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Paid Blogging not a short-lived phenomenon

When the sponsored blogging craze hit the Web in 2006, skeptical observers expected it would be a short-lived phenomenon. But services like PayPerPost appear to be going strong, as pay-to-blog offerings evolve to suit advertiser needs. And as the economy plummets, more bloggers may be open to the notion of taking cash to write about advertisers and their products.

"[M]any bloggers believe it threatens bloggers' reputation for independence," states a recent Forrester Research report suggesting advertisers should pay bloggers to post about their brands. "But we think this practice is here to stay. Why? Because bloggers want to get paid and marketers want to pay them."

"The global recession has changed the economy so much that it demands that people and businesses change....Property Management Ohio shows how a company can change to meet the changing needs of clientele," wrote Paula Bentley on her blog, "The Bentleys Showing You Whatever Amuses Us Today," earlier this month. The post was capped with a disclaimer: "This is a sponsored post with 100% real opinions." The blogger and mother of two is a verified SocialSpark blogger; the service was launched about a year ago by PayPerPost parent company Izea. Through the service, she'll write about advertisers that are willing to pay around $15 per post.

"This is growing," said Sean Corcoran, Forrester analyst and lead author of the report on paid blogging services. In part, he attributes growth of paid blogging services to a 50 percent growth in blog traffic over the past year. "Izea's the biggest one when it comes to pure marketplace [for paid blogging]...but you have different levels of it across the board," he added. Paid blogging services including ReviewMe and LoudLaunch are also still in operation.

Although some publishers of large blogs still frown on the practice of advertorial blog posts, even when there's full disclosure, others have embraced it. Ad industry site Adrants has offered "adverposts" for a few years now, said Justin Martin, sales manager for its parent company, Watershed Publishing. The site sells advertorial posts on a CPM-basis for between $70 and $100 per thousand views, about twice as much as the site's display ad cost, according to Martin. "They'll often add it on to their standard banner advertising," he told ClickZ News. Adverpost advertisers have included e-mail firm ExactTarget, HP, and "Bodies...the Exhibition," the traveling museum show featuring preserved human cadavers.

Following the general progression of online advertising sales, Izea introduced performance-based offerings through SocialSpark recently. Advertisers can now buy blog posts and display ads on a cost-per-click or cost-per-action basis through the service. Izea CEO Ted Murphy said the performance-based products were spawned as a result "of advertiser demand and just recognizing that we've got to strike a good balance for ROI between the advertisers and the blogger." He continued, "Advertisers are looking for alternative advertising models and something that they can actually quantify."

The PayPerPost service, open to all bloggers, sells only on a per-post basis. The SocialSpark service pairs advertisers with bloggers that meet certain criteria such as the length of time their blogs have existed. Izea has also evolved to include paid posts to Twitter or social media pages.

Murphy expects "high double-digit growth" in ad revenues this year compared to 2008, and noted the firm has six salespeople and "several thousand" advertisers active in its system at any one time. In addition, the firm has seen more bloggers showing an interest in being paid to post about brands, particularly in the past six months as the economic downturn has deepened.

Despite what appears to be a relatively vibrant sector and continued brand advertiser adoption, sponsored blogging remains controversial. Forrester's suggestion that advertisers use paid blogging services sparked skepticism among some, including Matt Cutts, a prominent blogger and head of Google's Webspam team. Cutts suggested that if bloggers publish sponsored posts that affect search rankings, they could violate Google's guidelines, causing them to be disregarded by its algorithms. For that reason, Forrester stresses that bloggers use no-follow tags in links included in paid posts.

"If [paid blogging] fits your site I don't think it's going to hurt your perception," said Watershed's Martin. "The content really has to be relevant and have some value for the readers beyond just a sales pitch," he added.

Toronto-based interactive agency Henderson Bas recently posted a paid blogging opportunity on SocialSpark on behalf of Mercedes-Benz Canada to promote its Mercedes 2010 GLK site. The company required bloggers to visit the site and summarize a related press release, making sure the post is comprised of "original content."

Whether or not paying bloggers to post about a brand is an appropriate marketing strategy, "depends on the business," said Miranda Warren, account supervisor at Geile/Leon Marketing Communications, a full service marketing firm. The agency recently tried the SocialSpark service for the first time on behalf of its client, the Hilton hotel in Branson, Missouri.

"The client we were using this for was a little shy of social media," explained Warren, who considers the service to be a good way for brands to dip their toes into social media and paid blogging.

By Kate Kaye, ClickZ, Mar 11, 2009

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