So . . . About That Post That’s Been Giving Me A Headache
Turns out it’s not just one post. It’s more like a series of posts, or possibly a new reason for Brian Williams to set up a fake house in Middle America and invite people over for sweet tea and cookies. I cannot explain everything in one post, people, it’s impossible. But I’m going to chip away at it, bit by bit, and if you want to hear about it, then you can, and if not, then you can ignore me, and if you are already annoyed by the whole thing, then I suggest you take me off your reader and go on your merry way. Because my former ad network has already kicked me off for a violation that is, in my (not very humble) opinion, bullshit, so I feel like I have very little left to lose here by exposing the method by which they make their sausage to the rest of the audience. If you don’t eat very much sausage anyway, and would prefer to continue enjoying what little you do eat, that’s your choice. Stop reading now, and bear in mind that many of my posts here (though not all) in the following weeks will probably concern this topic.
Why have people seemed to be making less money on the BlogHer ad network lately? This is a question I’ve gotten over and over again in recent months? Can you please figure it out? Do you know why? Anna, will you look into it? Ever since I first addressed this issue of allocating the inventory of ads in the BlogHer Ad Network, I’ve been dreading writing the follow-up I knew I would have to write. Because even if I believe that BlogHer is a business that can do as it pleases, under the law, there is still an absence of open commentary, at present, on its revenue allocation model. And because of this, new people thinking about getting involved in the network are not able to make informed decisions about whether or not to partner with BlogHer for monetizing their blogs in its post-Pioneer Woman incarnation. Let me be clear: you are not going to find a bigger fan of Ree Drummond than myself. You are just not going to find a bigger cheerleader for her and how she has grown her business in such a short time and with so much class and grace. Period.
Also: I knew it could not be so simple as all the money is going to Ree. It just could not be that simple. And as it turns out, I was right. But the thing is, knowing that and proving how it happens are two different things, and the way online advertising works is very complicated and the system benefits from the fact that so few people are willing to take the time and effort it takes to understand how it works. Just as an introduction today, though, let me tell you the facts you need to know in order to understand the whole picture. Then, you can come back here to see the follow-up posts to get a more fleshed-out understanding of everything, because like I said, if I tried to present it all here, it would take up like sixteen screens and give us all a headache.
- BlogHer used to have approximately 20.5 million pageviews per month on its entire network total. It then added ThePioneerWoman.com, which is a site that has 21.1 million pageviews on its own. This is a big problem in terms of balancing ad inventory, as you might imagine. Now, it might be the case that ThePioneerWoman.com will be a selling point for BlogHer with advertisers, but because advertisers buy their inventories way in advance, this has not happened yet. The site was brought on the network before it was able to help promote its sales.
- BlogHer Ads Uses A Tier System That, Together With Traffic, Governs How Many Ads A Publisher Serves.
The tier system is the elusive “valve” in the metaphor I used in my post on ABDPBT on Friday. It is the most difficult thing to explain about all of this, and the thing that is going to involve graphs and probably the most crossed eyes from all of you. Remember that, as a business wanting to make a profit, BlogHer can form whatever contracts it wants with each individual blogger, provided it can get us to sign them. But most of us have signed contract that suggest it will give us equal access to all of the given paid ads available for our subcategory (e.g. parenting, food, life, whathaveyou) at any given time). When I wrote about this earlier, and speculated about Ree Drummond’s contract, I suggested that it was possible she had some kind of special arrangement to serve a higher percentage of paid ads than the rest of us, but that it would be impossible to say for sure because we didn’t have access to her contract.
Then I found out about tiers.
What happened was this: people have been noticing that there have been real, paid ads served on the Pioneer Woman’s site when other other BlogHer sites had unpaid, house ads, or PSAs, for months now. They noticed this long before I even wrote about it. The phenomenon has just been more widespread since then. Basically, everyone has just accepted that there has to be some kind of value system that differentiates us from her.
But then somebody said something to me, offhandedly, about how BlogHer must have “changed their tiers again,” and I said, “Ummm, what? Tiers?” and that’s how I found out that, yes, there was some kind of thing at BlogHer Ads called tiers, and a publisher could get bumped up or down one, based on something like swearing too much or getting on somebody’s good or bad side, or being especially popular, or being somebody somebody wanted to promote. Now, it’s very hard to find information out about tiers, because very few people know about them, and even fewer people are willing to talk, but here’s what I’ve been able to discern: the decision to be bumped up or down a tier does not sound like it’s tightly controlled, because it was the kind of thing that — at least in a case that I had heard of — that an employee could change without anyone really noticing or caring. And this is all rumor and allegation, of course, and not on the record, so it’s not like I can take it to anybody and do anything about it.
Unless I can look at the stats and prove that something like tiers exist with math.
As it turns out, I can.
So later in the week, I will show you the nuts and bolts of how, and demonstrate that it’s not only your traffic that decides how much money you make when you serve BlogHer Ads.
- The tiers include Pioneer Woman versus everybody else, but that’s only one small part of it. When this started, we thought that the big problem was that all of our ads were going to Ree Drummond’s site. As it turns out, Ree’s immense traffic is just what made it easier for us to figure out that something was wrong. If we hadn’t had something that big pulling stuff away from the higher traffic sites, we might never have realized there was a system of favoritism directly lining pockets of people within this advertising network.
- Sometimes a little is more than you think. The vast majority of the network makes so little money from serving ads that they are not motivated to do anything about this kind of stuff. This is probably not news to anybody, but the people who are really being exploited by this system are the people who are used to making like $20 or less per month from BlogHer, because they allow the network to exist — and I really mean this, they allow the network to exist by running ads on the over 2,500 blogs that are on the network, and without them the worst companies in the world like, well fuck you know who they are, they are the ones who pay for all of the parties at BlogHer — they wouldn’t be interested in buying advertising on the network. And those people wouldn’t be raking in the dough no matter what, but if they’re makign $20 now, they should be making $40. Maybe that doesn’t seem like a huge amount to you, but if I’m making $300, I should be making $600. And if somebody else I know is making $1200, they should be making $2400. See? You start noticing when your percentage is big enough to notice. But they thrive on the fact that most people have such a small amount coming to them that they won’t care. This is just something to take into consideration.
- Tiers for house ads versus defaults? As I delved further into the stats, I realized that getting to the bottom of this problem is probably beyond me, mathematically speaking. In other words, I’ve uncovered stuff, but I’m not sure that I’m gifted enough with numbers to uncover everything that is there. So this story is one that is very much developing. And every day, somebody new gives me more information that gives me a new direction in which to go. For example, I thought that the tiers just governed how many highly paid ads somebody got access to, but it turns out they also will serve more house ads (low paid) to people versus defaults (totally unpaid). So it’s very complicated, and this just underscores, in my mind, the need for regulation of this industry.
Again, thank you to everybody who has helped so far, and anybody who wants to throw their stats into the mix (anonymously and without repercussion because you can do it without BlogHer ever knowing you helped) please email me at anna at ABDPBT dot com.
UPDATE: After various accusations of withholding information, I’ve posted my termination email from BlogHer here.