What Are Sponsored Posts?

I was recently approached by a website owner and asked if I would be interested in publishing a sponsored post on his website.

After much back and forth between myself and the website owner, I came to the realization that I had no clue what a sponsored post was. And neither do many others I am finding out.

I had no clue that this person had approached me, on a platform meant for building business relationships, with the intention of getting me to pay him to personally write a blog post and publish it on his website.

Say what?!

I am freelance writer who gets paid to write posts, not the other way around. Why would I pay someone, do all the legwork, and post on his website (especially when the website is a hodge-podge of topics that doesn’t necessarily reach my targeted audience)?

Needless to say I was confused. So, I thought I would look into it what sponsored posts were and honestly, I feel as though I have walked away even more confused.

What is a Sponsored Post?

According to Wikipedia a sponsored post is:

“…a post to any community-driven notification-oriented website which is explicitly sponsored as an advertisement by a particular company in order to draw a large amount of popularity through user promotion and moderation to the most active or most viewed page on the website.”

Huh?

Okay, so after exploring other websites and what they had to say about the definition of sponsored posts I have come to the conclusion that everyone has their own ideas.

It seems that sponsored posts are blog posts that are published on a highly trafficked website containing dofollow links back to the sponsor’s website. At the expense of the sponsor mind you. These links are usually intended to direct readers of the highly visited website back to a smaller, lesser known website that is promoting some sort of commercial product or service.

For example, in my situation I could have paid $65USD, written a well thought out, high-quality blog post with links back to my small website that promotes me as a freelance writer for hire, on a supposedly high trafficked website.

Hmmm…Sounds a lot like a guest post that I have to pay for to me…

This model of blogging has become very popular as of late. Companies that are searching for brand exposure, more readers, and in the end more sales, are the ones most likely to agree to pay for a published sponsored post on another website they feel will reach their intended audiences. On the other hand, those with large readership websites are apt to be the ones contacted by smaller companies, PR firms, and lesser known website owners looking for an opportunity to publish a sponsored post on their website.

Listen, I get it. That actually makes sense to me, kind of. But the strange thing about my situation is that I did not contact the large website offering to post my content on their website with a willingness to pay. Rather, they contacted me and asked me to pay them to publish content on their website. That definitely put me off (once I figured out that was the case).

I mean, it felt like this person was simply using guest posts as a way to monetize their own website. A website mind you, that I knew nothing about besides what I could see once clicking on the site. There was no way for me to even tell if this was a legitimate website with high traffic that would even benefit me.

How Sponsored Posts Work

After reading as much information as I could about sponsored posts, I came to understand the general way they worked.

Who Writes the Sponsored Post?

This is a tricky one and depends on who you ask. Typically the sponsor (aka the small guy paying) provides the post to be published. You tend to be able to publish the post as is, with dofollow links included that will lead people back to your website.

However, sometimes there are super picky websites that either want to write the piece themselves or edit it as they see fit to match the overall tone of their website. And hey, filtering and publishing only quality content is a good thing. But if I was the sponsor, I would be concerned that the post would not do me justice if another website wrote it for me or edited it.

After all, I am the one paying here why should the big guy have all the control?

Pricing Sponsored Posts

There are many formulas out there for how to determine what you should charge sponsors to publish on your site. Things like Google PageRank, traffic, link popularity, and keyword strength all seem to play a role in this magical pricing formula.

It has also been mentioned that while most social media platforms will not help your case for charging more, if you have a strong Twitter following or StumbleUpon network (oh man, what is this?) you may be able to charge more because these platforms have the ability to generate lots of traffic.

Sponsored Posts - Pricing Model

This is the common pricing model used for sponsored posts.

Disclosure Rules

While every country’s rules differ, here in the United States where I am, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has made it loud and clear that if you have been compensated for publishing content on your website (whether in gifts, money, vouchers, etc.) you must disclose this fact to your readers.

If you happen to be a website owner that allows sponsored posts on your website, whatever you do, don’t agree to conceal this information. Any sponsor that wants you to hide the fact that they paid you to publish on their website seems shady, and if your readers find out you have been secretly getting paid to promote products, you may lose credibility as an authority in your niche.

The Advantages of Sponsored Posts

Sponsored posts are becoming more widespread as people realize that traditional text linking in sidebars are becoming more inefficient than ever.

One reason sidebar ads and links are not working is for the plain fact that people are not drawn to them. In fact, in 2007 the Nielsen Norman Group conducted a thorough eye-tracking study and the results were incredible.

In a nutshell, this study determined that website visitors rarely click on website’s banner ads. Most notably, of the 4 ad placements studied, the one that did garner some attention was determined to be unethical due to the placement of fake OK and Cancel buttons in the form of dialog boxes, basically tricking users into clicking on the ad which brings them to promotional material.

Banner Blindness

Often called “Banner Blindness” this image shows you how people generally avoid ads on websites.

Since studies like this have shown that website visitors do not want to interact with traditional banner ads, website owners have been forced to find a new strategy: sponsored posts.

Sponsored posts are advantageous to both websites that host them and those paying for them.

For example, Google has a more difficult time tracking down links embedded in content that are meant to manipulate SERPs because they seem to appear naturally in the text. Paid links are against Google’s policy and if caught, website owners face many penalties ranging from a drop in PageRank to an altogether lockout from search results. However, by including paid links to promotional material within a seemingly informative and entertaining WordPress post, Google may not spot this.

Sponsoring posts offer you a chance to supplement your income a lot, especially if your website is highly popular and garners a lot of daily traffic. You can charge a higher amount for sponsored posts than you would for traditional banner ads because of the time and effort that is invested in them and the real estate space sponsored posts take up on your website. Plus, the widespread reach you provide the published post can have a huge impact on a smaller website’s link back rate.

If you are sponsoring your own posts (whether written by you or not) you will hopefully see a huge increase in traffic to your website, although sometimes it comes with a huge price tag to do so.

The Disadvantages of Sponsored Posts

As I continued my research into the pros and cons of sponsored posts I found that many people share the idea that sponsored posts have many disadvantages to both the sponsor and the website hosting sponsored posts.

  • Poor quality content. Sponsored posts are not always the high quality content website owners are looking to place on their websites. And, if you have little oversight of the sponsored posts you place on your website, or if you allow sponsors to write their own posts and publish “as is”, you run the risk of having poor quality content reaching all of your loyal readers.
  • Content may seem spammy. In addition to the fact that the content published as a sponsored post may be poorly written, there is also a high chance the post will provide little value to your readers. Sponsored posts may simply be seeking to manipulate their Google Rank and improve their SEO. Blog posts should be directed towards your engaged, targeted niche readership and often with sponsored posts this is not the case.
  • The sponsor gets cheated. Website owners hosting sponsored posts on their website may only want to make a buck. They might require sponsors to draft high quality content (if they are filtering what they publish on their website) which takes a lot of time and resources, pay for the content to be published, and often limit the link juice to 1 or 2 links. Seems like a lot of work for the sponsor.
  • The disclosure rules harm your reputation. Since it is required you disclose whether you have been compensated for a post or not, this information may not sit well with your loyal readers. Readers do not come to your website to read promotional material. They may become upset you are being paid to publish information, they may feel sponsored posts are no longer valuable to them, and your traffic may see a large drop as a result.
  • Sponsoring posts make you to look hypocritical. It is not usually illegal to exchange dofollow links on your website for compensation (whether that be for money, gifts, experiences, etc.). And the truth is it really doesn’t hurt anyone directly. There may be some fallout on the website owner’s site but other than that who really cares? The problem is your readers will care if you are a website owner that claims to be against black-hat tactics such as selling links. Selling links is selling links. Whether it is in an advertisement banner, in a post you are have written and published that includes certain links, or by sponsoring posts on your website, if you receive money in exchange for dofllow links back to another person’s website that can be considered a black-hat tactic.
  • You may get caught by Google’s bots. Even though detecting paid links in sponsored posts is more difficult, Google’s spies are very intelligent and may catch you anyways. You must ask yourself if the risk of losing all that hard work you put into creating a popular website is worth a drop in PageRank status (or worse) for some extra income.

But What About Guest Posting or Affiliate Marketing?

As I waded through the information I could find on sponsored posts I noticed that first of all, there is not a whole lot of written material about this topic, and two the deeper I got into the topic, the vaguer and more confusing it becomes.

Guest Posting

The difference between sponsored posts and guest posting is very distinct. Guest posting does not require the author of the post to pay to have their content published on a popular website. Their content is seen as a valuable addition to the already high quality content of the website and the author is rewarded for supplying great content in the form of a backlink to their website. The content does not feel promotional, urge readers to simply purchase a product, and does not stick out as SEO focused.

Guest posting is a great way for new or smaller websites to gain more exposure for their website. It can lead to more traffic to their website and in turn help the overall sales of an online business.

Guest posting is also beneficial to the website accepting guest posts but only under certain and very different circumstances than sponsored posts. Though the guest post is not compensated for monetarily, if you set the right standards in place for published material, the guest post will provide fresh and new content for your website that you didn’t have to write. You readers will enjoy a new voice and not feel alienated by promotional content because the guest post will be relevant to your targeted audience.

Unfortunately, I have found that the general consensus is that many websites hosting “sponsored posts” are actually disguising guest posts as sponsored posts to make more money. This is most often seen when a “sponsored post” provides only 1 or 2 backlinks in the content (one being in the author profile). This is the exactly what you get when guest posting; only you don’t have to pay for it to be published.

To me this seems wrong and those are not the kinds of websites I want to be associated with. The internet, specifically those in the WordPress community, should barter and help each other out, not take advantage of others who may not understand what they are doing.

Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate marketing comes eerily close to sponsored posts and this really got me to thinking. Personally, I write many WordPress reviews that are paid for by the company whose product or service it is. At first glance that would definitely seem like a sponsored post. However, after some careful thinking, I noticed some huge differences:

  • Affiliate marketing posts are written by non-biased authors who are free to post both the pros and cons of a product or service.
  • No specific links (except the affiliate link) is required in the post.
  • The posts are not written with the sole purpose of promotion, rather they offer in depth reviews of a product or service so that readers can make a sound decision as to whether they prefer to make a purchase or not.
  • The content within affiliate marketing posts offer readers value, information, and is often entertaining which are all elements of great content.
  • If a reader feels uncomfortable purchasing a product or service via the affiliate link, there is nothing stopping them from purchasing directly from the product or service’s website.

The Resulting Conclusions

The truth is there is a lot of confusion when it comes to the true definition of sponsored posts, what the ultimate goal in mind for them is, and whether the benefits are worth it to both the hosting website and sponsor. Depending on who you talk to, you are bound to get very different arguments from both sides.

For me personally, if I contacted a large website looking to post useful content on their website as a guest post in exchange for a link back to my website I would hope it could remain as just that, a guest post. I think the value each side receives is more than enough. However, should anyone approach a large website and wish to pay for links back to their promotional website that is their prerogative.

In reference to my experience that prompted this entire post I feel that being approached and asked to pay to publish on a website I know nothing about is tacky and quite frankly seems desperate. Why would you ask me to pay you while I do all the work? If I come to you, then fine. But do not try and take advantage of me and my high quality content.

I think there is much to be explored with this rising trend of sponsored posts and exposing all the ideas that people have will be a good thing. I hope that this post will help shed a little light on a topic not many seem to know about or understand (myself included). I also hope it spurs some constructive debate as to whether sponsored posts are a good thing.

Do you have any experience with sponsored posts, either as a hosting website or a sponsor? What are your thoughts about sponsored posting opportunities? I would love to hear all about it in the comments below!

Image Courtesy of Freepik

I am a freelance writer trying to make it in the online world. I love all things WordPress and can write on a variety of different topics as well. If you are in need of a content writer, researcher, or virtual assistant for your website, consider contacting me to help you out!
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