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As Corporate Ad Money Flows Their Way, Bloggers Risk Their Rebel Reputation

Published: November 26, 2005

When Anita Campbell started her Web log about small-business trends two years ago, she thought it would simply be a service for her clients and help her consulting business grow.

Instead, she said, the blog "just took off," attracting more readers than she had dreamed of. Then, companies offered to pay her to post advertisements and product mentions on her site. There were enough offers, she said, that she could choose to work with only the ones relevant to her readers. And so, her blog, once just a marketing tool, became a money generator on its own.

"I never try to hide the fact that I am writing about an advertiser," she said in an e-mail statement. "But I also don't apologize for accepting advertising, and I make it clear that just like everyone else I have to earn a living and pay the expenses of keeping the site going."

After beginning as a vehicle for anti-establishment, noncommercial writers, many Web logs have laid out welcome mats for corporate America in the last couple of years. No one tracks how much advertising money is flowing to Web logs. Nor is it clear how many bloggers, like Ms. Campbell, disclose their sponsors. But when writers have not been completely open, their fellow bloggers have been quick to criticize.

Businesses have noticed the growing readership and influence of these Internet postings and are spending $50 million to $100 million this year on blog advertising and marketing, said Charlene Li, an analyst at Forrester Research, a company that looks at the impact of technology on business and consumers. Recognizing that blogs have become more mainstream, companies are paying for advertisements or mentions on blogs, courting blog writers with public relations efforts and inviting writers to come blog on one of their corporate sites.

The blogosphere, companies said, is an important place to have a presence, and blog writers are not shying away from the attention.

"The attitude has completely changed from where it was two years ago and even a year ago," said Jim Kukral, the publisher of ReveNews, a site about making money from Web logs. "People have started to realize that, hey, this is fun; we've proven it's fun; I enjoy doing it; now let's apply a few advertising techniques and make some money."

There is now an annual Blog Business Summit and several books on how to make money blogging.

Many blog writers have signed up for Google's AdSense program, which started in 2003 and pays Web publishers based on how many times advertisements on their sites receive clicks. Google places the ads on participating Web sites using contextual word matching, in an attempt to ensure that the advertisements relate to the content on the page.

Bloggers are also making money through "affiliate networks," which, in contrast to Google's automated system, allow blog writers to choose which advertisements to put on their pages. They also can be paid based on how often ads on their sites lead to sales rather than how often the ads receive clicks. Shareasale, Commission Junction and LinkShare are three such network companies.

"You have all these self-publishers, people like the bloggers, who suddenly become business partners with Fortune 500 companies," said Heidi S. Messer, the president and chief operating officer of LinkShare, which connects Web writers with companies like Dell, Wal-Mart and Apple Computer.

Sometimes blog writers make money by simply linking to companies' home pages. Companies come up higher in Google, Yahoo and other search engines when they are frequently linked to and mentioned on many sites, including blogs.

USWeb, an online marketing firm, has run campaigns this year that pay people $5 to mention a company or link to its site. Most of the companies USWeb works with do not allow the company to identify them, said Ed Shull, the chief executive of USWeb, but some that he can mention include, a watch and jewelry company; Dot Flowers; and Terra Entertainment.

Currently, USWeb is asking people with personal profile pages on, a social networking site, to include a trailer from Terra Entertainment's coming release of the film "One Perfect Day" on their pages. In exchange, these Web users will have their names listed on the end of the credits on the film's DVD, Mr. Shull said.

USWeb has been criticized by some blog writers for not requiring its network of about 5,000 blog writers to disclose payments. It is currently completing guidelines on how bloggers should disclose that they were paid to mention products, Mr. Shull said.

"We are still leaving this as an option to bloggers," he said in an e-mail statement, "but we do recommend that they disclose to readers that advertisers do support the site through paid mentions."

To be sure, most blog writers do not make any money, and those who do often make only enough to pay their site fees. There are now at least 21.5 million Web logs worldwide, according to Technorati, a company that tracks blog postings. Many blogs remain primarily personal postings that Internet users pursue purely because of their own interests.

Still, large numbers of online writers are interested in making money.

Large blog Web sites like Gawker Media and Weblogs have offered blog writers another opportunity to cash in. These sites display their postings alongside that of many other writers, increasing bloggers' abilities to attract readers and advertisers.

So far, the idea seems to be working. Jason McCabe Calacanis, chief executive of Weblogs, a site acquired by the America Online unit of Time Warner this fall, said the site would generate a few million dollars this year. Weblog's 140 bloggers are paid based on how often they write, he said. A Forrester Research survey found in February that 64 percent of national marketers are interested in advertising on blogs.

Audi, for example, paid for about 70 million ads about its A3 compact model on 286 Web logs in the spring. Many of the blog ads featured links to other blogs that mentioned Audi's campaign for the A3, not to Audi's site, said Brian Clark, chief executive of GMD Studios, an experimental media firm that worked with Audi's advertising agency to create the campaign.

"It was a substantial buy, and it was a really effective buy for the campaign in terms of the response," Mr. Clark said. "You find that blogs are these series of citational records of what bloggers read. People with blogs read blogs. You get a feedback cycle."

Web logs also give advertisers the chance to aim at specific readers. If you want to advertise to New York Mets fans, for example, you can easily find blogs that cater to those readers, Mr. Clark said.

Last spring, Volvo spent several million dollars to sponsor Microsoft's MSN Spaces, a site that offers free Web logs and personal pages. The blog investment was worth it, said Anna Papadopoulos, the interactive media director at Euro RSCG 4D, a division of Havas that is running Volvo's Web log campaign. Since April, about five million pages have been set up by individuals, and a million people have visited Volvo's home page directly from the blog site, she said.

"These are people that we wouldn't have gotten through other marketing efforts," Ms. Papadopoulos said.

SBC Communications, which adopted the AT&T name on Monday, has found that advertisements on the blog site it started last fall,, have a higher click-through rate to its home page than its advertisements have had on other Web sites, said Michael Grasso, associate vice president for consumer marketing at AT&T.

Companies are also starting Web logs on their sites written by their employees. General Motors, for example, created two within the last year. Blogs may eventually replace many of the company's news releases, said Michael Wiley, director of new media for General Motors.

General Motors has also started to treat some Web log writers as it does traditional journalists, and is deciding which bloggers to invite to media showings of its new cars.

"It's very similar to media relations, but it's a little more grass roots," Mr. Wiley said. "The level of respect for certain influential bloggers is certainly growing."

When Piaggio USA, the makers of Vespa scooters, decided to include a Web log on its site, the company recruited Vespa customers who were already blogging about scooters. The two Vespa blogs, which started posting last summer, do not pay the writers and ask the writers not to sell later the material they write for Vespa.

One Vespa writer, Neil Barton, said he was willing to blog on Vespa's site free because of the visibility it would give his blogs, formerly published only on his own site,

"I just thought, well you know, no one really knows about UrbanNerd, but a lot of people know about Vespa, so it will be a cool way to get what I'm writing out there," said Mr. Barton, who lives in New Jersey. "The only limit I could see with Vespa is if I wanted to write about a competitor's scooter. I probably would post it on my blog as opposed to Vespa's."


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