With blog search engine Technorati now tracking over 66 million blogs, and market research firm Bluestreak reporting that 63% of the online audience reads blogs, online advertisers are paying increased attention to this emerging content category.
PQ Media expects blog advertising to rise from an estimated $16.6 million in 2006 to over $300 million by 2010. FeedBurner data indicates that trend is already in motion, with its own blog advertising inventory up 300% in the past three months alone. And with politics being a popular category for blog content and readership, the 2008 U.S. elections stand to bring blog advertising into sharp focus. A recent Wall Street Journal article suggests that online campaign spending stands to rise from $29 million in 2004 to over $80 million in the ’08 elections — and many of those dollars are headed straight for the political blogs.
What Makes a Blog a Blog?
Before we look at the blog advertising opportunity for marketers, let’s start with a few definitions, and compare the typical blog to a traditional online media site (if we can use “traditional” in a discussion of online media, an industry that’s only existed for 10-12 years).
While most blogs are easy to spot, as commercial publishers (e.g., newspapers) enter the category with their own blog offerings, the lines between a blog and non-blog are sometimes blurry. Two features differentiate a blog from another site format. First, the page is organized around a series of individual posts, each one wholly contained on a single page and organized in reverse chronological order. Secondly, blogs invite user participation and feedback via comments. Blogs have ushered in the “read / write” era of web content.
Blog Tools and Platforms
The number of blogs will continue to grow rapidly, as there are several platforms that are introducing more people to this type of site format, and making it very easy for individuals to create and manage a blog. In the early days of blogging, standalone software from Blogger, Six Apart, and WordPress allowed users to create nice looking blogs right out of the box. The next generation of blogs has been driven by the portals, as AOL (Journals), Microsoft (Spaces), Yahoo! (Yahoo! 360), Google, and MySpace all offer turnkey blogging platforms.
Over the past two years, companies have been formed to aggregate blogs into networks of properties.
Most bloggers do not attract a large enough audience to attract advertisers on their own accord — nor do they have the resources (namely, people and/or money) to build an ad-supported business. But when combined with other similar blogs, the network starts to have appeal to an advertiser. Third-party ad networks such as Burst Media and Tribal Fusion offer the same aggregation for a large number of web sites. Most digital media planners are responsible for deploying sizable online advertising budgets for their clients, and don’t have time to identify and negotiate ad opportunities with a long list of individual blogs. So the network operators are helping to jumpstart the blog advertising category by creating a more efficient marketplace.
Evolution of Blog Advertising
But is blog advertising ready for prime time? In the early days, most bloggers tried to earn money from their publishing efforts by adding paid search to their sites. As some sites began to rise in popularity, they were able to attract advertisers willing to pay on a cost-per-thousand (CPM) model for access to their audience, and display ads made their way to the blogs — let’s call that the “2.0” era of blog advertising. But do the existing ad units and locations really take advantage of the site format and viewing patterns on blogs? Do we really understand these audiences, and are we providing advertisers with innovations around media alternatives, sponsorships, targeting, and contextual matching?
We expect to see several developments in 2007, all of which will create additional marketing opportunities for advertisers and attract more spending to this category of content.
One key difference between a blog and a typical page of content is the length of the homepage.
Most pageviews for a media site contain little more than one screenful of content. Users may scroll down below the fold to finish a story, but rarely does a user advance through two full screens of content. The typical blog, meanwhile, contains posts on the homepage that allow a user to scroll through multiple screenfuls of content.
The ad zones — the locations where ads are positioned on the page relevant to the content – on most blogs have not evolved to take advantage of the new readership pattern that’s emerged. To their credit, when ad zones were first created on the popular blogs, the ad units were often IAB-standard. This helps attract advertisers to this new category of content. At the same time, the ad zones reflect the site design and readership pattern of non-blog pageviews. Many blogs offer a banner or leaderboard across the top, and one or more vertical ads — like a skyscraper — on the left or right rail. Scroll down past the first post, and you will rarely encounter an ad…you’ve entered content utopia, an ad-free land of blog content with little or no adjacent advertising.