Estimated read time: 6 minutes
Sponsored content is an interesting beast. On one side, some sponsored content out there is just crap. It’s overly promotional. Who knows if it’s authentic? Partnering with companies can also bring in revenue to content creators and when done well, add good content to the creator’s channel.
And there are ways to make sure sponsored content is valuable for all involved – the creator, the audience, and the brand. In this article, I discuss:
- What is sponsored content?
- Requirements for sponsored content
- What makes a good content piece?
- How to choose sponsored content partners
- Payment and terms
- What to charge
What is sponsored content?
Sponsored content is content on a blog, a podcast, anywhere somebody paid for to be published. That sounds similar to an ad. Of course, people pay for ads, too. But what’s different about it, in this case, is that these are more content-focused, and the company bought the creator’s space and time to publish their content. Typically, sponsored content shows in the space that used to be reserved for editorial content and can look more similar to editorial content than an ad.
For example, this article is not sponsored; I’m just sharing this information. A company that specializes in writing good sponsored articles or podcasts could have also sponsored this space and submitted its own content, which could be very similar to what I’m sharing here on my own.
Examples of sponsored content
Here’s an example of a sponsored podcast.
My written blog content is similar. I update old articles and write new ones on my schedule. If somebody wants to submit a post, they can do that through my sponsored content program. Here’s an example of a sponsored article.
In short, sponsored content is content that is paid for to be published and that isn’t a traditional ad. It fits in with the rest of the site and (hopefully adds value).
Requirements for sponsored content
The FTC in the United States requires creators to disclose any paid relationship. Typically, that can be done through a note on the top of the article:
This content is sponsored by XYZ and was submitted by them. I hope you enjoy it.
On sponsored podcasts, I add a similar note in the show notes and also say it on the show:
Thanks to XYZ for supporting today’s episode.
What makes a good sponsored content piece?
Like any good content, it should be highly relevant to the audience, share something of interest to them, and usually shouldn’t pitch products.
This can be hard for some companies. Sometimes, the mindset can be, “if we pay for this, we need to push our product.”
That’s usually not the right answer. Please go and run an ad for that. But really, it all starts with the goal. Content marketer Megan Horn really made some good points on the importance of goals in a podcast episode.
While we discussed public relations strategies on the show, the concept also applies to sponsored content.
Read next: How brands can build online relationships
Megan kept mentioning how she pitches stories to publications on somewhat of a rotation. So once a year or so, she pitches each publication. I wondered aloud: “Does that help SEO get more than a couple of links?”
She responded that her goal wasn’t necessarily link building but public relations, i.e., getting the brand in front of that audience. Since I focus the lion’s share of my time on SEO strategies, I wondered about the link impacts.
In other words, the goal is crucial, and without a goal, it might be impossible to create a good campaign. After all, how do we know it worked if we don’t know what the goal was?
From there, I like a journalistic style. Tell a story. Quote experts. For example, here’s a guest article in a trade publication from then Voxpopme CEO Dave Carruthers.
How to choose sponsored content partners
First, I should say that not all companies should accept sponsored content. For example, a company with a strong content strategy and implementation to drive SEO and leads shouldn’t consider it. As always, it all depends on the goal.
For my blog, I accept sponsored content because a lot of it actually has a chance to be interesting to you. Many times, I learn something as well. And why can’t I make some money while at it?
But, not all sponsored content partners are worth working with. Here are some red flags that I look out for. Also, don’t mistake red flags for opportunities.
- They are difficult to work with
- Nickle and dime for everything
- Won’t pay on my schedule
- Want you to do work without paying
- Offer free product-only as payment
- Want you to buy a product and will pay you after you purchase it
- Offer to pay you in exposure because they will share the content to their own network
- Try to bully you into disregarding FTC guidelines
On the flip side, good partners:
- pitch content that actually is of interest to you and your audience
- look at the relationship as a partnership and behave that way
- understand the rules and know they must be followed
- pay when you agreed payment should be issued (I require payment before anything is published)
Payment and terms
I require all sponsored content payments upfront and via PayPal. For some publishers, that might not work, and it’s probably okay to bill 30 net a longtime client who has always paid their bills.
But for the creator who gets flooded with requests, I recommend payment before publishing. And make clear it’s nonrefundable. Nonrefundable is important because some bad actors will have you publish articles and then ask you to take them down after a couple of weeks and ask for a refund. So for whatever reason, they are doing that, it’s not the creator’s problem.
Other times, companies might be overlooking the rules of disclosure, and when they see the disclosure of the published article, they want it taken down and a refund.
One company once told me, “I don’t have to know the laws of the United States,” and in essence, was asking me not to publish the required disclosure.
Some sponsored content pieces include mentions of relevant products. At times, sponsored content around products might be okay.
I also don’t accept payment with “free” products. I have to pay taxes on any free products received, as far as I can tell. So, if I get a free $200 product sent to me, I owe taxes on that amount just like I would on $200 in cash. It’s really not worth the hassle on an inbound project request.
What to charge for sponsored content
I publish my rates, and in the case of the podcast booking, sponsored guests can pay right there as they book a slot. What you charge is ultimately up to you, but I keep in mind:
- value of my time
- that it’s a business transaction. Why would they get it for free from me? Is the person emailing me working for free?
- what are the industry standards?
Onalytica published an influencer compensation report that you might find helpful.
When done well, sponsored content can be a good strategy for all involved. But it is necessary to find the right partners, know and follow the laws, and keep your audience top of mind.