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Understanding the BlogHer Ad Tier System: Part Two

Understanding the BlogHer Ad Tier System: Part Two

Are you guys tired of this yet? (I am.) But we’re almost done. With the math part, anyway. (By the way, if you’re just learning that there are tiers in the BlogHer Ad Network now, you’re going to want to brush up on the issues raised in the first post on the topic here, then move on to the next post here, then go here, oh, and don’t forget about the last post here.)

Now, once I’m done with all the math and graphs, there’s going to be that inevitable “What now?” moment where everyone stands around wondering what we’re supposed to do with all of this information. Probably everyone is going to crave some kind of closure or acknowledgment from BlogHer. Maybe even people are hoping a “Ted, Just Admit It” kind of thing will happen. Except instead of Jane’s Addiction writing a song we will have Harry Connick, Jr. making an appearance at a conference, and he will crack jokes that manage to offend bloggers, loggers and lesbians in one fell swoop.

What I’m trying to say: do not expect BlogHer to comment on this beyond the clumsy tweets by Queen of Spain aimed at my head last weekend. Because as much as I am certain that this tier system is real, I am equally certain that there was some kind of email powwow begging people to STFU after that happened and that nobody from BlogHer plans to comment publicly on any of this unless compelled to by some kind of government entity like a court of law. Because what are they going to say?

Anyway, if you’re not yet convinced about there being tiers in the BlogHer Ad network yet, I’m hoping that this post will not only push you over the edge into believing me, but also show you how the tiers are not only based on traffic but also manipulated on various occasions to suit the ends of the BlogHer network. And after today, I’ll start giving you guys my unsolicited advice on what I think you should do about monetizing your blogs, based on various different hypothetical blog sizes, and various positions, and various different needs and considerations, different reasons for blogging, different approaches, etc. etc. etc.

Adding To The Pile: Mapping Tiers With Data From Other Bloggers

It’s graph time, kids!

The above graph maps percentages of unpaid ads served by BlogHer ad network members during November of 2009 versus March of 2010. I’ve used six different network members in this case to show the differences in the two months, and I think you can probably already see a pretty clear tier system emerging, but just in case you cannot identify it, let me help you out, and I’ll point out quarterly boundaries and ThePioneerWoman.com factor just for comparison as well. Please note that, when it’s an up quarter (in November, Quarter 4, the most lucrative quarter), everybody is more or less at the same point because even if they’re technically on different tiers, there are so many ads on the network at the time, and there is no Pioneer Woman factor yet, so everybody is serving ads at more or less the same rate with one notable exception (Blogger 5, who only had 12.5% unpaid ads in November of 2009, and this was because that blogger had a very large traffic spike that month for an outside reason not related to BlogHer tiers) That’s a distribution that you get with a standard-traffic based tier with a healthy ad inventory in an up quarter, from what I’ve gathered just looking at numbers in a very short period of time, and I’m not an expert, mind you.


Except. The problem with this distribution is when you look at the normal traffic for these blogs. Some of the tiers adhere to regular traffic patterns. For example, when you move into the post-PW period, Blogs 4 and 6 remain in the same tier, as they should, because they are blogs in similar traffic range. The same can be said for blogs 1 and 2. Those two ranges stick with what is expected, so the tier system is giving an unfair advantage to higher trafficked sites, but at least we can see the logic behind it. Things get murkier when we look at sites 3 and 5, and juxtapose them with my stats in particular. Both of those sites have traffic that should be on the same tier with each other, AND with my site, roughly, for that period, because we all have about the same traffic in pageviews per month. So let’s put ABDPBT on a graph with all the other sites as a comparison.

What’s apparent from the above graph is not only the fact that I’m not tiering with other sites in my traffic group, but that I’m tiering with sites way above my traffic group. Why? Well, as I said in the last post, I wrote a post about the whole traffic brouhaha post PW and I noticed that I had more paid ads all of a sudden. I suspect this is why I started tiering away from my traffic group. My site gets more attention, I get more paid ads, it’s that simple. What’s more difficult to understand (and more disturbing) are why the other ones in my traffic group not only don’t match me but don’t match each other. Now, Blogger 5 is an interesting case that I cannot speculate on too much here in the interest of maintaining confidentiality, but suffice to say that that blogger had a traffic spike that might have been interpreted by BlogHer as “unusual” (that was when Google was rolling out its “Caffeine” system, and I had the Gaga incident with the crashed servers, and search engine traffic all over the web was kind of crazy that month) and therefore the blog might have been bumped up a tier only temporarily and then bumped back down very quickly. It’s very hard to say. I’m going to just leave that blog’s tier movement alone because I just don’t have enough data to even speculate on its movement.

What about Blogger 3? Based on traffic alone, Blogger 3 and I should be in the same tier, and in November, we were in the same tier. But then some how in between November and March I got moved up with much higher traffic sites by writing some very high profile posts and Blogger 3 got moved down. Waaaay down. Why? Well, that’s what I’m working on for the next post, kids.

(I know, it’s starting to sound like a soap opera, I swear it’s going to be over soon, just bear with me . . .)

Hey everybody, we’ve got a new featured blogger ad up and running! Please check out Becky’s ad for Suburban Matron in the sidebar (another gorgeous one, you guys are really coming up with awesome logos and ads!), and visit her blog ASAP! If you’d like to participate in the ABDPBT Featured Bloggers Program, please email me and I’ll put you on the waiting list.

Comments (35)

  1. Apr 28, 2010

    anna- i’m with you 110% and i’m just grateful that you have invested the time it takes to get to the bottom of stuff like this… because truly, regardless of where people stand on the issue, the stats speak for themselves and each person who reads this analysis you have done is learning something.

    i don’t blame you one bit for having your guard up with commenters from your last post who leave no link to their blog. mine is always up when that happens; but for some reason, the mask of anonymity is still so appealing, so “safe” to those with contradictory view points who want to be heard.

    i commend you.

  2. Apr 28, 2010

    Oh my, with graphs and all. This series is fascinating. I’m one of those people with smallish sites who is considering all my options so I am looking forward to your next articles. I am now also afraid to go look at my OAS stats.

  3. Apr 28, 2010

    I still can’t get into my OAS stats, which is sort of hilarious. It’d been at least a year since I checked them, and even though I went to the updated link, I still … well, can’t get in. Then again, I’ve had zero time to invest in really looking at it.

    Anna, dude, this is really interesting. And sort of beyond my comprehension level, with the graphs and all. I’m … well, my mind is full of mashed potatoes. I’m still impressed, however.

  4. Apr 29, 2010

    This is really interesting. I think it does indicate that there may be tiers, though I think you would need a lot more datapoints to really prove it statistically.

  5. -R-
    Apr 29, 2010

    PS Thanks for tackling this subject!

  6. Heather
    Apr 29, 2010

    Thank you for this hard work and analysis, Anna. I suspect you are correct in saying BlogHer won’t respond to this unless forced to by some legal entity down the road, but I am interested to see how this turns out – particularly how bloggers using this ad network will respond once they see this information. I couldn’t continue doing business with people who behaved this way.

    Again, thanks for having the guts to do this – I know it can’t be easy to be continually pegged as the troublemaker in this genre.

  7. Apr 29, 2010

    Did you get the 3:25am explanatory email from BlogHer?

  8. Apr 29, 2010

    It is possible I am an idiot, but I don’t understand the text in the line graph that you added abdpbt to. It says “I should be tiering with these two bloggers, based on traffic levels” (okay, I get that), but I’m tiering with or these two,” (and that’s where I’m lost), “who have 2-5x my traffic” (maybe I get that…). I guess I don’t understand what the arrows on the blue lines are pointing to. Is the first arrow pointing to the bloggers you should be tiering with and if so, shouldn’t it be pointing to two bloggers? I am confused.

  9. Apr 29, 2010

    Anna–
    I’m not even a blogger, so I don’t have any personal stake in this. Despite that, I am fascinated by what you’ve been learning. Your analysis is so interesting.
    I was wondering if you’d be open to a nomination to be the Attorney General of, well, pretty much any state. Your ability to confront and explain such complicated issues would be a most welcome addition to challenging corruption anywhere.
    Thanks for tackling yet another controversial topic. Someone needs to do it. I’m glad it’s you.
    –Kate

  10. Apr 29, 2010

    No, you’re right. That graphic is stupid and confusing. I need to redo it. It should be two separate bubbles, one pointing to the people who match my traffic, with whom I am supposed to be tiering, and one bubble pointing to the people with whom I actually am tiering, who have 2-5 times my traffic. Thanks for pointing that out.

  11. Apr 29, 2010

    Thanks, Nic. I jumped on Sarah, which was unfair. I was certain she was somebody from BlogHer posing as a blogger, which is why I responded that way. Yet another example of why, when you find yourself in the midst of an emotional response, you should always take two breaths and not do anything. Sometimes I forget!

  12. Apr 29, 2010

    It’s a complicated system, so it’s much easier to just collect your money, and just figure your stats are not that big anyway. That’s how it works. And look, even I didn’t question it much (not much) until my checks went down even when my stats went up. There WERE months where my stats went down, so I knew there would be fluctuations, but when I noticed a pattern that’s when I knew there had to be some reason, even if the reason for it was complicated and not as simple as “lower overall ad inventory in Q1” or “campaigns that were supposed to roll out that didn’t” or “more ads going to PW.” And please note, none of my explanations are that simple — I have never pointed the finger in such simplistic ways, as they would have you believe.

  13. Apr 29, 2010

    Absolutely. You would need a much bigger sample and a real statistician, plus a bunch of people checking the math. But I still think there’s enough here to support the Occam’s Razor conclusion we had all already come to with the blanks that were showing up on all of our sites, and the fact that we were all making less money, and the fact that two BlogHer employees that I know of personally have been quoted referring to “tiers.”

    But yeah, if we want to prove it in a court of law, we’d need Deloitte or somebody. You’re right. 🙂

  14. Apr 29, 2010

    Well, actually (and unfortunately, from the standpoint of what I was planning on doing today) they DID respond in the form of an email sent late last night/early this morning to current publishers which

    1) does not directly address the main claim of all of these posts, viz. that there are tiers that govern how many paid ads publishers get; and
    2) serves to further cloud the issue so that the vast majority of people in the network will just be more confused and probably just prefer to go on with the status quo, rather than bother with it further.

    I’m now questioning whether to deconstruct it further for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to. I’m tired of this. It’s beginning to be like a lawsuit where they are burying me in paperwork, trying to get me to back down just because of the sheer volume of work. And I’m tired. More importantly, I’m worried about damaging my “brand,” as stupid and self-important as that sounds. On the one hand, I believe this is an important issue, and needs to be discussed. On the other, I’m tired and I am not sure how many people still want to hear about it.

    So, knowing me, I’ll keep going because I’m a stubborn motherfucker. But I’m not sure it’s what’s best for my business. Currently questioning that. Open to suggestions from the peanut gallery.

  15. Apr 29, 2010

    Oh yes! Nothing like waking up to a PR spun email that doesn’t address my chief argument and further clouds the issue, thus requiring me to do MORE WORK that I DON’T WANT TO DO! Awesome! 🙂

  16. Apr 29, 2010

    OK, new graphic added that should be clearer about the point I’m trying to make. Thanks for pointing that out. My brain is somewhat fried.

  17. Apr 29, 2010

    Even if you decide to stop with trying to prove the existence of the tiers, please, please, please (!!!) do the post on suggestions for what to do now. Because at this point, 1) enough people believe you and are looking for other options and 2)those who have no current connection with BlogHer are probably ALSO looking for options.

  18. Apr 29, 2010

    Ginger, I will absolutely do that one no matter what. That’s one I should have done a long time ago, actually, because it’s the kind of thing you cannot really know unless you’ve grown a blog under current market conditions. And it so happens I have during the last two years. So, at the very least this experience has given me that wisdom to impart.

  19. Apr 29, 2010

    Thanks, Kader. I’m not a lawyer, but it might not surprise you to find out that I come from a family full of them. I decided not to become one myself because I didn’t want to deal with assholes all the time. As you can see, that worked out famously!

  20. Ella
    Apr 29, 2010

    Obviously I’m too sketched out by this entire thing to leave my real name (although the name I used is part of my real name) with a link to my blog…I’ve only just started standing up for myself, but I know damned well that once BlogHer pegs you as someone who is either a.) opposed to their own belief system and b.) actually gives a damn and QUESTIONS the status quo, then it’s pretty much over…the fat lady will sing and I’ll feel pretty stupid for not having gotten off of my ass and gotten something in place of my own BlogHer ads.

    My traffic is nothing like yours, however I know it could be if I’d just work at it. But what’s the point if I’m just going to be penalized for being original (I do swear, occasionally and after looking into my own stats and having a friend help me analyze things, I’ve noticed that I get stung for posts where I swear, but yet those are some of my most highly visited posts! 1000+ hits!!!) and writing from my heart…what’s the point of running ads when it means virtually NOTHING?!?!

    I’m so tired of trying to tow the “party line” when it comes to BlogHer…especially when it’s evident that they do little more than seriously promote only those who benefit their bottom line and not the women who happen to be beautiful and powerful writers who could genuinely use the exposure.

    Granted, it’s a business and it’s being run by one – BUT – it’s not being run with a set of professional ethics that I think I can stomach much longer.

    This might sound like sour grapes and honestly, it’s not. I’m just so tired of having to adhere to a strict set of restrictions that serve little more purpose than to hold me back, by a group of women who don’t have the ethical compass to be completely honest with EVERYONE in their “financial pipeline.”

    Anna, please know that this itty bitty peon of a writer who runs BlogHer ads, is grateful for the work and personal sacrifice you’ve put into this. I know that it can’t be easy being targeted as someone who BlogHer implies is spreading false information about their organization. Just know that for everyone who leaves a comment, or DM’s you (hint, that should give you a reason why this is important to me!), there are probably 10 more that are reading this, and nodding their heads in agreement, yet too scared or rocking the boat to be able to actually stand up in it and start asking some questions. Personally, and this might be the anarchist in me, coming out, but not only do I think it’s time to rock the boat, but to blow the motherfucker up!

  21. Apr 29, 2010

    Awesome.

    The fact there is even a response from BlogHer feels telling. Because while that email doesn’t really explain or answer questions, what is does do is plant a seed in every network member who previously had no idea any of this is going on.

    I, for one, CAN’T WAIT to hear about the explanation for blogger #3!

    😉

  22. LC
    Apr 29, 2010

    While I’m sure your analysis is sound, it’s really difficult to make trending conclusions based on two data points in a time series. At the very least, you might take out the line connecting the two points and just present it as the points themselves, so as not to assume a strictly linear relationship. Sorry. I couldn’t help myself.

    I think it’s great that you’ve written about this and I hope the bright side is that other sponsors like Magpie (holy cow, do I ever have the gimmie, gimmies over their beautiful stuff) start advertising here. I really appreciate your thoughtful analysis.

  23. Apr 29, 2010

    You make a good point, and I’m not a statistician. You know what I took to get out of the math & science requirement in college? Oceans. OK? This is not my strong point. What I am hoping is that some other people will start writing about this, too, challenging what I’m saying, keeping the discourse going. Show me I’m wrong people! Please! I beg of you! I want the discussion to keep going. I don’t want to have to keep writing on it, and I think we all benefit from a bunch of voices. I’m also hoping that, through a couple of feelers I have put out, we can get more qualified people involved in this. Because I’m definitely not the best person to do this.

    I know that those graphs are not a full portrait. But because I’m trying to show a key point in time, and because I don’t have a ton of time in which to do it, I asked people for two data points specifically. If I had more people working for me, I would ask for a full graph of the unpaid percentages of ads from the time they started BlogHer ads until now, that’s the best way of doing it, it’s what I did with my own numbers and it’s what I’m doing with the mythical Blogger #3. It takes a buttload of a long time, though, so I couldn’t do it for everybody.

    But nobody wants to write about it. They’re scared. And to be honest, I don’t blame them. I’ve already lost my ads, so it’s no big deal for me. Plus, I’ve already gone to a conference where everyone was whispering about me. I can do it again. People fear that. Remember Motrin Moms? That was so way less important than this, and people were making You Tube videos about it. This hasn’t even been mentioned anywhere else. It’s crazy.

  24. Apr 29, 2010

    And please, people, buy stuff for your moms from Magpie Lovely. For one thing, they have beautiful stuff there, I’m not kidding. And for another, yes, let’s reward my sponsor for sticking with me through this rather uncomfortable time in my blogging career. LOL.

  25. Apr 29, 2010

    This is fascinating and absolutely worth the two readings it took for me to understand it.

    I

  26. Apr 29, 2010

    Thanks, Ella. I’m glad that somebody likes the posts. Honestly, I don’t begrudge people reading these posts and still deciding to stay with BlogHer, I really don’t. There are only so many choices available, and it may be that this is the best choice for some people. But I think people should at least try to understand the choice they’re making, rather than just trusting that the network has their best interests in mind. Because I don’t think we can count on that necessarily.

  27. Apr 29, 2010

    That’s a good point. If I’m totally spreading falsehoods that aren’t worthy of comment, why did they comment?

  28. Apr 29, 2010

    Blogger #3 sounds like me. Heh. Except I just got fired from Blog Her about a week ago. Before that, they informed me that they were placing me out of the “parenting” area and into the “politics” area, and that move would result in lower revenues.

    All the associated emails from Blogher are on my blog in today’s blog post.

    http://mainfo.blogspot.com/2010/04/blog-her-fired-me-from-their-ad-network.html

  29. Apr 29, 2010

    I’ll link and leave my name because I’ve never had a good relationship with Blogher. I have a nice collection of their rejection letters and while people I respect work for them, I really don’t care. I don’t respect that company very much. I’ve always felt they feed into the “mean girls” mentality and they favor the “popular” bloggers over the little people when, like you mentioned in another post, its the little people that continue to feed their site, their ad network, and their conferences. Yet I can usually recognize 7 out of 10 faces in their site headers. And its normally the same people over and over. Favoritism? Not sure. People can label it however they want I suppose.

    I respect you for speaking up and I hope you continue this series. You’ve got a LOT of ears perked over there. While I’m sure they are arrogant enough to believe some blogger can’t bring them down (hence the somewhat snotty tweets directed at you) I personally think you are putting your foot in the door more so than anyone has ever really attempted. And judging by their emails and PR responses, they don’t like it very much. That’s the thing about blogher, the minute you speak ill of them, they swoop in and try and divert, and basically try and spin it so that the understanding is YOU were wrong and not them in anyway. (A good example is how they handled the ROY panels for this years conference in NY.)

    Here’s one thing I don’t understand and I’m sure its because of my own ignorance: why is there an ad network running ads they don’t pay on at all? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose somehow? I certainly wouldn’t want to give up my blog space to bring them any traffic or revenue if I’m not getting paid for it, in any way, shape, or form.

  30. Apr 30, 2010

    I’m a little shocked that none of the mommyblogger news sites have mentioned this at all…not even that new ShePosts one. It’s weird.

  31. Apr 30, 2010

    Yeah. Shocking. I’m hoping that one of the eleventy billion big blogs I’ve written to will pick up the story since nobody in this community will touch it. Unfortunately, this community is too scared, and nobody outside of this community takes us seriously. So, I think I’m fucked.

  32. Apr 30, 2010

    My concern with the relationship with The Pioneer Woman is that is more then just placing a few ads on her site, she in a way is now a fixture on Blogher. I can’t imagine she had everyone over to talk about yoga pants for shitkickers and giggles. pun intended. To me it seems like she in a way is an employee of Blogher, maybe taking on a role of brand manager- just my own thought.

  33. Apr 30, 2010

    I think that was a paid deal, I doubt very much that it’s something that she’s going to do forever. They want to use her to sell ads, promote the company, but she’s not going to sign herself into any kind of long term thing where she has to work for them. It’s more like a promotional book tour where you get used to associating BlogHer with PW. Note that she didn’t really appear much in the video, she just was there for a second and provided the backdrop. I bet she got a nice deal on that, BlogHer paid her a chunk of change and she didn’t have to do much. She’s smart.

  34. Apr 30, 2010

    I think the problem is that there’s no real news site in this space. I had high hopes for ShePosts, but that one seems to be mostly fluffy (so far anyway). You can’t be a news site if you aren’t willing to cover the news.

    Some out-of-work journalist should start a real news site with news of the mommyblogger community. There’s definitely a market for it.

  35. May 1, 2010

    To be perfectly honest I had never heard of you until a tweet sent me to the article about all this on ShePosts. I left a comment there, but then I got curious and clicked over to read your whole series.
    I’m one of those “little people” who made an average of $3 a month from BlogHer and as such saw a $25 check every 9 months. I figured it made up for the hosting fees I pay and since I don’t really care that much to make money off my blog (that’s not why I do it) I would just leave it.
    But I did think this spring that it had been an extra long time since I’d seen a check. Then I finally got one and just after that a “lovely” email from BlogHer telling me that my book reviews did not meet their editorial guidelines and I would need to stop posting them if I wanted to keep showing their ads. For one thing I get way more monetary value (and enjoyment) out of all the books I get for review, and for another I had those same style of reviews on my blog and specifically asked them about it 2 years ago when I signed up. They had no problem with it at that time. Timing coincidence?
    So, for what it’s worth I decided I would rather not have their ads on my blog anymore and lo and behold, shortly after I took them down I got two sponsors who have quadrupled my revenue for much less intrusive ads. Plus, I am free to do with my blog whatever I darn well please now. Sounds good to me!

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