Warning: Big advertisers hate forums

by Martin Reed on 1 October 2007 in Articles

Can a forum site make money?

As soon as your forum is generating huge amounts of content and traffic every single day, advertising networks will be desperate for your business, right? Sorry, it doesn’t work that way – many advertisers hate your website, regardless of how good it really is.

Advertising networks frown upon user generated content

It doesn’t really matter how popular your website is – if it relies on user-generated content (UGC), the chances are that none of the large ad companies (think Advertising.com, DoubleClick, ValueClick) will accept you as a publisher.

This matters – the larger advertising companies have relationships with the largest and most prestigious advertisers. If you want to move away from running ads offering animated smileys and quizzes about Paris Hilton, you need to get connected with the larger advertisers.

Don’t blame the advertising networks

Advertising networks are not to blame for your UGC website being denied from participating in their ad campaigns – the fault lies with the advertisers who insist their ads do not run on sites that rely on user-generated content.

Many advertisers specify to the networks that they do not want their site to appear on ANY UGC websites. This makes things easier for them – they simply tarnish all UGC sites with the same brush, and run their ads elsewhere. By doing this, they are making a big mistake.

Not all UGC sites are the same

To some extent, I can understand why some advertisers decide they do not want to run their ads on sites that rely on UGC. Many are deserted wastelands, others may be controversial and consequently an advertiser doesn’t want their brand to be associated with extremist or controversial comments. Forums are also renowned for huge page impressions, but low click-through rates.

There are some absolutely brilliant community websites out there, but due to the ignorance of many of the ‘big’ advertisers, their owners are limited when it comes to generating revenue. This is absolutely criminal – in an age when Web communities are gaining in popularity and importance, it is absurd that many advertisers are completely ignoring this core component of the online landscape.

I have no doubt that before long, advertisers will realise their error and begin to open up to sites with user-generated content. If they don’t, they will soon struggle to find websites to advertise on – user interaction and community are becoming the new buzzwords when it comes to online marketing and website development.

Unfortunately by the time these advertisers begin to realise they are in the 21st century, most community website developers will have already found alternative revenue sources.

Perhaps this is a good thing – advertising rates will consequently rise as the advertisers that once shunned us work extra hard to win us back over.

My message to advertisers who shun UGC websites

Community websites are not your enemy. Community websites attract loyal, targeted visitors – an endorsement from a community website is similar to an endorsement from a friend. Sure, you want to avoid certain UGC websites – so establish clear guidelines as to the types of UGC sites you are happy to advertise on. Tell the ad networks you are happy to advertise on UGC sites with clear and enforced site rules, on sites that have more than a certain number of members, on sites that are legal and not overly controversial.

Make your guidelines ten pages long if you like, just do not tarnish all UGC websites with the same brush. It is patronising, unprofessional and you are only missing out on exposing your brand to some of the most loyal users of the Web.

Your opinions

Have you struggled to get your community website accepted by advertising networks? What are your thoughts on the way UGC websites are perceived by big advertisers? How have you monetised your community website? Do you see the situation changing any time soon? Share your thoughts, comments and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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Vyoma October 1, 2007 at 9:40 pm

The point is – where do we draw the line between UGC publishers and traditional editor controlled publishers? Both types of websites are on a path of convergance. More and more traditional sites are adding community features to their sites. Most large forums are also publishing ‘editor controlled’ content along side the UGC. Where do they draw the line in such cases?

table pad October 2, 2007 at 5:02 pm

Surely, the onus on persuading the advertisers to use a site lies on the wehsite’s owner. If I am in business on the Internet, I should go out and sell my medium to the advertisers to use.

Andrew October 3, 2007 at 7:07 am

I agree with you 100%. Big advertisers are right to assume some UGC sites are bad, but others are great avenues to advertise in. I know many forums that have a small niche that advertisers would do very well. In my opinion, it comes down to the advertisers doing their due diligence…..and they should with all those freakin employees!

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 3, 2007 at 8:11 pm

Vyoma – I think that ‘the line’ can be drawn by big advertisers publishing guidelines as to exactly what types of UGC websites they are happy to run ads on. At the moment, they are being rather lazy and arrogant by simply refusing to run ads on pretty much any site with a large proportion of user generated content. This is a huge mistake.

table pad – You’re right; when it comes to pursuing private ad deals, things are different. I am talking about how many of the big ad networks have their hands tied by their biggest advertisers refusing to run ads on UGC websites. As a result, most community websites are automatically rejected from becoming publishers within the larger ad networks.

Of course, when it comes to private ad deals it is down to the website owner to sell the benefits of advertising on their site. Unfortunately if you can’t get into an ad network, you can’t even plead your case.

Andrew – I agree; all UGC sites are different and it is ridiculous that so many advertisers fail to recognise this.

LoanShark October 11, 2007 at 10:06 pm

What advertisers want is _targetted_ traffic. 100,000 people yapping about Paris Hilton or the favourite TV show is much less useful that 1000 regulars talking about tractor parts. The latter might actually _buy_ something.

Plus I think that forum-users are advert-blind; they tune them out.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 12, 2007 at 11:46 pm

LoanShark – In some ways, I agree with you. But let’s take this example:

An online community with 100,000 people talking about movies and films. An online DVD rental store doesn’t advertise there because the site relies on user-generated content. Is that a good strategy?

I understand your comment, but at the end of the day a blanket ignorance of all UGC websites is a huge mistake. Instead of tarring all online communities with the same brush, advertisers and networks need to draw up clear guidelines and understand the diversity of sites in this area.

Clark Financial December 26, 2007 at 3:36 pm

Even as a small advertiser, I won’t pay for ads on forums. I view the audiences as being too un-targeted (if that’s a word).

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 2, 2008 at 8:57 pm

Clark Financial – Paying for advertising on any site that isn’t targeted to your niche is a waste of money and forums are no different. If you find a forum that is strongly targeted to your own audience though, there is no reason why advertising on them cannot be successful.

Eva White October 10, 2008 at 5:47 am

This still hold true. Some good advice in this post.

Martin Reed - Blog Author October 23, 2008 at 9:24 pm

Eva – Thanks for your kind comment :)

Santa December 12, 2008 at 12:19 am

I am wondering if the advertisers have come back yet (it’s been just over a year since your article)? The reason I ask is because I’ve been hearing that web ad revenues have been decreasing along with the overall market, and then I hear the opposite a week later. Then there’s the Google vs Yahoo vs Microsoft battle STILL going on (well, it’s not really a battle when Google’s killing everyone, but at least MS is still trying).

Martin Reed - Blog Author December 22, 2008 at 6:56 pm

Santa – Regretfully, I don’t think much has changed. I think more companies are recognising the value of forums and online communities, but the larger advertising networks are still hesitant to bring you on as a publisher if most of your content is user generated.

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