A year ago I wrote about the ethics of publishing sponsored reviews, and I have been watching developments closely since then. Following up from my recent post when bloggers sell out audiences stop reading, I’ve been doing more research about the economics behind the commercialisation of blogs and the ‘sponsored’ advertorial or infommercial content that commercialised blogs publish.
There’s not much information around but what I have found is sufficiently interesting to warrant further discussion. This post will focus on these issues: how much traffic blogs receive, how geographically relevant the traffic is to the audiences targeted by Australian advertisers, how much advertising agencies earn from advertisers to manage social media advertising campaigns, and what cut of the income bloggers receive.
It is not my intention to criticise individual bloggers. In my previous post I was careful not to name anyone, and I linked to relevant posts only to illustrate my argument. In this post naming sites is unavoidable, and where I refer to sites it is only because they contain information to further the argument. I will also refer to information I have previously disclosed about Fitzroyalty to provide a basis of comparison to discuss traffic.
The April 2010 article Bloggers in the marketing mix, written by a staff member of the blog advertising agency referenced in my earlier post, provides some interesting information. The article reports that “With over 130,000 monthly blog reads [fashion blog Super Kawaii Mama] is not too far behind popular fashion journal Grazia [in terms of readership].”
I’m not sure what the definition of a ‘blog read’ is. It sounds like a made up term. Is it the equivalent of a hit or a page view? I’ll have to assume that it is a page view. In comparison, Fitzroyalty receives over 100,000 page views per month (according to WordPress.com statistics). In August 2010 it was 110,267. But according to Google Analytics, it was only 37,188 pageviews. My hypothesis is that WordPress counts RSS views whereas Google does not, but I don’t really know.
According to these web marketing articles (here and here), measuring hits is useless as hits are merely calls to the server, and a single visit to a single page could result in multiple hits on the server as it loads various page items. Measuring visits, or page views, is more relevant.
The publisher of Super Kawaii Mama states that her site “receives in excess of 3000 readers daily and continues to grow.” It is not clear if this number refers to unique visitors or individual page views, and a total monthly visitor number is not provided to validate against what Krupp says its traffic is. Fitzroyalty receives over 3,000 page views on average per day.
We’re both miniscule compared to the Sydney food blog Not Quite Nigella, which reports “over 140,000 unique readers a month and over 350,000 page views a month.” Presumably someone with that level of traffic doesn’t write for a few free blocks of chocolate or cans of dog food.
Geographical relevance is an undervalued and poorly understood aspect of social media. There’s not much point in writing for a geographically specific audience, such as Australia, in order to target Australian advertisers, if your largest audience is international.
If a site’s content has relevance to the whole world and has been optimised to attract lots of traffic from search results, then it is likely to generate a significant proportion of its traffic from outside Australia. Fashion is such a topic, and the geographical split of the Super Kawaii Mama audience reveals that Australian advertisers would only access a minority of its readers: “American readers count for approximately 40% of traffic, closely followed by Australians at 30%.”
In comparison, according to Google Analytics, 82% of Fitzroyalty’s traffic (based on the month of August 2010) is from Australia, with 65% of total (worldwide) traffic from Melbourne. The traffic from Melbourne is 79% of all Australian traffic. It would be great to know what Nigella’s geographical traffic split is.
Fitzroyalty’s primary topic is Melbourne itself so this may not be a useful comparison, but it is still intriguing: 82% of 100,000 is 82,000, but 30% of 130,000 is only 39,000. Based on these figures, does Fitzroyalty have a larger audience in Australia than Super Kawaii Mama?
As advertising campaigns are managed based on national boundaries, geographical split is very important. I wonder if Australian advertisers realise that the nationality of a site’s location and that of its primary audience are not necessarily the same thing?
A September 2010 newspaper article reports that an agency’s “most popular fashion bloggers have had up to 100,000 hits on “sponsored posts” about a brand’s designs.” The time period these hits were received in is not disclosed, so it is not known whether they were received during the limited period of a specific advertising campaign, or overall (in other words over months during and after a campaign). This figure is more or less meaningless and potentially misleading.
It’s not known if the agency’s figures refer only to Australia (or the broader Asia-Pacific area it does business in). If all the numbers quoted here do refer only to Australia, and they are combined, how can 30% of the audience generating a total of 130,000 individual page views a month generate over 100,000 page views on an individual post within a short period of time?
Am I taking crazy pills? Do these numbers make any sense? They may make sense if the brand being advertised was a global, not local, fashion brand that would attract lots if international traffic from organic search results. But I am skeptical about the accuracy of these figures if they relate only to Australian content, audiences and traffic.
The point of examining all these figures is that it different people are reporting different figures recorded by different systems that appear to be measuring different things. Publishers and advertising account managers probably have an incomplete and inaccurate view of web traffic and are potentially making uninformed decisions about the commercial value of the traffic.
Finally, according to an advertising agency representative, the media reports information about blog advertising out of context. When the advertising industry, which appears all too eager to publicise inflated and unsubstantiated traffic figures, admits that the media is not accurately reporting on this topic, this suggests that nothing we read about it can be believed.
Finally, show me the money. We learn from the same newspaper article that “integrated advertising campaigns cost fashion brands between $10,000 and $20,000.” How much of that money finds its way to the bloggers freelance writers who write the advertorial content? Very little I suspect. They get some free product from the advertiser and unknown amounts from the advertising agency.
I’d like to see some recent, relevant, accurate figures about how much they receive. For example, how much does a site that receives 100,000 hits a month from Australia receive for participating in a campaign? Please comment or post links to relevant information, including blogs that publish their traffic statistics.
The agency says it does not publish information about how much bloggers earn to protect their privacy, but that is disingenuous. Is anyone brave enough to disclose their advertising earnings, or are commercial bloggers bound by confidentiality clauses that prevent them from revealing too much information? I suspect that the gap between the agency’s income and that of the bloggers will reveal how much easy profit agencies are making at the expense of bloggers’ reputations.
How much money am I refusing to accept for not selling out? I’m curious to know, not that it will change anything I do. I remain a skeptic. For more rational advice read Louis Gray, and Read write web questions whether advertising on blogs is even effective or appropriate for brands.