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.