So your blog has found some measure of success, with a steady stream of visitors from all over the web. Another company has noticed this success, and sent you a request: will you include a couple of sponsored links pointing to their products or services on your website?
If you’re not making money from your blog in other ways, your first instinct might be to jump at the chance. After all, even paying for your hosting with money made from the blog itself is a big deal when you’re starting out. But is getting that money through sponsored links actually a good idea?
What are sponsored links?
Sponsored links are text links to products and/or services that are paid for by the company creating those products/services. Most are paid for with a one-time fee. They are completely separate from affiliate links.
Should you use sponsored links?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, but there are several common benefits and disadvantages to weigh before you post a sponsored link.
Pros of sponsored links
- Payment – You get paid for every single sponsored link posted on your blog. Since sponsored links are paid for with a placement fee, you have a guaranteed income from that link, unlike affiliate links or AdSense ads, which might never make you a dollar. If your blog is popular enough, you might even be able to negotiate a contract with residual income long after the link is posted.
- Income diversification – The best way to ensure your blog’s longevity, and your income, is to make sure you have multiple income streams coming in through your blog. If your blog is making some money but relies on one income stream, sponsored links can provide a secondary income, giving you more stability.
- Freebies – Most companies understand that you want to make sure your audience will actually find sponsored links useful, so they offer some kind of free trial or sample.
- Relationship building – Sponsored links are a great way to build relationships with companies that might become regular advertisers on your site down the road. If you want to move into featuring advertisements on your blog regularly, this is the way to start.
- Added value – If you only publish sponsored links to high quality products or services, those links can add an extra layer of value for your readers.
Cons of sponsored links
- You risk alienating your fans – Most countries have laws stating that bloggers and other social media influencers must openly state when a link is sponsored. This means your audience will know the moment you start posting sponsored links, and some of them may disapprove, even if those links lead to high quality products or services related to the content you’re writing. There’s a pretty high chance that sooner or later someone will accuse you of being a sellout.
- You might feel like a sellout – One of the people that accuses you of being a sellout might very well be yourself. We tend to be our own worst critics, to automatically downplay the value of our work. This is particularly true if you come from an arts background, where any type of commission for another brand is considered selling out.
- Negotiations can be tricky – Many companies understand the value of working with bloggers, but don’t understand the amount of work that goes into vetting a product or service, or working links to that product/service into their content. They might not want to pay up front, and they might not want to pay what you’re worth. Worst of all, they might not be willing to listen to your side at all.
- The process can be time consuming – You can’t just accept some money and publish a link anywhere on your site with no forethought. You must spend some time using the product or service yourself to ensure that your readers will actually find it useful. A proper test could take half an hour or it could take several days, depending on what you’re selling. Then you need to find or write an appropriate article to put the link in. All of this requires focus, time, and energy that can detract from your regular content.
- Your trust is on the line – Whether you like it or not, you somewhat vouch for the product you’re endorsing. If it ends up performing below expectations or even hurts your readers, this is on you. Your trust is lost. (On the other hand, if the product is awesome, your trust goes up.)
The verdict on sponsored links
Sponsored links come with some distinct drawbacks, but they can be a great way to make money from your blog if you follow a few rules:
- Only accept sponsored links relevant to your audience – There’s always a risk of alienating your audience when you accept sponsored content. That risk grows into a certainty if you accept links that aren’t relevant to your audience.
- Only work with companies you like – You should enjoy not only the company’s products and/or services, but also the actual process of working with them.
- Don’t guarantee that the link is going to be there till the end of time – settle on a specific period of time. One month to a year is good.
- Must be “nofollow” – your sponsored links must have the
rel="nofollow"attribute, otherwise they’re violating Google’s guidelines.
- Don’t let sponsored links detract from your primary content – Accept some sponsored links and maybe even articles, but keep your focus on the things that originally drew you to blogging.
Bonus Tip: If your blog is still fairly new, you might want to consider waiting until you’ve built a bigger audience to publish sponsored content. This will lessen the impact of any readers you lose because they’ve decided that posting sponsored content makes you a sellout.
All in all, sponsored links are a great way to make money from your blog, as long as you’re careful with how you publish them and how you go about choosing the companies to promote in the first place.