The advertising dilemma

Editorial
Advertising and sponsored posts pay our bills, but is it the way forward?

Here at The Car Expert, we currently have a dilemma, and I’d like your thoughts as to how we should deal with it.

This site provides a wealth of information and advice on buying, financing and running a car – information which could save you thousands of pounds (or dollars, or yen, or euros, or whatever), and it’s currently provided absolutely free to everyone in the world.

The archive of material at The Car Expert has built up massively over the last four years and will continue to grow, but ultimately the cost of running the site has gone up massively as well – as has the time it takes to keep it going – and it has to be paid for, one way or another. I very much enjoy helping people to get the best result possible, but I’m not a charity. This site is not my primary source of income and I have a full-time job.

The site earns income from the advertisements you see all over the place, as well as from sponsored articles. They pay the bills, but they are both necessary evils.  I would much rather have no advertising and no paid content, but that’s not currently an option unless there is a kind donor out there who would like to write a very large cheque…

Both ads and sponsored articles also have other problems, which are explained below. But essentially, we either need to run more ads (and more intrusive ads) and more sponsored articles, or we need to find other methods to generate revenue. Most websites are facing the same dilemma, but most don’t publicly ask their readers what they want. It’s pretty important for the future direction of The Car Expert, and I’d like to know what you think.

How banner advertising works (on all websites)

All those ads you see across each page are there to generate income. We don’t directly source the ads you see; that’s done by Google or other providers. I create the space, and Google/other provider puts an ad for one of its clients in that space. The advertising you see will depend on your browsing history and cookie settings. Most internet ads work in this fashion.

advertising on the internet

For every thousand ads displayed on the site, we get a few pennies (literally). If you click on an ad and visit the advertiser’s website, we may get a pound or two (depending on how long you’re there, whether you buy anything, etc.). That’s how most ads on the internet work. At the end of each month, Google etc. pay us for the number of ads displayed and clicked on.

Advertising revenue is declining right across the internet, because people have started running ad-blocking software. So even though the number of visitors to this site has increased massively over the last few years, ad revenue is actually declining.

Regular visitors will notice that we regularly trial different ad formats and ad providers. Every additional ad slows down the site slightly, and is potentially quite annoying (obviously, since the point of an advert is to get you to notice it!), and too much annoyance will result people leaving the site and never returning. Basically it’s a balancing act between getting the best income for the least inconvenience. I try and avoid the really annoying ad formats, like popups and popunders (where an ad page opens after you leave the site), even though they do tend to pay more.

To make matters even worse for advertising revenue, I have recently upgraded the site from HTTP to HTTPS. What this means, for non-geeks, is that there is better security for email addresses that you need to provide when you comment or ask questions. Unfortunately, many ad providers don’t support the more-secure format and our ad revenue has fallen off a cliff…

(*update 08/02/16 – I have now reverted to HTTP, as the advertising revenue drop was too great, and until we work out a longer-term plan, the migration to HTTPS will have to wait)

How sponsored content is presented at The Car Expert

Sponsored content is tricky for all site owners, because advertisers specifically don’t want it to look like sponsored content. These days it’s known as ‘native advertising’, because the idea is that it should look seamless alongside the regular unpaid content. But this is an independent, impartial website and we do not want any confusion between an independent recommendation and a paid endorsement.

I strictly limit the number of sponsored articles at The Car Expert, and have also become much stricter about the quality of content accepted – especially if the topic is offering advice or recommendations that could in any way be confused with our own independent information.

Sponsored post - native advertising

All sponsored articles are clearly labelled “This article is brought to you by XYZ” at the top of the page (as shown above).  I regularly get requests for this disclaimer to be removed, even with the offer of more money, but we do not do this under any circumstances.

I turn away sponsored content requests every week because the advertiser wants any reference to the article being paid for to be removed. As much as I would love the extra few hundred quid every month, I’m not interested in compromising the site’s premise to do so. Believe it or not, some marketers get quite abusive when I turn them down over this point.

So what do we do to keep the site going?

Well, we can run more ads, and run ad formats which are more intrusive so you can’t ignore them (I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of websites which use this approach). This would potentially bring in more money, but it slows the page loading times down and it puts people off, which means they tend to leave and not come back. So it’s not a great long-term strategy. Ad revenues are also continuing to fall because of ad-blocking software, which means placing even more ads on the page for those people who don’t block them.

We can run more sponsored content.  The problem with these articles is that they are very rarely independent or impartial, as they are specifically designed to promote a particular product or service. I could easily increase revenue by accepting lower-quality articles or disguising the fact that they are sponsored, but that goes against the very point of the site in the first place. In addition, if Google catches a site presenting sponsored content as organic, it punishes that site heavily (basically the site would disappear from search results, which would kill 90+% of traffic immediately).

The last real option, and probably the inevitable future, is to create a paywall for some or all of the site so that you have to pay to read articles. There are several ways of doing this, but there are several drawbacks. Firstly, people usually hate paying to read articles, even if it’s only a few pennies and the information within could be extremely valuable. Secondly, blocking people from reading the site also tends to block Google and other search engines from seeing the site, so you don’t appear in search results. Thirdly, people don’t usually share articles on social media if their friends have to pay to read them.

paywall login

Providing a metered paywall (where you can read one or two articles for free but then have to pay to read more) could mean that we could reduce the number of ads, if enough people were prepared to pay a few pennies. But the big question is, will enough people be likely to do so?

So I’d love to hear your thoughts. Would you be prepared to pay a small amount (probably less than 50p) to read a few articles, or certain types of articles? Would you be interested in a pay-once subscription and then read everything forever without having to pay again? Would you tolerate more ads in return for not having to pay anything? Would you tolerate more sponsored content if it means fewer ads and not having to pay to read articles?  Do you have any better ideas? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Many thanks,

signature

 

 


Stuart Masson

Owner and Editor,
The Car Expert

Stuart Masson

Stuart is the Editor of The Car Expert, which he founded in 2011, and our new sister site The Van Expert. Originally from Australia, Stuart has had a passion for cars and the car industry for over thirty years. He spent a decade in automotive retail, and now works tirelessly to help car buyers by providing independent and impartial advice.

14 Comments

  1. I don’t see the problem with paying for valuable content. Looking at the sort of stories on your site, I would say that there are some which are highly valuable and important, and others which are interesting but not worth paying for. Maybe you should divide it up into free content and premium (paid) content?

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Thanks Scott. I should be able to configure it to only make certain articles chargeable if that is seen to be a good idea. I would imagine that the ‘general interest’ stuff, as well as guest posts or sponsored posts, would remain free while the advice articles would be chargeable. Alternatively, everyone can read X articles for free and then pay after that, which is the model many sites are adopting.

  2. don’t do it dude people won’t pay.

    Reply
  3. The decision whether or not to advertise is a tricky one. Making people pay will possibly drive readers away. Where as advertising banners to pay for the site seems the way forward. Hope this is of help.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Thanks Ewen. I agree that as soon as you ask people to pay even a small amount, you will lose a fair chunk of those people.

  4. I understand your predicament. I read a great article on PCP here which saved me thousands so I would be willing to pay for the important content. Perhaps a one off fee for a few articles such as a £1. A small enough amount to not put people off but which should see lots of people buying into it.

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Thanks for your thoughts Gavin, glad the information was useful to you.

  5. Hi Stuart,

    what about a mixed strategy? I can understand that both strategies seems quite daunting.

    How about trailing it out a bit of both and see which gets the best results. Carry on with some ads and experiment charging for some very specific articles. Would that be very hard to achieve?

    The benefit of this I guess would be; to ease your regular readers into paying for most amazing contents. Also as a business you can closely monitor what % of readers decide to pay for the best peace’s for a while, after some time you would have a statistical proof in black and white, and metrics might help you answer your dilemma.

    What ever you decide I wish you all the best.

    Regards
    Jovita

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Hi Jovita. Many thanks for your thoughts. I think what you suggest is certainly achievable, and is a good way to trial the idea of paying for content to see how it goes.

  6. Hi Stuart,

    I actually bumped on to this website when I was looking for one which offers great advices on the whole car buying and owning.

    I believe that you have a wonderful website and its not affiliated to a certain brand or a type of car.
    Its required that a website like this exists and stays unbiased in terms of its opinions so that ultimately the readers are benefited.

    I am also extremely happy for your very open approach even for a topic as sensitive as the website financial and the way to go forward.

    I think if we can manage to get more traffic to the website, the revenue will increase and will be a good starting point. To enable that we should be found in the first page of Google search results when one search for a car review / a car related issue. We need to have more content in this website. A few examples can be a section for user car review / official car review made by a person or a team at TheCarexpert website, a travelogue section, a section where user reviews independent or authorized garages in different areas in UK etc.
    It will also be good to have a section for classifieds, where readers can post the car stuff that they want to sell / buy. It could be a specialist part or a Mark 1 Jag or a part used tyre. You can even give options for car dealers to post their advertisement for a nominal fee.

    It will also be an idea worth considering to have a member log on section where a reader creates a profile so that he/ she can frequently put posts into the section that they are interested in. Going forward it will be great thing to say that we are a car expert forum with x number of members.
    If this website becomes a place for car enthusiasts / normal car users to interact with each other and share information – nothing better than that.

    We could also provide direct links to respective manufactures home page so that a user after reading a review can directly click on a link and go browse the car model in the review. I think manufacturers will be happy to pay us for such services. We could also promote or list the various websites which offer discounts on new cars.

    In essence this website should become the go to place for anything and everything related to cars, and in my opinion the way to reach there is by creating more content, a possibility of users to become members and enable members to interact with each other.

    Not sure if any of these made sense or helped :-)
    Anyway.
    Cheers
    Rejo

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Sorry Rejo, for some reason your comment got caught by the spam filter. Thanks for your thoughts, some good ideas.

  7. Those video ads you have been trialling are hideous. I don’t know if they pay really well but I don’t want to see some woman talking about health concerns in the middle of an article about buying a car!

    Reply
  8. I bought a brand new BMWi8 (tweet @BMWi8dontbuy) and the performance has been dire. It has already been in the garage 7 times already and had its battery drained numerous times. Whilst it is still under warranty the dealership BMW Spire borehamwood refuse to do anything about it. I could go to lawyers but why should I have to spend more money when there is clearly a fault with the car. Does anyone have any advice on how i can expose this dealership. ANYONE interested in the BMWi8 please do not believe the advertising. It looks good on the outside but not much there on the inside

    Reply
    • Stuart Masson

      Hi sylvi. You appear to making your own life far more difficult than necessary. If the dealer is not providing the level of service you expect, go to another dealer. If you are still not getting the answers you want, contact BMW UK. If you can’t resolve you problem with the manufacturer, contact Trading Standards. Setting up a Twitter account and trying to have a public spat with BMW and the dealer is not going to fix your problem.

      For more information, have a read of our article about resolving an argument with a car dealership.

What are your thoughts? Let us know below.

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