8 Mar 2007

My food blog as a blog lab, part 2: Advertising, monetization, ethics and such

filed under: journal  :: advertising  :: blogging  :: drupal  :: monetization

Back in early November, I wrote about using my food blog, Just Hungry, as a lab or experimental platform for operating a monetized, sort-of-commercial, blog.

Since then I have put some more effort into deriving an income from Just Hungry. Here are some of my observations and such.

A little struggle with ethics

If a blog is started as a pure labor of love, I think that it can pose a little bit of an dilemma when it comes to monetizing it. Initially, I went through some internal ethical conflicts about allowing advertising or affiliate links. But then I decided that as long as I didn't change the way I wrote or what I wrote, and did not link to or endorse anything I didn't like or use myself, then there wasn't going to be a problem. And there really hasn't. If anything, it's liberated me in some ways, as I describe below.


For most product links, I use Amazon (.com and .jp so far, may add .uk since I have quite a lot of UK readers) because it has the widest selection of things other than books. The Amazon astore, where I recommend things that I actually use or have used, has been fairly successful in the monetary sense.

I also have an affiliate account with a well known company that sells stuff from Japan, Jlist/JBox, mainly since I get asked all the time where to get this or that from Japan.

Paid reviews

I've also done a couple of paid reviews (via ReviewMe); I've also declined a couple of review requests when I couldn't find anything constructive to say. That's turned out well too, and a side benefit is that when someone blatantly wants me to or 'promote their xyz', I have the option of politely pointing them to the paid review option. Having a paid review option has actually been very liberating editorially speaking.

Advertiser requests and such

So far, I've turned down requests for ad placement or affiliation with products or companies I couldn't see any reason to connect to. (The funniest one was some lady who wanted to buy ad space for bean bag chairs...because she found a this page, Inarizushi: sushi in a bean bag.)

I think that ideally, some Japanese food or product stores, especially ones who ship internationally, would choose to put ads on my site, but so far such an opportunity hasn't come up.

Some other affiliate things have not produced enough income to justify the valuable screen space they take up, so I've dropped them.

Google Adsense and Kontera: Contextual ads

I run Google Adsense ads (1 ad unit and 1 link unit on the front page; 2 ad units on other pages), and also Kontera, for contextual ads, since Google recently allowed programs such as Kontera to run concurrently with Adsense. I was rather skeptical about Kontera, but so far it's worked pretty well. The revenue from it is about 1/3rd of that produced by Adsense.

I haven't too much in the way of optimizing the site for Adsense, beyond setting the colors to blend in with the site colors. (It's always handy to have list of the colors you use for links, text and such in an easily referenced location. I have it at the top of my stylesheets in comments.) As far as placement goes, I know that I should (as an example) put a blog of ads on the top of individual posts and things for more results, but I just can't bring myself to do that for aesthetic reasons. Ultimately I want my content to be prominent, not the ads.


I mention my affiliations quite clearly in at least three locations: the about page, the store page, and advertising policy page. The Kontera links are explained on a page titled What are those funny links?. In addition, any sponsored review says it is so clearly in the title and the teaser, so anyone can skip them if they want to.

So far none of my readers have complained about any of my monetization implementations.

Switching to Drupal

In early February I switched the site over to Drupal. I don't think this has affected the traffic directly; however, it's just made it easier for me to organize things on the site, so perhaps it has affected it indirectly. It's too early to tell yet though.

One minor puzzling problem is that Drupal occasionally fails to ping Technorati and other services.

I'm much more comfortable with Drupal now. One of these days I should write up how to design and lay out a site from scratch, which is what most designers want to do, with Drupal. Contrary to popular view, it's really not so hard, especially with version 4.7 and above. (For what it's worth, this site is still using version 4.7.x and Just Hungry is using version 5.1.)

Concentrating the subject matter

In recent months I have concentrated the majority of my posts on two subjects: Japanese food and cooking, and healthy eating/cooking. Perhaps because of this, the traffic has increased about 30% since early November, after being fairly flat for the previous 3-4 months.

This has come at the expense of other subjects I'd like to write about more. I am toying with the idea of opening other blogs concentrating on one or more of those subjects. (It's a time and energy thing, as are all new projects.)


The income derived from all the monetization things I have been using, has gone up quite a bit in the last few months. And, while it's not so much, it is nice to derive some monetary benefit from my efforts. If anything it's made me regard updating the site and putting up quality content as one kind of job, and made me more professional about it; planning ahead for certain content, updating more regularly, and so on.

I've really only scratched the surface as far as monetization is concerned. I continue to tweak it; it's quite fun and educational to see what works and what doesn't.

Comments on this post:

The ReviewMe cushion

I hadn't really thought that deeply about it but I think I do like the cushion that ReviewMe provides, and that I can mark any ReviewMe review as such, thus make it totally transparent to my readers that it's a sponsored review. While ReviewMe does take a hefty cut of the proceeds I figure that I am paying them to deal with the client and pre-screen requests. Besides, most people want _free_ publicity from bloggers, and that's one way to tell them that not all bloggers are there to do that for them. Great question! thanks!

Why are you directing people

Why are you directing people to Review Me? If an advertiser discovers your site via Review Me, Review Me has earned their cut. But if an advertiser who was previously aware of your blog comes directly to your site looking to advertise, just take their money, 100% of it, through PayPal, and don't give anything to Review Me. Do you just like the idea of a one-cushion to insulate you from pressure not to trash the advertiser?

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some of my flickr photos