The Ratings Game

For the past week or so, the two top television networks in my country have been on a word war about their ratings. Network A (let’s call them Networks A and B) has been claiming that Network B is bribing households in a certain town to switch to their channels during noon time (considered prime time here) so that the survey/audit company’s data-gathering will be in Network B’s favor.

Network B has filed defamation suits in the courts of law, and lately both Network A and B have been having hourly commercial spots airing out their respective positions, in their own defense.

Seems to me like it’s going to be a trial by publicity. At the back of my mind, I laugh about the silliness of it all. For one, the town concerned is miles away from where I live–the country’s capital–and I couldn’t care less about the ratings in that town. Secondly, as a consumer of multimedia, I don’t really give a hoot about ratings or such, as long as I get good quality programs.

However, it dawned upon me that the reason behind all this fuss is money. For us consumers ratings could simply be indicators of how popular a television (or radio) channel or network is, for a given time of the day. However, for the network and for the media industry, ratings represent pricing power. For media that are not able to count exact “hits” or “page views” ratings are used as an indication of popularity and reach. This translates to how much the television network or station can charge advertisers, particularly as they price ad spots on cost per thousand pairs of eyeballs (or impressions, if that’s a better term).

So the ratings game is not silly at all, because we bloggers are also part of that game. In our case, though, “ratings” are easier to come by, with the various metrics software that help us measure and analyze traffic, such as our very own pMetrics. We also have other (more-or-less external) means of rating our sites, such as PageRank, Alexa ranking, Technorati rank, and the like. These, then, affect our pricing power implicitly or explicitly, whether for pricing ad spots, text links or sponsored reviews (some of which are frowned upon by some in the community, I know).

Sometimes it’s implicit because in some cases, it’s purely the traffic and the niche covered by our blogs that affect how well we earn, and we cannot really influence too much the outcome, such as with clickthrough rates and payments per click. In some cases, it’s explicit, like when a higher-PageRank site can fetch higher ad rates than others. In any case, these are analogous to what television and radio networks have with their “ratings.”

Perhaps in the same way that the above-cited Networks A and B are battling it on air, we bloggers have also used our own mediums to discuss the various “ratings” related issues that have affected us, like PageRank drops, and even the ethics of selling links or sponsored reviews. So again, is it silly? Maybe not–if what we are talking about puts food on our plates, pays the bills, and sends our kids to school.

Of course, this is from the perspective of the producer of the media. So for us bloggers–particularly those involved in blogging as a business or profession–traffic matters. PageRank matters. Other ranking methods matter. But for a reader, what does really matter? For some, metrics may influence how we initially view a site. A blog that has a higher PR or Technorati rating could be a more ideal destination than one that is less popular.

However, being an avid blog reader myself, I can say that metrics and such “ratings” go only as far as being helpful as “first impressions” of a blog. What matters more to me is the quality of the content, and relevancy to my interests, and of course, if the writer is able to reach out to me in a way I like. It’s similar to how I would rather watch intelligently-written and presented TV series from a channel with low ratings, than watch crappy programming just because it’s popular among viewers.

So how about those networks with their rating wars? I’d say just focus on fixing the quality of your content, and perhaps the good ratings will follow!

Taking Social Responsibility for Your Ads

TechCrunch pulled an interesting stunt the other day, asking the readers if they should accept advertising from PayPerPost, er, Izea, for their new RateRank product. A poll, which got 3,437 votes – a pretty puny number given that TechCrunch’s got 626k+ readers according to the FeedBurner badget – said no, and so the answer from TechCrunch to Izea was no.

I’m all for reader integration like this, Wisdump readers know that, but I’m also a bit curious as to how Michael Arrington reasoned here. He voted “no” himself according to the post, and that should be the end of story, right?

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The Viability of Micro-Tipping

I recently stumbled upon ScratchBack, one of the latest projects by Jim Kukral. ScratchBack presents itself as an online tipping system that lets your readers send you small payments for a link and several lines of text on your blog or website.

ScratchBack is an online “tipping” system. It allows you, the publisher, to accept tips and “give back” links* or images* in return.

You name your price on your tips, and you earn money from every interaction through our easy-to-use automated system. It’s free to sign-up, and you can have a TopSpot widget on your website or blog in minutes.

Think of it as a mix between text link ads and a tagboard. Readers get to post messages, but unlike a free-for-all tagboard, anyone who would like to leave a link and a message would have to pay for the space. Rates can range from anywhere as small as $1 (or less?) per link, to as high as you want. And the duration of each “message” can last for as short as a day, to a week, to a month, or until newer messages bump off the older ones.

This made me think about the viability of this as a model for blog monetization. Then it came to me. Aggregating the small stuff can lead to bigger stuff. Most of you would know of this concept already as one of the oft-used (and over-used) concepts of new media: the long tail.

More of the small stuff results in big stuff

Having dinner out yesterday evening, the family came across a small store that sells stuff for 50 cents apiece (or the equivalent in my local currency). You have all sorts of simple kids’ toys, household implements, hairbands, pens, notepads, notebooks, folders–name any cheap stuff, they have it. One would tend to think these things are so inexpensive it’s probably worth grabbing a few. And at these prices, our minds would be conditioned to think these are mostly necessities anyway, or at least stuff convenient to have around (my desk is constantly running out of good pens and notepads, for instance).

Our purchases totaled about $10, I think. So much for cheap 50-cent items.

What I mean is that if the price is low enough, consumers or buyers would consider it negligible enough that a purchase decision shouldn’t be too hard. In terms of link advertising, I would carefully weigh my options and choices, were I to pay for links or ad space somewhere in the tune of hundreds of dollars. However, I wouldn’t think twice about tipping a good blog with a buck for a few lines of text.

Sure, I can get a free link by writing a comment on a post. But if it’s convenient enough (meaning I wouldn’t have to go through ten sign-up steps just to send that one measly dollar), then I’d probably be happy to part with a small sum. And I get that warm, fuzzy feeling of having made a fellow blogger one dollar richer.

And for a blogger, having a handful of micro-tips per day could add up to good money each month. Probably enough to pay for hosting, bandwidth, DSL bills, or perhaps a spiffy new blog theme. Hmm, micropatronage campaigns might be a good idea after all.

Of course, there are arguments against blogging for tips, which can be a hit-or miss thing (remember this experiment way back?). But then this system isn’t exactly for donations per se, since tippers get something in return. I’ve seen a lot of “tip this blogger” PayPal buttons out there and I tend to ignore them. Yes, some ask for regular subscriptions, but unless I get added value out of my tip or subscription, I probably won’t bite. So this ScratchBack system seems to be more interesting than plain ol’ tipping.

Would you try out ScratchBack? And would you think such a system would prove to be a viable means of monetizing blogs? And would you agree with me that feeling warm and fuzzy all over makes blogging worth it?

Visiting the Web Past: Lillian Vernon, Catalog and Web Pioneer

A few years ago, I found an article on SCORE, a non-profit group of retired professionals, by the veteran catalog guru, Lillian Vernon, called From My Kitchen Tabletop to Your Computer Laptop.

In the fascinating article, she shares her insights and history of the Lillian Vernon Corporation and catalog from a small kitchen business to a worldwide company with millions of dollars in sales online every year.
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Improve My Site: Why I Returned The Money From a Paid Web Consultancy Job

Eager for my expertise, a company recently hired me to improve their web traffic by reviewing their web design, content, and structure.

I don’t do “web traffic” work. Traffic isn’t important. The numbers aren’t important. The ones who stick around, and pay for the privilege, aren’t on a normal score card. To influence me to take them on, they told me that they wanted to improve their online presence, visibility, and really connect to their customers, expanding their reputation to a global market, as well as be more attractive to modern shoppers and web users.

Basically, their site was six months old and not working for them. They wanted an expert to tell them why. With misgivings, I decided to take them on. In the end, I gave them their money back. Here’s why.
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Blogging For Hobby Or Money

I write and photograph, and play on the web. Okay, it’s more serious than that, but many think of these things as hobbies. I’ve never thought there were hobbies. They are jobs. My career. My business. I’ve been selling my writing and photography since I was 15. Blogging and web publishing was a natural career move as technology developed along with my skills and business. Writing and photography aren’t hobbies. They paid the rent.

Along with my work, I have hobbies, too. A hobby is something you do for fun, relaxation, and enjoyment. It’s a change from the day-to-day grind of your job, whatever your job is. Luckily, most of us live in a society that allows us hours away from a paid job to do something other than work.

For most, their hobby brings creativity and fun into their lives. It stretches the mind and body, actually making them a better worker for the time away from the job. Hobbies are wonderful things and they need to be honored.

The moment you make money with your hobby, your hobby becomes a business. Things change. You change. The hobby changes.

Recently, people have a new attitude about hobbies. I learned how to knit last year and I’m having some fun with it, making mistakes as one does when they are learning. I sit waiting in airports and offices, knitting away mindlessly, enjoying this new hobby that allows my mind to wander while my hands are busy and I’m accomplishing something. I like hobbies which make things.

Someone notices and they start chatting, eventually leading up to:

You Can Make Money Selling That

I cannot count how many people have admired whatever I was working on with these words, “You could make money selling that.”
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TechCrunch brings in $240k p/m in advertising – signs of a profitable blog

The San Francisco Chronicle has published an interesting, long, article about the potential profitability of blogs. Citing TechCrunch as an example of a successful blog with low overheads which owner Mike Arrington claims now makes $240k per month in advertising revenue, the article collects the views of a number of experts in the Bay Area — “a center of the blogging business”.

“As traditional media continue to contract, this stuff is going to expand,” said Steve King, senior fellow with the Society for New Communications Research, a Palo Alto think tank. “The business models have caught up and you’re starting to see little blog publishing companies that frankly are becoming not so little.”

Professional blogs “are at a fork in the road,” said Lisa Stone, co-founder and CEO of BlogHer, an online company operating a women’s blogging network. “Any publisher has to implement (ethical) guidelines. If someone recommends a mixer, a diaper or a personal digital assistant, it has to be because they absolutely love it. It’s the only way to succeed.”

“This is the next evolution of media,” said Jon Callaghan, a partner with True Ventures

Nick Denton of Gawker Media calls for caution: “A few self-sustaining blog media businesses do seem to have emerged. But they’re still minuscule by the standards of traditional media. And none have weathered a downturn. So it would be unwise to sound too triumphant.”

It’s good to see traditional media continuing to pay positive attention to blogging, though I hope it doesn’t give the impression that making significant money from blogging is a given, or that a large proportion of bloggers will easily do it.

How To Prevent Ad Blocking — Some Sensible Strategies

When fringe political author Danny Carlton decided to block the Firefox browser from visiting his site, he sparked a firestorm of controversy.

According to Carlton, the issue is a popular Firefox plugin known as Adblock Plus (ABP), which enables users to filter out advertisements on the sites they visit. Since there was, at that time, no means of detecting ABP, Carlton blocked all Firefox users to prevent what he called an “infringement of the rights of web site owners and developers.”

Most Webmasters and bloggers have no desire to take this issue to the extremes Carlton has. The majority, in fact, have no real interest in it at all. Even the major players, right now, have taken no interest in these applications as they just aren’t popular enough to warrant fighting.

However, as spam blogs and misguided Webmasters make advertising more prominent and annoying, the popularity of these tools can only grow. A large-scale clash in the courtroom may be inevitable, but in the meantime regular bloggers are left with few reasonable options. Even if ad blocking is illegal, enforcing it will only be an option for larger players such as Google and Myspace, who have millions potentially at stake.

The question becomes, how can a Webmaster keep their revenue stream intact, even if some of their viewers are blocking ads.

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UK mainstream media look at “blogging for dosh”

Now that the mainstream media is at least used to — if not either in love with or hostile to — the concept of blogging as more than simply personal diaries by sad geeks or teenagers, a number are also tuning into the possibility that they can be used to make money.

The Times newspaper has an interesting article on “Blogging for Dosh” which examines the possibility that some people are creating and writing blogs with the primary intention of making money.

Jim Furtado is one of those hoping for cyber success of his own. Furtado started his blog, Baseball Think Factory, nearly six years ago when he was working as a fireman in Massachusetts and had lots of free time. “Every firefighter has two jobs,” he explains. But what began as a hobby has slowly become more like a business, and now the Boston Red Sox fan says he spends about 40 hours a week working on the site – in addition to his regular job. Furtado is a bit frustrated, his time for writing about baseball crowded out by the demands of keeping the technology working and chasing down ads. “It’s not as much fun as when I first started it,” he says.

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Theme Sponsorship at Performancing

Last April, I wrote about sponsored WordPress themes, in light of Blogging Pro’s release of their InSense theme with a sponsored link at the footer (but not a required link, as users can take it out). Performancing has also been exploring this business model, with the recent PhotoPress theme, recent announcement that sponsorship for News Theme, the Performancing Theme slated for release this coming August has opened, with $500 as the starting bid.

We are now taking bids for the August 2007 Performancing Theme sponsorship. Bids start at $500.

To give you a sense of the value of a sponsorship, take our first sponsor, Fusilly T-Shirts for the Photopress Theme. That theme has only been released for about three weeks, and yet a search on the linked keyphrase “funny t-shirt” brings Fusilly up on the front page of the Google SERPS (as of this writing). That’s a relatively high-competition keyphrase placing on the front page relatively quickly.

Performancing cites the SEO benefit as the main come-on for sponsors. You get your choice of link URL and anchor text to include. However, there are no 100% guarantees (as with most search-optimizing techniques, in my opinion). Still, with a clean-looking Design Disease creation like the News Theme (click for live demo) I can say the theme will be popular among bloggers who wish to establish a serious and professional look for their blogs.