Yesterday I wrote about the many requests I get from people offering to provide content for the blog and commenters shared my puzzlement as to what exactly the business model is. How can they make enough money on ads that they can afford to pay me? This morning, I got another offer that was more explicit about what they were offering and thus sheds some light on what is going on because it explicitly describes the business model. Here is the message. (I have replaced the person’s name with X and their website with Y.org.) It begins with the now-common faux-friendly ‘Hey’.
I’m X from Y.org and I was wondering whether you’d be interested in working with an advertiser on immediate paid blogging opportunities on your blog?
Basically, you’d get blog content written for you, in your blogging style including some useful links for your readers and you’d be paid for your time to review and publish it. Most bloggers who decide to do this get weekly opportunities that can earn them a substantial income.
What do you think?
Y.org – We connect bloggers with advertisers.
What is going on here seems to be a combination of factors. Advertisers have realized that commercials are less effective than more subtle effects that do not look like advertising. Product placement in films, TV, and other media where the character is shown driving a particular car, using a certain computer, drinking a certain beer or soda, is part of this trend. The next level of subtlety is people being paid to hang out in places like bars and coffee shops and, in casual conversations with others who may even be strangers, praise some product that they say they like. So if you are in some busy place and talking to your companion about something and a stranger nearby says, “I couldn’t help overhear what you said. I bought X and really liked it”, you may have been targeted by one of these paid ‘leaners’. If the speaker is young, attractive, and friendly, people are less likely to take offense at being thus interrupted by a stranger.
Having seemingly disinterested people speak highly of a product is better than obviously paid shills. At present, when I praise a film or book, it is likely to mean more to readers because it represents my genuine feelings, and businesses like this want to exploit that. So I suspect that if I joined up, I would get articles that would subtly promote some product and thus help build this phony ‘word of mouth’ buzz for it.
Another reason for this practice is to game the search engine algorithms. When we search for something on the internet, the ranking of the results matter a lot. The goal is to be high up on the first page of search results. If your link does not appear there, it will likely never be clicked on. But while the ranking algorithms are secret, it is known that it depends on how many people link to that site and also the ranking of the site that that is doing the linking. The ranking of a site depends on the amount of traffic and also the nature of the site. When I was blogging at my former site at my university, I would have been more desirable because the ‘.edu’ domain name carries greater weight and credibility than my current ‘.com’. That is one thing that puzzles me about the most recent offer. The site is a ‘.org’, and I thought that this high-level domain category was reserved for non-profits and the like, so how this commercial business got it beats me.
I was also intrigued by the offer that the blog posts that I would be supplied with would be in my own ‘blogging style’. Even though I am no P. G. Wodehouse or Ernest Hemingway with a highly distinctive writing style, mimicking someone else’s style takes at least some effort to customize boilerplate material. Would it really be worthwhile for them to do that? Or would they send out identical articles to every blogger they sign up and assume that we would modify it to suit our needs?
Something that troubles me is that I am getting such offers even though I am not a top tier blogger. This must mean that they pursue even more vigorously those bloggers who have a much higher profile. Which of them have signed up, so that when we read their stuff thinking it is their own thoughts, we are really reading a paid advertisement?