Why I (Still) Like SponsoredReviews

published on November 13, 2007

Update: Wow, that was quick. SponsoredReviews has just launched their affiliate program. You get paid $5.00 for every blogger referred and has the following pay structure for referring advertisers:

Amount Spent Referral Fee
$1 $5
$100 $20
$1,000 $50
$10,000 $100

So, if you haven’t signed up for SR yet, you might as well do so now 😉

My latest posts mentioning SponsoredReviews.com have generated quite a few questions. And, since I skipped the Reader Question Session yesterday, I figured I’d address all these questions in one single post. I’m just going to run down the questions and comments and I’ll leave some of the more open ended questions to the end. Buckle up, cause here we go!

bmunch: I would really like you to do a review on Sponsored Review.

Ask and you shall receive.

Mike Huang: Well, it’s better if there is no middle man. Just advertise that you do reviews on here and don’t use any service to do so.

I would have to disagree here. While I definitely like keeping 100% of the profits of the private reviews I do, I would not have nearly as many offers as I get with the service acting as the middle man. Currently the only people that I know I offer site reviews are people that visit the Advertise page. That’s a still a very limited audience. However, the service sites like SponsoredReviews (SR), ReviewMe (RM), and PayPerPost (PPP) all have much larger audiences. So, by using their service I’m increasing the number of my potential clients by incredible margins.

Also, this recent episode actually illustrated a big benefit to going through a service. I don’t have to deal with the customers. Once the dialogue was started with the SponsoredReviews representative, it was actually a very quick and easy process to get things cleared up. If I had been the one dealing directly with the upset advertiser, I’m quite certain things would not have gone as smoothly.

bmunch: Have you use PayPerPost? If so, what are your assessment for both of them and why do you prefer Sponsered Post?

I have and do use PayPerPost but I much prefer SponsoredReviews. PayPerPost has a lot more limitations and MUCH lower paying opportunities. I usually spend 2-3 hours on a review and my time is worth a heck of a lot more than $10-30 for that amount of time. Also, I’ve just found the SR system to be much easier to use overall. There’s no wondering whether or not your blog qualifies, or whether or not all the opportunities have been reserved like there is in the PPP interface.

Ruchir: I haven’t tried SponsoredReviews yet fully since I didn’t like the bidding thing. The bidding takes too long, plus SR gave my blog a very low value ($5), so the max I could bid was $5, which is pretty bad. Anyways, how has been your experience of SR so far Ben?

Actually, it’s funny that you mention the bidding process. That’s one of my favorite aspects of SR as opposed to the other sites. I hate sitting around waiting for advertisers to contact me. SR’s bidding process allows me to proactively contact advertisers. Then all they have to do is accept or reject it. Also, I like the ability for either party to make counter offers which allows some negotiations to take place. I haven’t really found the bidding process to be all that time consuming. I log in a few times a week, check out the new opportunities, bid on the ones that fit my blogs (I have several blogs signed up with the service) and they email me when one of my bids is accepted. The whole process probably takes 15-20 minutes a week max.

As for the low value, every time I’ve registered a blog with them, SponsoredReviews has given me a range that my price should fall within. For example, for this blog their suggested price was between $50 and $500. For another one of my less popular blogs, they suggested between $20 and $200. I’d be willing to bet that if you log in, click on the Manage Blogs tab, and then click on the blog in question, you should be able to enter in your own price. If that’s not an option I’d drop them an email asking for a price increase and see what they say. They’ve really been quite easy to work with and go out of their way to help me in most situations.

SEO blog: After all Ben, i think you should pick another company that doesn’t dictate how to write the reviews…

From what I’ve seen each of the major services have similar requirements. SR does give advertisers the option to “Benefits Only” as their desired review type, however, those are usually few and far between and I simply don’t bid or accept those types of opportunities. In my opinion if I don’t feel free to speak my mind about the site in question, the review won’t be worth anything anyway. Not only would I be compromising my integrity but readers would immediately see through any insincere review. It’s just not worth it to me. However, I do think it’s wise for SponsoredReviews to have that as an option for advertisers such as Laser-Toner.co.uk that only want to read warm and fuzzy comments about their site, whether they’re based in reality or not. At the same time it allows me to skip over those reviews without giving them a second look.

Now, before this starts to just sound like a gushing, 100% positive review, let me address a couple of areas I think SponsoredReviews could improve upon.

Shaun Carter: However, I do agree completely with you that if SponsoredReviews wants to enforce these rules they talk about in that e-mail then they need to explicitly state those rules in their TOS.

As it turns out, they do state it in their best practices guide. It just wasn’t in the one that is easily found. I definitely think they could stand to update their TOS and make the rules a bit more accessible. I think that would help reviewers avoid the type of situation I encountered yesterday.

Also, I’d desperately like to see SR come out with an affiliate program. I’ve been told that there’s something in the works that will be released in a matter of weeks but this has always been SR’s biggest weakness in my opinion. For example, if a post like this could generate income for me, I’d probably have written it a lot sooner.

And last, but certainly not least, I’d like to see some sort of system put in place to denote which opportunities are old and stagnant and which are still active. I currently have quite a few bids waiting for approval but I have no way of knowing whether the advertiser is actually still active or hasn’t been to the site in months.

All in all, SponsoredReviews is still my top choice in terms of sponsored or paid posts, and although there are still areas they could improve upon, they’ve come a long way in the 8 short months since I first reviewed them over on SEOrefugee.com. And, whether you decide to use SponsoredReviews or not, I’d definitely suggest you check out their blog. It’s not updated all that regularly but it’s got some quality information on blogging and marketing.

What about you? Have you used SponsoredReviews? What kind of results have you seen? Do you prefer a different service, and if so, why?


SponsoredReviews Replies – I was 2/3rds wrong

published on November 13, 2007

Well, SponsoredReviews got back to me fairly quickly and as it turns out, they do mention both of the first two issues in their rules. Just not the rules I was able to easily find. I was given this link, and in this list they do mention that you aren’t allowed to advertise your prices if they are less than 25% lower than the price listed on their site. I was wrong there.

They also state that:

  1. Reviews cannot contain in-text advertising (e.g., Kontera) or sponsored links other than those of the advertiser, unless otherwise specified by the advertiser. Advertisers do not want to see links competing for clicks on the review that they are paying for.

While I don’t think the “business” links qualify since I gave that away as a prize, that’s a very fine line and one that I probably shouldn’t have walked. I’m not sure whether I just missed that section or whether this is an updated version the Getting Started Guide but I wasn’t able to find it without a direct link.

That brings us to the third and in my opinion most important point. SponsoredReviews has said they won’t be refunding the money but would prefer if I were a bit more tactful with my criticisms in the future. While I don’t have to “spin” it, they have suggested that there was probably a better way to convey my thoughts (most likely without the sarcasm as Tim mentioned in the comments to the last post).

With all that being said, much of my faith has been restored in SponsoredReviews and they are still my paid review site of choice. While I don’t think I was out of line, they also have to balance the advertisers desires with that of the publishers and that’s probably not an easy balancing act. I will continue to use their site and suggest anyone interested in making money blogging do so as well. I mean all’s well that ends well right?


Reader Discussion: Review, But Don’t be Negative?

published on November 12, 2007

Wow, so in the midst of preparing my post for today I received an email from SponsoredReviews.com. The review I did yesterday of Laser-Toner.co.uk was apparently not quite up to their standards. Well, rather than give you second hand information, I’ll just post the email.

Ben,

There are several problems with the following review: http://bloggingexperiment.com/archives/under-the-microscope-laser-tonercouk.php

Problem 1 – It is not ok to plug your own review services inside of a post that we are paying you to do. Please remove mentions that people can buy reviews from you directly in the post.

Problem 2 – The review contains several links to ChipSEO.com with the text “Business”.  We are assuming these are some sort of contextual link from another service.  We do not allow contextual links other then the advertisers links in our paid posts.

Problem 3 – While the advertiser did not require a “Benefits Only” post, we feel you go a little too far in your negativity of their site.  Not all websites are created equal, Advertisers are not paying you to tell people not to visit their sites..  While this makes you look credible to your audience it pisses advertisers off.  You can feel free to critique advertisers sites as long as you are providing contructive[sic] comments as well.  If in the future you find that you cannot spin your reviews to be mostly constructive, we suggest not doing the review at all.

Please fix these issues promptly or we will need to refund the advertiser.

Now, to be fair, I wasn’t in the best of moods to begin with, but that about sent me through the roof. First of all… well again, let me just post my response rather than rehashing the whole thing.

Please show me where you state that #1 and 2 that you mentioned are not allowed. I’ve searched high and low on your site and have not seen any mention of either of these supposed rules. The second problem you mention you assume incorrectly. ChipSEO.com won a prize I gave away on my blog that every time I write the word business on my site, I link to their site. Surely you aren’t suggesting that we are ONLY allowed to link to the advertisers required links are you?

As for the third problem you say that not all websites are created equal. No correct me if I’m wrong but I was being paid to review the website in question. I reviewed it and found it to be lacking. You’re saying you want me to “spin” that opinion? I thought you guys wanted an honest opinion, especially when the advertiser does not require a “benefits only” review. You say that advertisers are not paying me to tell people not to visit their site. I never said such a thing and in fact linked to the site as required. I DID make the suggestion that people should not purchase from the company. That’s quite a bit different. I’m sorry that this particular advertiser doesn’t like the review but as you stated, not all websites are created equal and the site in question, after an extensive review, proved to be a very poor website.

I’ve been a huge fan of Sponsored Reviews and have done quite a few reviews for you. I’ve recommended you several times and to as many people as will listen. However, if I’m not allowed to speak my mind and you try to enforce rules that are no where to be found on your website I’m afraid my opinion of your company will change quite drastically.

I feel like I should reiterate the fact that I have been, and hopefully will continue to be, a big fan of SponsoredReviews. However, if these are the policies that they are going to enforce, I’m simply won’t be using their service anymore. If I’m not free to speak my mind on reviews, especially ones not listed as “Benefits Only” (which I don’t bother bidding on), I’d be selling my credibility to the highest bidder. In fact, this email would seem to call into question their entire operation. I’ve looked through all the terms and conditions and the Blogging “Best Practices” and everything I could find and have never once seen a mention of other links within my reviews.

Also, using the phrase “spin your reviews to be more constructive” seems like an incredibly poor choice of words! Enough people automatically assume that a paid review is biased and worthless, why in the world would a company that depends on these types of posts want to play into that assumption and essentially prove it to be correct? Not to mention the fact that isn’t pointing out the areas of the site I had a problem with the very definition of being constructive? I mean if they took that review and said, ok, how do we fix these issues, their site would take a HUGE leap forward.

I know I say this a lot but I’d really like your input on this one. Am I off base here? Am I letting my bad mood cloud my judgment on this one or what?


Under the Microscope: Laser-Toner.co.uk

published on November 11, 2007

Apparently my Under the Microscope posts from last week got some people’s attention because I’ve been receiving several more requests lately. Remember, if you’d like me to take a look at your blog or website, drop me an email. I won’t get to all of them but it’s worth a shot. Of course if you want to assure I cover your site, you can probably figure out a way to get my attention.. Anyway one of the sites that went that route was Laser-Toner.co.uk so here we are.

According to the about page,

“Laser Toner UK was one of the UK’s first online suppliers of high quality compatible inkjet and toner cartridges direct to businesses and the public. We now handle hundreds of thousands of orders every year and every customer is assured of a friendly welcome and that their purchase will be dispatched promptly.

Now, it’s been a while since I purchased any toner or inkjet cartridges but I do remember them being fairly expensive, especially if you have to buy them regularly. Fortunately, there are several stores and companies now that refill old cartridges making it much more affordable. Apparently Laser Toner UK is one of those companies that offers this type of toner cartridge for sale.

While the about page implies that Laser Toner UK has been online for quite some time, archive.org puts the age of the site at months, not years. On top of that, the site does absolutely nothing to inspire consumer confidence. While the home page is pretty simple and straight forward, it goes down hill quickly from there. After clicking on one of the Most popular brands, you’re greeted with a long list of toner cartridges. There are no pictures, no information about which printers they are compatible with, just a long list of links. Not only that, but a large majority of the links take you to a page that simply says there were no results found. I clicked around about 25 times before I actually found a page that actually listed a product for sale!

As if that weren’t bad enough, clicking on the Toner Refill button takes you to a page which promises toner refills for 75% off, but has only “Coming Soon” as the text. Brilliant. When I checked out the delivery info page, I had to scratch my head. The page claims “Order before 4.00PM Monday through Friday and we’ll deliver your printer cartridges for the next [working] day” of course they then qualify it with a quick “(please allow 1-2 working days for delivery).” Wait, what? Is it next working day delivery or isn’t it? Maybe this is a language difference (UK English vs. US English) but to me if you say next working day delivery it had better be at my home or office the next working day. I’m guessing they mean that they’ll fulfill and send out your order within one working day and then the actual shipping will take another day or two. While that might be a small mistake, it’s just the icing on the cake for this site.

So there you have it. Any readers from across the pond, I wouldn’t suggest using Laser-Toner.co.uk for your ink needs. They might in fact be a quality company, but their website doesn’t reflect that at all and as they’ll see from this review, you only get one chance to make a first impression online.


The Office: Lessons on Blogging

published on November 8, 2007

The Office is easily one of my favorite comedies on TV right now, despite getting off on the wrong foot. I was originally introduced to the British version of the show and found the American version to be an obnoxious ripoff of the fantastic original. However, as the show has progressed I’ve grown to embrace this version. I’m not sure whether the actors grew into their characters or whether I’m just further removed from the original but whatever the case, I simply can’t get enough of the Dunder Mifflin employees.

Of course, there is a very real chance that I’ve actually ruined television for myself for ever. By following up Heroes Lessons on Blogging with The Sopranos Lessons on Blogging and unwittingly established a trend. Now whenever I sit down to watch TV I constantly find myself thinking about what lessons the show “teaches” and how it could apply to blogging. Such was the case last night when I sat down to catch up on a couple of episodes of the Office, thus, I give you, The Office: Lessons on Blogging!

Be Aware of How You’re Viewed

The Office's Michael ScottOne of the pillars of the show is the fact that Michael has this incredibly inflated sense of self worth. He thinks he’s a terrific boss, an asset to the company, and just generally smarter than everyone else. Of course, he’s actually none of those things which makes for some rather entertaining moments at Michael’s expense. In a recent episode Michael and Dwight were on a road trip when the GPS navigation unit told them to turn right. Michael proceeded to turn right immediately, despite Dwight’s shouts that the computer didn’t actually intend for them to drive into a lake. As the car sank into the lake it dawned on Michael that he may not have made the best decision. Naturally he assumed the GPS was trying to kill him rather than entertain the thought that he had been in the wrong.

A lot of bloggers struggle with the very same issue. While not many take it to the hilarious extreme Michael does, there are plenty of bloggers out there that have no idea how other people actually view them. They may think they are an expert when in fact, most people view them as a joke. Conversely, readers may look at a blogger as an expert in their field but the blogger doesn’t see it, and certainly doesn’t leverage that status to benefit their site. In practice, it’s really not that difficult to keep tabs on how you are perceived, but it’s not always a fun thing to do. Read the comments people leave on your blog, read any and all posts that mention your site or you personally, and from time to time ask your readers.If the number of critical comments or blog posts far outweigh the positive, chances are you don’t have the standing you thought you did. However, If people are constantly linking to you whenever they discuss a certain topic (as long as it’s not in a “look at this idiot!” manner), chances are they view you as an authority. Whether you think you’re an expert in your field or not, perception is very often reality it doesn’t pay to be ignorant of the general public perceives your blog.

Embrace New Technology

Dunder Mifflin InfinityRecently Dunder Mifflin has launched a new campaign to bring the company into the 21st century called “Dunder Mifflin Infinity”. The initiative is being spear headed by Ryan a former employee under Michael who has since been promoted and is now positioned above Michael on the corporate ladder. A large part of the plan has been updating technology, becoming younger and faster, and more of a “cutting edge” type company. Of course this becomes a bit of a struggle for Michael who was quite happy with how things were going and also has an aversion to technology in general. Michael refuses to use the new blackberry phones that the company has purchased for everyone and instead embarks on a campaign to prove that Ryan is being age discriminatory.

While not every new thing coming down the pipeline will live up to the hype or be deserving of your time, bloggers also need to be careful not to shut themselves off to new technology. For example, many bloggers are just now coming around to the idea of social media while others embraced it early on and have been reaping the rewards ever since. This doesn’t mean that anyone who didn’t jump on board early can’t still benefit from social media exposure, but the early adopters have a distinct advantage. They know what content will and won’t work, they’ve participated in the community, and many are now known as experts in the field. The same holds true for any tiered affiliate program or advertising platform. The first in will have an advantage over those who are more resistant. Obviously you don’t want to blindly throw yourself into each and ever new thing that comes along but embracing new technology or products can pay off in the long run.

Value Your Contributors

The DundiesOne of the most famous episodes, and one that ironically helped the show win an Emmy, was season two’s “The Dundies.” Every year Michael takes the office out to Chilli’s for their very own awards ceremony. As he puts it

“A lot of the people here don’t get trophies very often, like Meredith or Kevin, I mean who’s going to give Kevin an award, Dunkin’ Donuts? Plus, bonus, it’s really really funny. So I, you know, an employee will go home, and he’ll tell his neighbor, “Hey, did you get an award?” And the neighbor will say, “No man. I mean I slave all day and nobody notices me.” Next thing you know, employee smells something terrible coming from the neighbor’s house. Neighbor’s hanged himself, due to lack of recognition.”

Naturally, the awards are hilarious and include things like the “Don’t go in there after me” award, the “Whitest shoes” award, and the “Busiest Beaver” award which contained an unfortunate typo making it the “Bushiest Beaver” award. So, while the idea, like every other idea Michael has, was executed poorly, the premise behind it is something all bloggers should remember. Always value those who contribute to your site. Whether it’s giving things away to your readers, highlighting new advertisers, installing the Top Commentators plugin, promoting your guest bloggers’ sites, or any number of other ideas, just make sure it conveys your appreciation for their contributions.

Step Up to the Plate

Pam and JimAnother one of the ongoing story lines for the series has been the tension between Pam and Jim. They both obviously have feelings for each other but until this season, they’ve never had the courage to do anything about it. Sure Jim would jealously make fun of Pam’s dates or boyfriends and Pam would try to convince herself that she was ok with Jim dating other women but it’s always been obvious to viewers that the two were in love with each other but never put an action behind those feelings.

The same holds true for an incredible amount of bloggers (and really people in general) out there. Not long ago a friend of mine gave me what amounted to a swift kick in the butt. I’d talk about all these ideas I had and even begin a few but none of them would end up making me any money because I’d just be dabbling. I wouldn’t every fully commit to any one idea and ride it to the ground or until it became profitable. My friend on the other hand was making money hand over fist doing all sorts of different things online and I’d constantly ask him what his secret was. Finally he told me “Just do SOMETHING! I don’t care what it is, just actually DO it.” While it wasn’t exactly easy to hear, he was right and several thousand dollars later, I’m quite grateful. The point is, you can read about, and think about, and talk about ways to make money blogging, but eventually you’ve got to “go Nike on something” and JUST DO IT. Don’t sit around waiting until you have a certain number of subscribers or a certain level of traffic. Do something right now, in whatever state your blog is in to make money. If that means doing some paid posts for $10 bucks a pop, do it. Just do something to get the thing rolling. Once you’re moving you can track, analyze, and adjust your tactics to optimize your results but you’ve got to take that first step.

To be honest, at this point I’m not quite sure whether I should be proud or scared, but there you have it; more lessons on blogging from a popular TV show. At this rate I might stop reading other blogs and just watch reruns and deleted scenes ;). As always, I’m quite sure I’ve missed some so feel free to chime in using the comment form below!


Under the Microscope: Contest Blogger

published on November 7, 2007

Contest Blogger

Back when I launched the Complete Blogging Package Contest one of the best moves I made was getting it listed on Contest Blogger. So, when Phil asked me to put his site under the microscope I figured it was the least I can do. We’ve both come a long way since then and not only does ContestBlogger.com have 388 subscribers, but Phil’s other blog RomanceTracker.com has another 278. However, since I’ve already had my fill of love related sites this week, I’m only going to be focusing on Contestblogger.com.

The first thing you’ll notice when you hit contestblogger.com is that it’s not just a blog, Phil has also added a forum. While I definitely think a forum is a good idea (and it appears several other people think so as well), I don’t much care for the look of the home page. Personally I liked the look much better when the blog made up the home page. It seemed to keep things fresh and changing rather than the static look the front page has now. I’m also not crazy about the prominent placement of the Google ads. I know first hand how much this site can help anyone wanting to publicize their contest, and to me having the ads be one of the first things you see on the page takes away a bit from the credibility.

The design aspects aside, the site is still about blog contests. And, as the about page says, holding a blog contest is

also a great way to:

  • Grow your blog’s audience
  • Build backlinks to your site
  • Rank higher for keywords in search engines
  • Increase your blog’s Google Page Rank and Technorati Ranking
  • Increase your blog’s RSS readership

I’ve already told you what hosting a blog contest can do for you so I’m not going to cover it all again, but rest assured, a contest can do everything on that list. They can be a lot of work and Contest Blogger apparently realizes that as well. In fact, Phil has capitalized on it. If you don’t feel like going through all the trouble of setting up, announcing, promoting, and running a contest, you can actually team up with Contest Blogger and sponsor a contest that they will run for you! For those of you that do put together your own contests, I’d highly recommend getting featured on the site. While the price has gone up since I used their service, so has the site’s popularity and reach.

And last, but certainly not least, the contests! While I’ve so far focused mainly on the contest host’s side of things, the contest blog is a wonderful resource for any bloggers looking for a contest or 20 to enter. There’s always a wide range of prizes and all sorts of different ways to enter the different contests. So, if you wouldn’t mind winning anything from a free copy of SEO Book, to a $100 Amazon.com gift card, to a new iPod Touch, you’ll want to be sure to subscribe to the blog’s RSS feed. It’s basically all the blog contests from across the web, in one handy feed.

Bottom line, whether you’re hoping to win a blog contest, holding a contest on your blog, or just want the benefits without the hassle, ContestBlogger.com is most definitely the site for you. But Phil, really man, I miss the old look. 😉


Make Money Blogging & Selling

published on November 6, 2007

The blogging world seems to run on themes. When one blogger does something, it catches on and soon several people do it. We’ve seen this in every area from ways to monetize a site, things we write about, redesigning your blog, and now we’re seeing it with selling blogs. NorthxEast was the first one I noticed selling for more than $8k. Then Blogging Fingers (yet another blog I read) went up for sale and apparently went for $6k. This morning Darren Rowse wrote a post about the sale of several sites and even tossed out a couple I hadn’t heard about.

With results like this, and the type of coverage these sales have been getting, you can bet we’ll be seeing several more before too long. The amount of money to be made is too high not to at least consider it. For example, Blogging Fingers sold for $6,000. The subscriber count is right around 200 and Matt apparently made $380 the last full month prior to the sale. Naturally the first thing that goes through my mind when I see those numbers is what is Blogging Experiment worth? I have right around 400 subscribers, and made right around $600 last month (plus I’m on pace to top that this month). When you consider those numbers, a price of 10 to 12 thousand dollars seems fairly realistic. Now I don’t know about you but that’s not chump change for me, at least not yet 😉 .

Ok, I won’t let those thoughts run through your head any longer. No, I’m not selling Blogging Experiment. Unless someone came in and blew me away with an offer I couldn’t refuse, I don’t ever plan on selling it. Besides, if my goal is to make $6k a month with it, selling for $12k would seem fairly short sighted don’t you think?

However, the point remains there is substantial money to be made from launching and then selling a blog. Often the launch is the toughest part and if you get good at doing that over and over, you could make a substantial amount of money. I mean shoot, this blog so far is pretty much a road map to do just that. Set up a blog, start writing some quality content, promote it for a couple of months, then monetize it. Just like that you’ve got something that’s worth several thousand dollars. If you can manage to work on a couple of blogs at the same time and each time sell them for a good price, you could make a fairly decent living! Granted it’s not the traditional method to make money blogging, but a lot of times it’s these outside-of-the-box type ideas that turn out to be the most profitable.

A good website which is generating lot of revenue will have good worth in the market. For this, companies fully depend upon search advertising capabilities. One way is to make a website based on search engine optimization (seo) techniques. This technique will help in improving the site seo rankings by showing a site earlier in the search results and more searchers will go to that site. Another way is email marketing software that makes it simple to build specialized html email campaigns with no high-tech expertise. A link exchange manager is also used to increase website traffic. Other techniques include adsense marketing, adword, banners etc. It’s best to choose the technique which best suites your business, your pocket and generate good amount of revenue.


Under the Microscope: Date.com

published on November 5, 2007

Date.com's LogoI received a request to put date.com under the microscope and since I hadn’t done one of these in a while I figured I’d give it a go. According to their website, Date.com is “the premier free online dating service that helps single girls, and guys, men and women, meet other singles, who may be looking for friendships, love, romance and marriage.” Obviously this site is in a very competitive market with the likes of eHarmony and Match.com (just the two that spring to mind).

Before we go too much further I should probably put in this disclaimer. I am incredibly happily married and therefore did not sign up to try out the service. I did however examine the site closely and think I have a few observations that are of value.

Ok, with that out of the way, when I pulled up date.com I was greeted with a fairly standard sign up form. Personally I would have liked to see a bit more information about what exactly I was signing up for but I guess if I were their target audience, I might not care. They do offer a Site Tour which naturally I took. The tour basically takes you through several pages of explaining how date.com can help you find that special someone that you’re looking for. Each page has a picture of models, most of them coupled up and looking quite happy. Obviously they are using the imaging to convey the idea that if you sign up, this is the kind of good looking happiness that awaits you. Again, that’s probably pretty standard for dating sites.

After the site tour I decided I’d check out the registration page to see how involved of a process it was. The home page asks you a few short questions but the next page asked quite a large number of questions about my personality etc. Again, this is an area that didn’t really appeal to me. I’d much rather get signed up and answer all these questions in a profile page or something like that after the signup process is complete. In all honesty it probably wouldn’t have taken all that long to go through but I certainly wasn’t going to go answer all those questions just to get registered. I decided to go check out the rest of the site and clicked the back button to head back to the home page.

Date.com doesn't want me to leaveMuch to my dismay this popped up two prompts. The first one implored me not to leave, and that a live representative wanted to chat with me about a “special offer.” Needless to say this immediately became an adversarial relationship. I wanted control over my browser and they didn’t want me to leave. The chat window appeared to show a representative named Kasey typing out several messages to me. She just wanted me to let her know I was there and all I had to do was type Hi or Hello to gain access to thousands of singles near me. Again I realize I’m not their target audience now that I’m married but I was at one time, and this kind of stuff would piss me off no matter how lonely or desperate I was.

Finally I got back to the home page, after ensuring the site several times that yes, I did indeed want to get the hell away from their live agent who was practically begging at this point. Obviously at this point my skepticism level was pretty high but the rest of the site didn’t do anything to help bring it back down. The Success Stories and Date Info options both too me to pages on the Date.info domain. This absolutely floored me. If you had the good fortune to own date.com, a domain name which is likely worth a million dollars for the name alone, why in the world would you ever use the date.info domain? This might be my SEO experience or maybe it’s my marketing side showing through but in my mind .info might as well say .spam. Seriously, when you see that domain extension aren’t you immediately think that the site is spam or some sort of knock off?

As if that weren’t enough, the last option on the main menu is to Download Toolbar. Just for a quick recap, this site has made use of a pop-up to try and keep me from exiting their signup page, they have a “live” representative trying to talk to me about a “special offer”, half their site is on a .info domain, and now they expect me to install their toolbar on my machine? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Alright, if you’re date.com, where do you go from here? First of all, recognize the value of your domain name. Put ALL of your content on the date.com domain. Keep the date.info registered so you don’t have people trying to knock off your brand etc, but for heaven’s sake, please don’t use it yourself. Also, make the registration process much quicker and easier. Don’t ask me all those questions until after you’ve created my account for me. Allow me to come back and answer the questions later if I’m busy or something comes up. And last but by no means least, get rid of the pop-up. If you’d like to drive people to chat with your agents, put a “Live Chat” or “Live Support” badge somewhere on your site. Don’t try and force it down my throat. Just those quick and fairly easy changes would help your credibility and image immensely, at least in my eyes. I know I was a bit harsh on the site but I hope this helps.


Reader Question Session: Ad Rotating Plugin

published on November 5, 2007

Last week when I mentioned that I’d be using a plugin to rotate the 125×125 ad blocks that you see on the right of the page, I hoped it would generate some interest. It certainly did that, however, it did not interest the people I was targeting. I received several emails and a couple more comments from people asking me what plugin I would be using. As you know, any time I’m asked the same question by multiple people, I figure that’s a great topic to post about, so here we are.

The plugin I’m using is the Got Banners plugin created by GotChance.com. According to their website, “Got Banners is a simple banner rotating plugin for wordpress. Unlike other banner rotators, Got Banners displays all the banners provided simultaneously. But, in a different random order each time.”

Basically you upload the plugin, create a text file containing the code for the banners or ads you want to have rotated, and activate the plugin. While that part was quite simple, I did have some trouble with the plugin. When I originally installed the plugin the ads were displaying one on top of the other rather than a 2×2 box. Not exactly what I was hoping for. After fighting with it for about 15 or 20 minutes I finally tracked the problem down to a class tag in the plugin code which was causing problems with my style sheet. Granted I’m no great designer or coder but that seems like a problem a lot of blogs would have with the plugin. Other than that issue, the plugin works wonderfully. Every time a new page is loaded, the ads are displayed in a random order. Normally the ads would rotate on each and every page load, however, since I’m also using the WP Cache plugin, pages are only loaded once and then served up via a cached copy of the page. To be honest though, I’d rather have my site hold up to a spike in traffic from a front page Digg.com story than have the ads rotate on every load.

All in all, if you’re looking for a way to randomly rotate the ads on your site, I’d definitely recommend the GotBanners plugin. It should help combat ad blindness and will also make sure all your ads are given the same amount of screen time and positioning. At the end of the month, I’ll report back and provide some statistics to show whether or not the plugin accomplishes these goals. Until then, there’s still one 125×125 ad available for $60 per month. Drop me a line if you’re interested.