ad and the price you should charge

Above the fold.

This is a really ambiguous term. This normally means as high up on the page as possible. Anything above half way is considered acceptable from my experience. Text links above the fold are considered to be higher value.

Footer.

Pretty self explanatory where these text link ads go. These have the opposite affect and are considered less valuable.

Site wide.

This is generally standard practice for a text link ad to appear on every page.

Homepage only.

This doesn’t occur very often but it’s about as valuable as a site wide text link ad.

Every page except the homepage.

Although site wide, not having an outgoing link from your homepage is beneficial to yourself. I would generally accept a lower price for these due to the benefits.

Accompanying text.

A link with surrounding text is perceived as more valuable due to SEO. You could charge slightly more for this type of ad.

Google PR.

The higher your PR the more you can charge for text link advertisers. Whether this is ‘right’ is open to debate and I don’t wish to go into this now. It is understood that Google does not take too much stock in a sites PR. Nevertheless it’s a benchmark that almost all advertisers use to gauge a sites suitability. As much as we may want this to change it’s just the way the market currently operates.

Outgoing links.

If you have numerous outgoing links from your homepage advertisers are less inclined to use your website. I would suggest all blogs wanting to advertise audit their homepages to ensure that they remove or ‘no follow’ any non-essential links.

Number of links.

More links means more dollar, well it should do anyway. Before quoting any prices for a widget ask to be sent the widget and the code. Not only will you be able to see the size of the widget (and the space it will take on your sidebar) but you’ll be able to see how many links are contained within it and can price accordingly. Same goes for sponsored posts. I normally agree to one link per post, two maximum. Some blogs will allow more but that’s up to you.

Ad length.

If an advertiser pays up front for a period over 6 months they should expect to receive a slight discount in the region of 5%-10%.

Site content.

You may think it’s all about PR but your site content also plays a part. I run one of the largest Gap Year blogs out there and as such I am one of the first ports of call for Gap Year advertisers. Having the term Gap Year in my domain name helps considerably. If you run a ‘generic’ travel blog there is always going to be many sites like yours thus lowering the price. Still, this isn’t always the case. I know some ‘backpacking’ blogs that on the face of it could be deemed generic however they have large quantity of content in a specific geographical area that they attract a large number of advertisers from that area. I have a large amount of content on Australia and therefore attract advertisers from that region.

Sponsored posts.

You should note that sponsored post advertisers vary so much more on price. Predominantly text links sold in posts are normally permanent links. I know some bloggers change the link to no follow or remove it completely after a year. This is something you will agree prior to the sale but most advertises want the link archived ‘for life’. Contextual links such as this tend to be ‘safer’ provided the anchor text is relevant and it blends well with the post. However, as we explored earlier there are variables. If the link is to go into an old post, this requires very little work on your behalf but that page probably has a PR and arguably worth more. Similarly, if the post is provided by the advertiser this requires very little work for yourself but it’s not as valuable despite the fact that the advertiser is able to tailor the post for their SEO requirements.

The sponsored posts that bloggers should charge the most for are ones which they have to write themselves. There are additional costs involved with these, whether this involves your time or the fact you have to hire a copywriter to do the piece for you. These costs should be past on to the advertiser. Taking all of this into consideration sponsored posts should be priced somewhere in the region of $200-$400. Not an exact science I know but I am hearing far too often that bloggers are charging a lot less than this. I don’t want to hear how you accepted a sponsored post with 5 links for $40. You are being ripped off. After this post you should know better!

One last thing on sponsored posts; is the post they provide you any good and congruent with your readership? I once was sent a travel insurance post for over 60’s. I run a Gap Year blog, I turned it down. Don’t be afraid to say no. You can damage your image with your readership for posting sponsored posts that don’t add value to your audience. Is the quick buck really worth it in the long run if you alienate your readership?

Now there are many exceptions to these guidelines and to illustrate why I’ve provided some mini ‘case studies’. Have a read and think about what you would do if you were confronted with this situation. They are real life examples and there may not be a specific right answer but I can only advise what I have done in these situations. Write your answers in the comments if you feel like sharing your thoughts. I’ll follow up with the ‘answers’ in part 3 along with advice on finding new advertisers.

Case Study 1.

An advertiser offers you a text link ad for $24 per month. They want it above the fold on the sidebar with the anchor text within a paragraph. The ad is to run for a year but the advertiser will pay every 3 months. Would you accept this offer?

Case Study 2

You are offered sponsored guest posts every week for a year. These posts will be well written and personalised for your site and contain two outgoing links to travel sites. You will be paid $40 per post. The agreement value is therefore worth $2080 for the year. Each text link ad, which is permanent, is therefore being priced at $20 each. What would you do in this situation?

Case Study 3

An advertiser approaches you asking if they can do a sponsored post. The post fits in perfectly with your blog and includes one outgoing link. More importantly the advertiser wants the post to go live within the next 24 hours. They want to know how much you charge? How would you go about pricing this up?

Case Study 4

An advertiser approaches you with the offer of a 6 month simple text link ad to be placed in your footer. They are prepared to pay $150 up front which is the equivalent to $25 per month. They are incredibly easy to deal with and very prompt with payment. However, the link is for ‘identity protection’. Would you proceed with this sale? What could you do to make it ‘safer’?

Let me know your thoughts on this post and the mini case studies and stay tuned for part 3 of this series. I’ll give my thoughts on the case studies and explore advertiser acquisition. If for whatever reason you want to contact me privately, I can be reached here.

 

Insider Advice on Making Money with your Travel Blog: Part 1

This guest post is by Amar Hussain and is Part One of a Three Part Series. You can also jump ahead to explore Part Two and Part Three.

Money Blogging

Text Link Ads

I remember the first time I ever sold a text link. It was for 3 months and I got completely ripped off. Still at the time I was over the moon. As a blogger when you make your first buck that’s when you’ve made the move from amateur to professional, by definition anyway. I’ve come a long way since then and it’s not been smooth sailing. Trial and error has taught me different aspects of monetization and I will share with you some lessons that I’ve learned.

To give you a little background on my blog. It’s just over a year old and is PR3. I’m not a big name blogger, I don’t have massive stats and I’m not a regular feature on Top 10 lists. Sure the accolades and the prestige would be great, but they don’t pay the bills. What actually makes me sad is there are blogs bigger and better than mine but they have no idea how to convert what they have into financial reward.

Blogging started as a hobby and then I realized its potential for monetization. I run a business, not a blog. Don’t get me wrong I think the community we have is great and I have made some fantastic connections. I see my blog as a means not an end. Yes I like making money but only because money enables me to do the thing I love; Travel.

I’ve tried various monetization strategies mainly text link ad sales and affiliate links. I’ve had more success with text link ad sales and currently average $1800 a month from these. So how do I go about leveraging this? My top tips for you…

Be open

I lead a busy schedule but I do my best to hop around on different blogs and discover new ones. It’s actually infuriating when I see a good blog and I think to myself I’ll get in touch. Do I see a contacts page? Is there an e-mail address? I mainly see this with newer blogs but if I was a perspective advertiser how am I to get in touch with you? Something I see rarely is an advertising page. Are you open to advertising and what do you offer? Advertisers will trawl through many blogs to find yours and you need to make it easy for them. One of the best examples I have seen of an advertising page is on GoBackpacking.com. Personally, I wouldn’t list my advertising rates mainly because I think it improves your negotiating position. Sometimes advertisers have come in and offered me more than what I would have quoted.

Be seen

When I first started getting approached by advertisers I used to ask them where they found me. A lot of the time they responded that they found me on a blogroll or comments. Exposure is paramount. I do a lot of link exchanges which means that not only do I get back links and referrals but my blog’s name is out there. It’s also great for networking too. Some of my friendships in the community started this way.

Be prepared

I’m a slave to my e-mail but this is for a good reason. One time I didn’t respond to a potential advertiser until a week later. By the time I got in touch he had already spent his advertising budget. An early bird really does catch the worm. I have a template e-mail saved meaning that when I receive an advertising query I can respond quickly. The most common query I get is “what advertising do you offer and how much does it cost?” Work out what advertising options you are willing to offer and how much you will charge for them. Always set the price slightly higher. This way you have room to negotiate the price down to an acceptable level.

Be practical

The industry standard is for payments to be made via PayPal. I’m sure most of you have one but in case you don’t it’s worth setting up. Getting money out of anyone who owes it you is a pain and it’s no different with advertisers. I once had an advertiser that would transfer money monthly, well that’s what they were supposed to do. I spent that much time chasing them each month that I actually refused to work with them again. Time is a valuable commodity too.

My advice would be to upgrade your PayPal account to a Merchant account. This enables you to create subscriptions that will automatically transfer money to you from the advertisers account. Alternatively, and more preferred by advertisers, is to be paid for a fixed term. I normally shoot for 6 or 12 month ad lengths which means that I don’t have to go through the renewal process too often. As an incentive I will offer a discount for a 12 month ad or if they opt for multiple links. For something like this I offer around about 10% discount.

Be organized

I have a spreadsheet that tracks all my advertisers. When I see that an ad is about to expire I get in touch in advance to inquire if they want a renewal. They aren’t going to come to you and say “oh yes we owe you more money.” It’s your responsibility to keep on top of it all. It’s also important to keep track of the amounts in case the same company come back and want another link. You can easily work out what they have been quoted before. Finally, I always keep in touch with advertisers. That really does mean all of them. This includes ones that have decided not to go ahead at all and long term advertisers. I check in every 2-3 months to see if they have any new clients that they are representing and need advertising for.

Be transparent

This should go without saying really. If it’s a sponsored post, say so. I always put a disclaimer in my posts. Not only is it best practice but it’s the law. I’d like to think that readers understand that you should be able to profit in some way from all the free content that you provide. People prefer honesty at the end of the day. If you are writing a sponsored review ensure that you are writing a fair and balanced review. Let the advertiser know that you will only agree to write an honest review before you accept.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Amar’s advice on pricing,  sponsored posts and paid reviews, and finding advertisers.

Amar Hussain is the owner, author and traveler for GapYearEscape.com. He is a freelance writer traveling round the world in the pursuit of sustainable travel and documenting his experiences for advice, inspiration and entertainment.