With so many traditional freelance markets drying up, writers are investigating new opportunities online, including paid blogging gigs, or if they’ve started their own blog, joining a blog advertising network that pays affiliates a cut of advertising revenue.
The most well known of these blog ad networks is Google AdSense. But there are others. One of those is BlogHer, the network of blogs for women that’s now 2,500 bloggers strong.
Four-year-old BlogHer has become so successful it now competes with some of the largest women’s magazine publishers for Fortune 500 advertising dollars and will “quite likely” be profitable for the first time in 2010, according to BlogHer co-founder Lisa Stone. She talked about the business and the opportunities it presents for freelancers who blog at the recent Online News Association annual conference.
If you’ve considered running ads on your blog, here are some things to know about working with BlogHer. One important thing to note: as of early November, BlogHer was not accepting applications for new bloggers. But you can put your name on a waiting list.
Expect editorial guidelines. Before bloggers can join BlogHer they have to sign editorial guidelines prohibiting them running things like hate speech or allowing similar nasty comments from readers. To drive home the importance of this, contributors have to print out, sign and fax in this agreement. “I’ve learned that if you make it unsafe for (people) to say ‘I support McCain and here’s why,’ for example, you’ll never be able to grow the community the way we want to,” Stone said in her ONA address. These days, spam has overtaken hate speech as the biggest thorn in Stone’s side, including bloggers trying to embed commercial messages into their posts. “We have a very adept ‘Mark as Spam’ function,” Stone said. “We ignore spambots and go after people who are abusing our community practices agreement.”
They use editors. BlogHer has 7 to 10 headline editors on staff, each policing 200 to 300 blogs to make sure they don’t violate terms of the network’s community practices agreement.
They share ad revenue. Most individual bloggers get a cut of ad revenue. For every $1 in advertising on BlogHer, the company takes 10 percent off the top and splits the rest 50-50. Ad rates are based on CPMs, “So if they have 10,000 viewers and we have a $10/CPM, she’ll get $4.50 if she has a typical arrangement with us,” Stone said. The company doesn’t cut a check until a blog has accumulated $25 in ad revenue. BlogHer also has special arrangements with 79 contributors who are paid $50 a post, Stone said.
It’s OK to be small but it pays to be big. Traffic on some BlogHer blogs is quite small and Stone is OK with that. “We’ve always said we don’t care about quantity, we care about quality,” she said. “But some people go supernova. We have bloggers on the network who are earning five-figure incomes and are living off of that.”
‘Fish where your fish are.’ While Stone encourages bloggers to use SEO, social network and other tactics to improve site traffic, she believes building a blog following involves more than that. “The goal is to fall in love with a subject area, write expert content about it and go discuss it with other people. Fish where your fish are. If you’re blogging on health care or taking fantastic pictures of your children or pioneer women joining a network like ours is a great option” because it puts you in touch with blogs on similar topics that you can build alliances with. Building alliances with newspapers, magazines or other publications in your area is another. “Coalition building is everything in this space,” she said. “The bottom line is if you build it they will not necessarily come. It takes a village to building a blog following.”
Readers come before content. Stone, who has a journalism background, says she started out thinking content came before audience. But her BlogHer experience has taught her to think the other way around. The network started out with 34 parenting blogs, grew to 180 and mushroomed from there. Based on what readers asked for, Stone and her two co-founders eventually moved into different subjects, then added conferences, a news service, publishing network and other services – all because that’s what readers said they wanted. “We had guidelines first, then wrapped the business model around it later,” Stone said.
Changes are coming. Stone’s convinced initiatives the network undertook to cover last year’s presidential campaign and health care reform are the wave of the future. “We think women in our network care as much as the future of journalism as they do about Manolo Blahniks,” she said. “Our goal is to listen as hard as we can to where they want to go with the tools we have. We lead by listening. That’s the way we’ve been able to success so far.” Expect to see more changes in the not-too-distant future, as BlogHer moves into other forms of media, including books, radio and video, she said.