Do you remember the moment when you first realized you could make money on the internet? I remember vividly because it wasn’t very long ago.
I had just returned to blogging after an absence of more than a decade (“blogging” wasn’t even a word when I left), and everything was different. There were alternatives to static HTML sites and Geocities. There were enormous blogs with millions of followers. There were people getting book deals left and right – and even people making a full-time income just from their blogs.
I was far from the first person to wonder how they were doing it. How was it possible to go from a little dinky blog with 10 visitors a week to thousands of dollars in online income? And how could I get in on it?
Well, I’m sick of all the secrecy. I’m not giving away anything you can’t hunt down with some well-worded Google searches, but it’s always funny to me how reluctant people are to talk about private advertising. Here’s the truth about sponsored posts – where they come from, how people get them, and why no one talks about them.
Private Ads = Sponsored Posts (For the Most Part)
Put simply, private ads mean that someone is paying a blogger to put up a link, graphic, and/or blog post. For example, a company may pay a certain dollar amount per month or year for a banner ad.
This isn’t as simple as it sounds, however. Most of the time, when a company pays upfront like that, they aren’t really placing the ad in hopes that a bunch of people will click on it (though everyone involved pretends they are). Instead, they are placing links in hopes of manipulating PageRank.
If a large blog or website with high PageRank links to your blog, it’s like they’re saying, “Hey, this site is great and I endorse it.” A little bit of that site’s “link juice” is passed onto your site, and with enough of those “references” your own PageRank will increase.
So what do companies do? They pay employees to scour the internet for high-quality blogs in their niche and convince the bloggers to link to the company’s website. Most of the time they’ll try to do that for free by asking to “guest post” on your blog, but if you’re savvy enough to recognize the tactic for what it is, many of them will offer to pay for the link. A popular blog can receive dozens of these requests in a given month, resulting in thousands of dollars in income.
So Why’s That a Secret?
The problem is, Google doesn’t like it when people or companies try to manipulate PageRank. If you can buy your way to a good ranking, PageRank is no longer a measure of quality – it’s a measure of who has the most money to spend. If Google’s top secret algorithm detects what it calls “unnatural links,” or links that were placed for the sole purpose of gaming the system, you could suddenly find yourself with a PageRank of zero.
Believe me when I tell you, the googlebots are very skilled at finding paid links. Just yesterday, several of my fellow bloggers woke up to find they’d been “Google slapped” during the night and now have no PageRank. This also happened to a large number of blogs in spring 2012, including one of my own.
(Note: There are legitimate forms of sponsorship, such as when a company sends a product for review and the content is clearly marked as sponsored or compensated. If a company asks you to identify a paid post as a “guest post” or not at all, that should be considered a red flag.)
Why Risk It?
Bloggers accept private ads for two main reasons: (1) You don’t have to have a lot of traffic to get them and (2) you can make a TON of money from them, especially if you own multiple blogs in the same niche.
Other monetization strategies such as affiliate ads or Google AdSense require thousands of visits for any real results. For example, my personal blog gets about 50,000 pageviews per month, 60% of which come from search (search traffic is more likely to click on ads).
You know how much I make from AdSense? About $50 a month if I’m lucky. It’s obvious that I’m not going to get rich from those types of advertising. By comparison, sponsored posts seem like an easy way to make extra money.
The Bottom Line
Sponsored posts are a popular form of advertising because bloggers receive a lot of financial gain for very little work. However, sponsored posts can be detrimental to your site’s quality and can even have a negative effect on where your posts appear in search results.
If you choose to accept sponsored posts, be aware that you could lose your PageRank at any time. Since PageRank affects pricing for these posts (higher PageRank means you can charge more per link), your income stream could be cut off overnight, leaving you with a blog that looks spammy and no longer earns money.
While it’s true that legitimate monetization strategies are more difficult, that’s because there is no good way to get rich quick on the internet. No matter what the gurus say (you know, the ones selling their ebooks, coaching, etc. that are supposed to make you rich), the only way to make real money online is to provide something awesome that people want.
It’s up to you to decide whether you’ll accept sponsored posts on your blog, but it’s important to be aware of the potential consequences. Stay informed! See this video from Google’s Matt Cutts regarding unnatural links.