Over the last couple of weeks, since I moved this blog from its home at WordPress.com to it’s own domain, I’ve been experimenting with various different advertising platforms on this site – mainly just to get a sense of how each of them worked. Over the course of my tests, I’ve found that as a blog publisher, there are five main categories of ‘blogvertising’ you can employ, should you choose to include it on your site.

Ad Publishing

Of course the biggest of the bunch is Google’s AdSense program – which inserts contextual ads into your site. Yahoo also offers a similar platform through its Yahoo Publisher program. Microsoft is in the midst of rolling out their own alternative too. Both AdSense and Y!Publisher use their search platform to generate appropriate ads based on keywords their spiders find in the content of your page.

These two platforms are easily the most customizable of all the advertising options, as they allow you to choose the size and look of all your ads. They also have the largest network of paying advertisers, so you’ll hopefully see some revenue dribble in fairly quickly from them. Don’t expect to make millions quickly however, I made little more than the cost of a cup of coffee off of the ads on this site for the short time I had them up.

The downside with contextual ads is you have little control over who’s advertising on your site, and you could very easily have competitors’ advertising on your homepage (especially if they’re after the same keywords you frequently publish about).

Adbrite is another program (Adbrite was started by Philip “pud” Kaplan, who also ran the notorious Web-gossip site F***edCompany.com) I looked at, but most of the links coming through their system seemed to be online gambling and other shady sites. I suppose they could be fairly lucrative, but you’d have to ask yourself if you were willing to have those ads on your site.

Blog Networks

If you are looking to sell more targeted advertising on your site, and not rely on Yahoo or Google’s spiders to generate your ads, there are several large blog networks that leverage their collective mass to sell ads to large corporate advertisers. Federated Media, which was started by John Battelle, is by far the biggest of the networks and includes popular blogs like BoingBoing, BuzzMachine, GigaOM and TechCrunch. Blogads is another network out there but it focuses mainly on political blogs.

Unfortunately, most of these blog networks require you to have a major ‘net presence – that is, tens of thousands of daily visitors and impressions – before they’ll even consider you to be part of the network. Until you’re really huge, this option will likely be out of reach for most bloggers.

Affiliate Programs

These are essentially lead generation programs. You generate the leads, the companies pay you a fee. The easiest way to get started is to check with your web hosting company, in all likelihood they offer some sort of referral system or affiliate program. Usually, these programs pay anywhere from $10-50 per qualified referral you send from your site. Usually all this involves is placing an ad or link with a custom URL or referral code somewhere on your blog. It’s pretty simple really; if anyone signs up and they’ve come through your link, you get paid.

Companies like Commission Junction aggregate many of these offers and you can pick and choose which deals you want to offer on your site.

Amazon.com also offers their Associates program in which you can create specific links to items (books, gadgets etc.) sold in any of their stores, and which you earn a percentage with every referred sale. Amazon is also currently testing a beta product they’ve dubbed Omakase Links, which works more like Google’s contextual ads, in that it scans your content for keywords and displays products that reflect your writing. I didn’t have much luck with it however, it kept referring very strange products on my pages.

Virtual Storefronts

Virtual storefronts let you insert a small chunk of HTML code into your site and run a whole e-commerce system off of it. Chitika eMiniMalls is a pretty slick offering that gives the option to create a small interactive web shop right in your web site. You get product descriptions, reviews, ratings even the best price available on each product. The nice thing about eMiniMalls is you can totally customize what products you recommend and offer for sale, though the products they offer are heavily weighted on the electronics/gadgets side.

Amazon also recently rolled out their own virtual storefront option they call aStore. You can see an example of how this works by clicking on the Recommended Reading tab on my site. What I love about aStore is that you can customize the look and feel to your site, and you can pick the products you choose to endorse (you can display up to nine products right now).

Text Links

Text Link Ads

A new option for blog publishers has recently arrived. Text Link Ads, are just what their name suggests. Small text links you can display on your site. What makes this unique however, it that while Text Link Ads handles the marketing and sales of your links, your retain ultimate editorial control over what ads appear on your site. You can put the kibosh on any sale that you feel doesn’t jive with your site’s content.

Ultimately, the decision to ‘blogvertise’ (i.e. run ads on your blog) is a big one. It shouldn’t mean just slapping some Google ads on your blog. If you’re interested in taking the leap into publishing ads I would urge you to experiment with any of these options to determine what is the right mix for you and your readers

Also be aware, that making the move to host advertising can have a negative effect on your readership. SEOmoz’s blog, in their post 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic – says you should eschew advertising, at least until your blog has achieved some level of success. Advertising on blogs can be seen as obtrusive, distracting and even un-professional. Some may say it even undermines your credibility.

Personally, I think advertising can have its place, if it’s done tastefully and with subtlety. But that’s going to be up to the individual blog owner to determine how far they’re willing to go.

The bottom line for me, at the end of this test, was that I felt that many of the options I played with offered very little return for the space they required. So, I’ve withdrawn all but the most inconspicuous advertising from this site, and that which is left is clearly identified as such.

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