Blog for Nothing? by Alexandra Campbell

June 2, 2016

in Articles, General Interest

An issue close to the hearts of many of us, I think. I wish I could pay all you generous contributors ££££s!

Anne Wareham, editor

Anne Wareham Portrait, copyright John Kingdon


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A debate broke out about this on Twitter. Are companies exploiting bloggers by getting them to write posts for free or for a link that turns out to be almost valueless?

First we need to scroll back a bit and look at media – and the gardening media – as a whole.

I have earned my living wholly as a writer since 1979. I’ve worked for or written for the business press, glossy national magazines, major newspapers, big publishing houses (novels and non-fiction), radio…even a small and unsuccessful stab at TV. Now I am also a blogger (The Middlesized Garden), and I teach blogging to individuals and companies.

In spite of working for many of Britain’s top names, my press work has been paid for (as all journalists’ work is) primarily by advertising. What you, as a reader, shell out for magazines and newspapers would not cover the costs of producing what you read. It never has.

But now the traditional media business model has broken. People use the internet to find information and entertainment. They don’t pay, or not usually. Even people who claim never to read blogs type ‘how to prune roses’ into their iPad. A lot of blogs come up (and YouTube videos etc).

And, as far as the traditional press are concerned, people who know nothing are setting themselves up as bloggers and dispensing their knowledge for free, while…

Say again? If they know nothing…

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Never mind. All you need to know is that the readers are mainly online. Every newspaper, magazine (and even TV programme) has haemorrhaged readers/viewers in the past decade. A friend of mine who has worked for the very top, top, top names says ‘I’m tired of working for frightened editors of failing publications.’

Until 2015, advertising money was still mainly invested in traditional media (print, TV, film). But, according to Campaign magazine, 51% of this year’s advertising spend will be online. This is a huge change and does, theoretically, mean money for bloggers.

However, gardening is the media’s poor but pretty relation. (We are always hoping she will find Mr Bingley, but there is perhaps too much soil under her fingernails.)

My publishing contacts tell me that cookery books can top the non-fiction charts. Homes books do OK. Gardening books make the least money.

My newspaper friends say that revenue from gardening advertising trails behind that of retail, travel and personal finance. Gardening ads in glossy magazines are in the Classifieds, not the double page spreads at the front.

And it’s the same with blogs. A top garden blog probably gets about 20,000 hits – or less – in a month. A top fashion or personal finance blog will get 20,000+ in a week. Gardening is seasonal and people don’t buy plants as often as they do food or clothes. There is not as much money in gardening.

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There has been blogger outrage over the RHS’s recent decision to cut press passes to garden bloggers at RHS Chelsea. If the RHS had decided that ‘Chelsea’ is more a social phenomenon than a garden show, then it would be canny of them to invite the big hitters – the fashion and lifestyle bloggers – rather than garden bloggers.

If, on the other hand, they have been under pressure from the beleaguered traditional media to make ‘Chelsea coverage’ more exclusive, then it’s more Canute than canny (yes, yes, I know the RHS has always had to turn away thousands of etc, etc…).

The fact is that ‘Chelsea’ does not need individual garden bloggers. And garden bloggers do not need ‘Chelsea’ (it’s just nice to be included). That’s because blogs work best in niches. Alternative Eden is a top garden blog which focuses on growing exotic plants in ordinary English gardens. Two Thirsty Gardeners is about making booze from your home-grown plants. Almost everything done to get children gardening is on parenting blogs. And so on.

‘Chelsea’ is not niche. More importantly, ‘Chelsea’ is over in a week. Blog posts live on for years. Your post on Chelsea 2016 won’t get any viewers after the week is over. Your post on ‘how to prune roses’ could go on attracting readers for years. (This is a bit of a diversion, but I think it points up the differences between blogs and traditional media.)

Blogging works to boost visits to your website. It reinforces your reputation as an expert. It can provide a platform for selling things, such as books or photography. It can help you get a book deal. And so on. But actual cash for written words…well, no-one is getting much, so be very aware of what you hope to achieve with your blog, and, by extension, any blog posts you write for anyone else.

That 51% of ‘advertising revenue’ being spent online is no longer going on straight advertisements. The old deal between the magazine/newspaper and the advertiser was ‘you create a bloody good magazine that everyone reads and I’ll pay for advertisements on your pages’. Now the interaction is far more complex. Few blogs are likely to survive on advertising, the way that traditional media always did.

Companies are now paying for ‘sponsored posts’. These must be clearly labelled as such. (Never mind that big deals are done behind the scenes of the national press where sponsorship translates into editorial column inches without the reader being aware…)

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Companies also pay PR and SEO experts quite a lot of money to get their websites further up in the Google charts. One of the strategies is to ‘place posts’ with bloggers. I get half a dozen offers a week from companies saying they will write me a free post which will be ‘tailored’ to my readership and ‘all they need is a link.’

All they actually need is the word ‘no’. Google doesn’t like link exchanges. Lots of posts strung together from ‘content writers’ who are writing about toys one minute and gardening the next will not help anyone except the SEO company who is charging the client.

Google invests a great deal of time, effort and money in preventing people from manipulating themselves up the page. It wants someone who types in ‘delphiniums in Kent’ to get very good information about the best delphiniums in Kent. (And if you are going to pay someone, they’d like you to pay Google, so you might be better off advertising.)

If you want to reap the benefits of blogging as a company, then you need to find the person who really knows about delphiniums and get them to write the post. Pay them. Only pay the PR/SEO to gussy up the post to make it readable and searchable…

Meanwhile if you are a blogger and a company wants you to write a free post, say, in exchange for a link to your blog, ask them for their Google Analytics statistics. How many viewers do they get a month? How will you be credited? You should be fully credited, with a link, in the post itself (like Anne does on ThinkinGardens). How much traffic do they generate on average for their guest bloggers?

Some guest posts can generate you a lot of traffic and are well worthwhile. Most are not. You can tell which is which by checking your Google Analytics. Companies that plan to credit you properly and drive traffic to your blog will be keen to tell you about it. Those that do not will vanish over the horizon at the word ‘statistics’.

This debate on Twitter started with a ‘shouldn’t somebody do something about companies getting people to blog for free?’ Ought there to be a code of practice?

But when you blog, you are on your own. Nobody owes you a living. You have to make all your decisions yourself. You need to run your blog the way you would run a company or a magazine, and that includes setting your own prices or other recompense.

Typically fees for writing blog posts start at about £55-£150 a post. But you should be spending 2-4 hours writing a post if it’s to be really good. That could mean you get much the same as if you were paid to weed someone’s border.

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Media in general is in a huge state of upheaval. There will be winners and losers. Which is why the traditional press are frightened, and sometimes even angry about bloggers taking up space they feel is theirs by right. But everyone predicted the end of radio when TV came along, and radio – oddly enough – is currently flourishing. It’s not over yet.

We will survive – or not – on our own merits, and by talking about uncomfortable things like money. Put a price on the posts you write for other people. Don’t accept anything unless it’s right for your blog, and helps you achieve your aims.

If you don’t value yourself, no-one else will. And if enough of us make it clear that we need to be paid, then we will be paid. So open up your blog today and write ‘I’m available to write guest posts for companies. There will be a fee.’ Or similar.

Now all I have to do is take my own advice and stop writing posts for a company that isn’t crediting me properly and isn’t paying me either…

Alexandra Campbell

Alexandra Campbell in archway by Lisa Valder 1600

The Middle-Sized Garden = ‘Alexandra Campbell’s blog, The Middlesized Garden, is for those whose gardens are larger than a courtyard but smaller than an acre…’




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