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Blogs blaze new trail for b-to-b advertising

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In less than two years, blogs have morphed from digital rebels into a new source of advertising revenue for b-to-b publishers.

Unheard of just three years ago, the number of blogs has exploded in the last 18 months. According to Technorati, which tracks the so-called "blogosphere," there are now 20.5 million blogs, or Weblogs, covering every conceivable subject.

Moreover, vituperative-laced blogs-whose content is unlikely to attract b-to-b advertisers-are gradually being eclipsed by blogs that can help media companies monetize their online properties and offer b-to-b marketers a cost-effective alternative to traditional media buys.

Blogs have taken off as a marketing vehicle much faster than anticipated, said Chris Redlitz, president of Feedster Inc., which provides RSS search and content syndication. "Whether you're a publisher or a b-to-b advertiser, if you ignore blogs you're potentially ignoring an audience that exclusively gets their content from this channel," he said.

"[Blogs] are going to fundamentally change b-to-b advertising," said Dave Morgan, CEO of TACODA Systems, an advertising technology company. "In the b-to-b world, the narrower the site is, the more relevant, and more valuable, the audience."

Because blogs tend to attract the early adopters of new technologies, they can also provide b-to-b advertisers with quality sales leads and solid conversion rates, Morgan said. While it's still early in the game and there is very little advertising on blogs, that's rapidly changing, spurred in part by the increasing demand for RSS feeds, which often include blogs accompanied by advertising.

"Blogs are being looked at more and more among marketers," said Dominique Busso, CEO of VNU Net Europe. "They're more direct, more interactive and can be a vehicle to increase the dialogue between a company and its users," he said. "They're from the gut and they're real."

In October, VNU agreed to a partnership with Gawker Media to launch six European-language versions of Gawker's gadget blog, Gizmodo, augmented by local coverage. In addition to English, Gizmodo.com is now available in Dutch, French, German, Italian and Spanish, and covers the Belgium market in Dutch. To date, approximately one-third of the advertising on the sites is b-to-b, but that percentage is expected to grow. Advertisers on Gizmodo's sites include Hewlett-Packard Co., Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp.

About.com, which the New York Times Co. acquired from Primedia earlier this year for $410 million, also is fast becoming a major destination for b-to-b advertisers, such as American Express Co., Dupont, FedEx, State Farm Insurance and United Parcel Service of America.

About.com's bloglike site features 500-plus "guides" containing 57,000 topics such as choosing a location for a business, what distinguishes great managers and how to make money online. About.com recently purchased an equity stake in Indeed.com, a job meta-search engine that's now being integrated into the site.

"[The site] is a very exciting opportunity for b-to-b advertisers because of [the guides'] ability to so narrowly target their message to the specific interests of the audience," said Scott Meyer, president-CEO of About Inc.

While the print side of the Times Co. continues to suffer, ad revenue generated by About.com in the third quarter totaled $14.2 million, up 67% from the year-earlier period.

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