Advertising on Trust Matters Blog?

I’d like some readers’ advice.

I received the following email:

Hello!

I’m contacting you on behalf of a client who is interested in making a contribution to help support your site in exchange for a simple contextual link of a word or phrase somewhere within trustedadvisor.com

Let me know if you offer these types of arrangements and if you have any rates. If you’re unsure, please ask and I would be happy to provide specific details and an offer. The link would be natural and be to a useful resource.

Thank you,

[Name]

And here’s what I wrote back:

Dear [Name],

Thanks for the offer, I appreciate the recognition.

As a site whose subject matter is trust, we have to be cleaner than Caesar’s wife. I have decided, at least thus far, that the easiest way to do so is to simply not accept advertising in any form.

I appreciate the offer, but we’ll have to pass.

Sincerely,

Charlie Green

Now, there’s nothing wrong with advertising.  Nor with affiliate marketing, nor with sales commissions, or any of hundreds of other commercial relationships.  This is not a holier-than-thou blogpost.

Having the no-ads principle has certainly made things easier. As with all values, having them greatly simplifies decisions.

But the truth is, I look wistfully at some sites that do quite well, even extremely well, by the added revenue they are able to generate.  It would be nice.

I like to think there are lines that can be drawn.  For example, the pay-for-contextual-link proposition above could pretty easily be a slippery slope unless you DRINK DIET COKE LIKE I DO ha ha. (Actually just the lime kind, and only occasionally).

In fact, there are probably some commercial links that would represent a positive benefit to the readership of this blog. Or so I think I could argue, though no examples come immediately to mind.

And I also feel no great need to take a ridiculous pledge of no advertising forever, because I’m not so smart as to think I know everything; I reserve the right to get smarter as I get older more experienced.

Your Advice

So I’d like your advice. Is it a good thing to keep this page pristine non-commercial?  Do values have to be absolute to be of value?  Is this a brand thing?

Or are there reasonable approaches to integrating commerce to a website (mainly the blog) based on trust?  Can I get a little mortgage money goin’ here, huh? Can useful lines be drawn?

What do you think?  I really do value your perspective and advice.  Thank you in advance.

0 replies
  1. Barbara Kimmel
    Barbara Kimmel says:

    Charlie- sorry to burst your mortgage payment dreams, but these itty bitty “contextual lnk” offers pay itty bitty sums of money!

    Reply
  2. Dave Brock
    Dave Brock says:

    Charlie, I often get the same requests.  Clearly, there are some good quality relationships and advertisers that will reinforce what you are trying to achieve.

    I approach the issue a little differently, I think of, “what is the experience I want my readers to have at this site?”  I actually asked a lot of my readers for their views, and though of what I wanted the site to stand for.

    As a consequence, I’ve adopted strategies I feel good about.  These strategies don’t include advertising, not because advertising is bad, but that it doesn’t fit the experience my readers want, or that I want to create.

    It’s good to rethink things periodically, keeps everything fresh.

    Reply
  3. Prkozelka
    Prkozelka says:

    Since you provide a service to your readers, since one assumes that you invest a substantial amount of value-laden time in doing so, I see no harm in modest remuneration for that time. It will clearly enhance the trust relationship with your readers if a) any advert links/space accepted are minimally intrusive on the space and objectives of your publication, and b) have some potential interest/usefulness for your readers, just as with books and other items you cite that have a commercial gain attached for someone else.

    Reply
  4. Rob Peters
    Rob Peters says:

    Charles, I really appreciate your principled-driven model for Trusted Advisor.  

    Unless your are a non-profit organizational entity, where you need to be neutral (non-c0mmercial) ground and not accept advertising, I think you should financially benefit for your knowledge.  Maybe you could certify your partners based on their principles and purpose.   You cannot be of sustainable value to your ecosystem if you do not cover your overhead and make a reasonable profit.  Integrating purpose & principles of trustworthiness with profit-motive is the new capitalism of accountability.  Maybe advertising is not for you and that is your decision, but there is nothing wrong with monetizing your website.  Think of the increased functionality and knowledge you can offer with the additional revenue.

    Reply
  5. Lance Osborne
    Lance Osborne says:

    Hmmm, let’s see. I’m thinking “Professor C’s Snake Oil” is out. Swampland in Florida? Nah, I don’t think there is any swampland left in Florida. How about ads for a lovely bridge in NYC? Nah, Brooklyn gave up on selling that ages ago (it was the shipping costs you know.)
    I’ve got it! Limit your advertising space to promoting those urban myth email chain letters that we all love to receive from our ex-sister-in-law.
    Here’s the thing, Charlie: even if you endorse books, lectures or videos from other trust-related creators (oh wait, you do that) if they paid you for your endorsement, it would be…well, a “paid endorsement,” which, in our world of comfort on your site or when enveloped in the safety of one of your blogs…would simply be an oxymoron.

    Reply
  6. Frank Piuck
    Frank Piuck says:

    Every newspaper in the world does it.  Not for profit NPR  and PBS do it, although they call it something else.  It really depends on how you do it, how you label it, and whether it is intrusive or not.

    Reply
  7. Shirley A Burns
    Shirley A Burns says:

    Hmmm… your blog, twitters, & other writings make us (your readers) feel as if you are *our* trusted advisor (in microcosm, and mostly unpaid, of course~)… so right or wrong…any links, paid or otherwise, are already interpreted as endorsements by your readers… that is true of any blog, but perhaps maybe moreso in your case.  If they are relevant products and services you use or would recommend to your paying customers anyway, then why not?  Choosing what is relevant would be your challenge:  for example, recommended books, authors, and services related to consulting would feel natural and I would be inclined to trust your educated judgement.  Recommended soda, chips, or video games I would tend to dismiss… those are personal taste-related and we have no established basis for trust in those areas.

    The only obstacle might be the nagging legalese that usually has to be included, which may stilt your normal conversational flow of the blog.

    Reply
  8. Michael Holt
    Michael Holt says:

    Hi Charlie. mate you put a lot of work, and even more soul into your online presence. I think its fine to profit from this, especially if you are able to do so in a way that is consistent with your principles.  As a web design firm, I’d advise making your advertising/sponsored section visually distinct from your general content, and perhaps giving it a disclaimer such as “I don’t necessarily use these products or services, but I have nothing against them either, and may well use them sometime in the future.  As far as I can tell they seem credible,” or something like that.  If a reader has a problem with one of them, they can always let you know.  Basically Charlie, trust your readers as intelligent enough to know your message from that of a acceptable advertiser.
    Now… can I be your agent?  🙂

    Michael Holt

    Reply
  9. Michael Holt
    Michael Holt says:

    Hi Charlie. mate you put a lot of work, and even more soul into your online presence. I think its fine to profit from this, especially if you are able to do so in a way that is consistent with your principles.  As a web design firm, I’d advise making your advertising/sponsored section visually distinct from your general content, and perhaps giving it a disclaimer such as “I don’t necessarily use these products or services, but I have nothing against them either, and may well use them sometime in the future.  As far as I can tell they seem credible,” or something like that.  If a reader has a problem with one of them, they can always let you know.  Basically Charlie, trust your readers as intelligent enough to know your message from that of a acceptable advertiser.
    Now… can I be your agent?  🙂

    Michael Holt

    Reply
  10. Harold Jarche
    Harold Jarche says:

    Is advertising your primary source of revenue of just a few extra bucks? If the latter, stay away from it. I get these offers all the time and got tired of answering so I created a page offering space to one sponsor for a sum of money that would make it worth my while. So far no takers, but I now have a canned response. My revenue comes from my professional services, not my blog, which is a place to think and to share. Why clog it up with someone else’s business?

    Reply
  11. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    Wow.
    I am really blessed to have such passionate, as well as articulate and thoughtful, readers. Thank you so much Brian, Dave, Mechelle; Harold, Shirley, Michael; Rob, LEO, Frank, and Prk.  Great food for thought; I do appreciate it. And it all makes for an interesting discussion on the general issue of commerce and blogging, as well as of direct interest to me.

    Thanks all,

    Charlie

    Reply
  12. John
    John says:

    Charlie,

    What an interesting question; asking your readers what we think of your opportunity to earn money from advertising. The businessman in me says yes. But then as others have stated, how will we discern in the future a paid endorsement from a heartfelt endorsement.

    Then there is consideration of how will this decision affect the culture of Trusted Advisors? Will it cughange the way you look at organizations or people as opposed to how you might see a sponsor.

    I’ll read you anyway because I find your thoughts to be articulate and provocative. My recommendation though is not to accept advertisements.

    Reply
  13. Tom S
    Tom S says:

    I had to read this 3 times before I could come to any real conclusions and frankly they were only conclusions that are applicable to me and may have no bearing on your decisions in this matter.  Perhaps however, they will help you think the issue through logically.

    On one hand, I read your blogs regularly, even resending them to friends I think will find a particular one interesting.  My gut reaction to your question about whether or not you should integrate commerce is that the question is moot.  You already are engaging in commerce, you are endorsing your philosophy, your brand, your outlook and in some cases even the products you really like (Evernote).  The real question then becomes whether or not you should get paid for it and does getting paid to endorse something compromise trust?  I think many of your readers would say yes but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it.  Personally, I think the real answer lies in how you get paid to endorse.  If you put a banner ad on the side of the site that reads “Paid Advertisement” and has a disclaimer on it, we all know you’re taking the money which is fine and we give scant attention to it.  However, if you inject context links or other very subtly nuanced references then when you are caught you risk eroding trust because the reader will forever wonder if you are being paid to say that.

    The other side of this argument is in favor of never accepting advertising or other revenue for the site.  I think that you have already starting walking down the slippery slope on this one though.  You advertise your Blogroll on the left side.  Granted I find many of these blogs useful and entertaining too but they cross-blog to you, you to them…that’s advertising. the question then falls back to the getting paid issue.  Do you or do you not accept revenue for doing these types of things.  What if I sent you a killer app for free that you absolutely love and use constantly and think so much of it that you mention it in your blog?  Did you just sell out?  Did you erode trust or pass on a great tool to others…or both?

    I think you need to examine the issue of getting paid.  The act of taking money for a specific commercial action (sorry that sounds sordid) on your website.  I for one think you should.  You should get paid for building a tremendous base of followers but you should make it clear when you are being paid and when you aren’t.  Trust comes from transparency…I think I read that somewhere.

    Tom S. 
    San Antonio

    Reply

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