Online Marketing Lesson 46: Selling Sponsored Reviews

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If done with transparency and honesty, sponsored reviews can be a very efficient and profitable way to monetize a blog or content website. In this lesson we’ll explain how sponsored reviews appeared online, the advantages they have for small website owners, and how you can start making money with them.

The Initial Stigma

Back in 2006 a company called PayPerPost popularized the sponsored reviews model among bloggers and web publishers. It basically connected advertisers who were looking to get some exposure for their products and services with website owners who were willing to review the products in exchange for a payment.

The problem is that PayPerPost didn’t require disclosure from the bloggers. In fact advertisers could even specify that bloggers reviewing their products were not allowed to disclose the review was being sponsored.

As you can imagine, this created a big ethical problem, and the controversy spread all over the web, with most tech blogs and newspapers calling out PayPerPost on its shady business model.

This initial stigma is partially gone, however, as most blogs and websites that are doing sponsored reviews these days use a full disclosure policy. You’ll even find some high profile blogs like ReadWriteWeb.com doing sponsored reviews.

Sponsored Reviews the Right Way

As long as you do sponsored reviews with honesty and transparency, it’s very unlikely that your readers will react negatively or change their perception about your content. Here are four requirements you should follow if you want to achieve that:

1. Use a full disclosure policy. This means that sponsored reviews should clearly be labeled as such. The easiest way to do this is to write “Sponsored Review” right in the title of the post. If you are going to review the hosting services of GoDaddy, for example, the title of that post could be: “Sponsored Review: GoDaddy Hosting.” A second option is to disclose with a brief message either on top or at the bottom of the review. The important thing is to make sure readers will be able to easily identify the sponsored reviews.

2. Only cover relevant and useful products/services. As soon as you start offering sponsored reviews you’ll probably get offers from companies with products and services that are neither relevant nor useful to your audience. Turn these offers down, as they will probably annoy some of your readers, indicating to them that the monetary aspect is the only one important to you.

3. Be completely honest in you reviews. As long as you are honest in your reviews, your readers will keep trusting your content and opinions. This means that you should always try to use the products and services you’ll be reviewing, and that you should not be afraid to point things you don’t link about them. And don’t worry about upsetting the sponsors. Most of them won’t mind an unbiased approach, as it might actually send them more customers.

4. Balance the number of sponsored reviews. As a rule of thumb, do not publish more than one sponsored review for every 5 editorial posts. If you write daily on your blog, for instance, this would mean one sponsored review per week, at maximum. If you write 5 posts per month, this would mean one sponsored review per month, at maximum. This balance is important to keep your readers engaged and to make sure you’ll not lose subscribers.

Sponsored Reviews Work on Small Sites

As you probably know, a very small percentage of Internet users pay attention to text link ads (e.g., Google AdSense) or to banner ads. Click-through rates are usually lower than 1%, which means that for every 100 people visiting your blog or website, fewer than 1 will click on your ads.

That is why making money with Google AdSense or banner ads is difficult, unless you have a significant amount of traffic (e.g., 100,000 monthly unique visitors or more).

Sponsored reviews, on the other hand, will be published like any other post on your blog, and as a consequence they will be noticed by most of your readers. That is why most advertisers are willing to buy sponsored reviews, even on sites that have relatively small traffic (e.g., 20,000 or 40,000 monthly unique visitors).

Dofollow or Nofollow?

You’ll need to include a link to the company that ordered the review in your post, and at this point you’ll need to decide if you want to follow or nofollow that link.

The advantage of following the link (i.e., letting it pass link juice) is the fact that more advertisers will be interested in purchasing sponsored reviews from you, because apart from the traffic they will also get some search engine juice via your link.

The drawback is that following links on a sponsored review violate’s Google policies, and over the long term your website could be penalized. The penalty would probably be a loss of nominal PageRank (i.e., not the real PageRank, but the one showed in the toolbars), which means that your search traffic shouldn’t suffer.

We recommend that you nofollow the links in the sponsored reviews to be compliant with Google’s policy.

Finding Sponsors

At this point you might be wondering how you will find companies interested in purchasing sponsored reviews. The first place you should look for are the ad networks speciailized in sponsored reviews. The two largest ones are SponsoredReviews.com and SocialSpark.com. You just need to create an account on these networks, and within some days you should start receiving offers. The price per review is usually low, but you can use these marketplaces to meet potential advertisers and then negotiate directly with them.

Another resource you can use are banner ad networks like BuySellAds.com. Companies that are already spending money on banner ads have a high chance of being interested in sponsored reviews, too, so it’s just a matter of contacting the ones that have products or services related to your niche and audience.

Include Sponsored Reviews In Your “Advertise” Page

If you are selling advertising space on your website you probably already have an “Advertise” page right? This is basically a page highlighting the statistics of your site and illustrating the advertising options, placements, prices and so on. If you don’t have such page yet, well, you should!

Once you start offering sponsored reviews it would be a good idea to include the details about them in your “Advertise” page, too. You can mention details about the length of the reviews, elements included (e.g., links, screenshots), and the price.

And here is a trick that will increase the number of requests you’ll get: include a link to your “Advertise” page along with the disclosure line on each review. For example, you could use an opening line like this:

This is a sponsored review. If you want to get your product or service reviewed on this blog, check the details here.

The words “check the details here” would be linked to your “Advertise” page. This trick is very effective because any potential advertisers reading that review would be able to see the value of getting reviewed, and they would be tempted to check the details and get in touch with you to purchase a review for their products, too.

Offering Indirect Reviews

Whether you should sell sponsored reviews or not is up to you. Some people are fine with it, others do not want to mix content with advertising, and that is fine.

If you are conservative and don’t want to risk any ethical problems, however, you can still benefit from the sponsored review model. You just need to use it indirectly.

That is, you could offer a review to advertisers who purchase one of your banner spots for a long term. Let’s suppose you sell a 300×250 spot on top of your sidebar for $200 monthly and a 125×125 spot at the bottom of the sidebar for $50. You could offer a sponsored review as a bonus to any advertiser purchasing 3 months ahead of the 300×250 spot (which would cost $600) or 12 months ahead of the 125×125 (which would also cost $600).

The bonus would encourage some advertisers to enter into the long term agreement, increasing your profits. At the same time the advertiser would be paying for the banner, and not for the review, so there would be no ethical issue.

In fact when writing the post you don’t even need to call it a sponsored review. You could title it “Meet Our New Sponsor”, and proceed to describe the product or service is offering, and why you think it is useful for your audience.

Action Points

  1. If you are not sure about selling sponsored reviews, consider test driving it first. You could run a poll to see what your readers think about it, or even publish one sponsored review directly and monitor the reactions.
  2. If you decide to start selling them, remember to add the details on your “Advertise” page.
  3. Join and browse the marketplace of ad networks to find companies interested in purchase a sponsored review on your site.
  4. Remember to link to your “Advertise” page from each sponsored review you publish, as this will certainly increase the number of review requests you’ll get.

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