“Wow, you mean I can write about dogs and get paid for it? Where do I sign up?”
That’s probably what a lot of bloggers think when they find out about ad networks. After all, who wouldn’t want to recover some of their blogging costs?
But what if those ads that appear on your website harm dogs? Won’t they ultimately harm the blogger too?
For From Dummies
I’m certainly no tech expert. And if you aren’t either, here’s how ad networks work from this dummy to you.
A blogger signs a contract with a company who solicits ads. The blogger puts some code on her site and ads selected by the network appear in the sidebar or overhead (where ads get the most attention).
Google AdSense is the biggest network and it uses contextual ads. That means that the ads change based on keywords you use on your blog.
When someone clicks an ad, the blogger gets a small payment. And that’s good. The blogs I read are smart and funny and take a lot of effort. I love knowing that someone is getting at least a little bit of pay for a lot of hard work.
But sometimes the ads are bad for dogs. And ultimately, they’re bad for the bloggers too.
Let me explain.
When Ads Are Bad For Dogs
I first noticed it over a year ago. Blogs I admired featured ads for internet puppy sales.
The bloggers had installed Google AdSense contextual ads on their blogs. So if they wrote about puppies, ads for puppies popped up in their sidebar.
And let’s be clear about this. Puppies being sold online by the thousands are not coming from hobby breeders who plan matings to decrease genetic health problems and raise the resulting litters in their living room until they find the perfect home for every pup.
These are puppy mill dogs.
When I talked to one blogger about it, she didn’t realize puppy ads were appearing on her site.
Google does give a blogger the option of blocking certain ads. But if you block ads for miniature schnauzer puppies, ads for dachshunds replace them. Get rid of ads for poodle puppies and you’ll start seeing ads for shih tzu puppies. Well, you get the idea.
I’ve seen other ads on pet sites for electric underground fences. That’s probably because not every dog person agrees with me that electric fences are a shocking solution to keeping your dog home. But I find it disconcerting (to put it mildly) to see an ad for a fence system that shocks your dog if he passes the boundary appearing with an article advocating for better treatment of animals.
As happy as I am to see bloggers making money, I don’t think it’s worth supporting businesses that harm dogs. And I don’t think it’s worth damaging our reputations as advocates for animals.
After all, if it appears on our site, people (rightly or wrongly) think we’re behind it.
Blogs That Are Good For Dogs and Their People
If you agree with me, what can you do?
Tell bloggers (gently) when you see objectionable ads on their site.
Don’t assume a blogger knows what ads are appearing on her site. They change frequently and many of us don’t look at the front end of our blogs very often.
Send a mild email along the lines of “I know how much you care about the welfare of animals. I thought you might want to know that your ad network is showing ________.” A passionate raw feeder, for example, would probably want to know his blog is promoting Purina Dog Chow.
If a blogger doesn’t care about what ads appear, you’ll have to decide if that matters to you.
We all compromise.
I know that nearly all consumer goods are produced in unsafe factories by low-wage workers, seafood is dangerously overfished, and that a good percentage of my taxes are supporting wars all over the world. But not every choice I make supports my knowledge and my values.
I’d be a hypocrite to insist that everyone else make morally consistent and righteous choices every moment.
And yet, sometimes, I draw a hard line and won’t compromise. Maybe it’s hypocritical. But it’s also human.
Support bloggers who choose not to use ads
Pet bloggers tend to lag behind other bloggers in finding ways to make money from their sites. Ads are easy to set up and so most people start there first. But some are exploring other ways to cover the costs of blogging.
If a blogger you love features sponsored content (they get paid to publish it), read and interact with their articles. Maggie of OhMyDog uses fees from sponsored content on her site to cover the adoption fees for pit bulls. Cool, huh?
Some of us link to books and products we recommend on Amazon and get a small commission if you buy something–even if it’s not the item we originally recommended. So the next time you’re buying on Amazon, start at your favorite pet blog.
If you’re a blogger who uses ads, manage them actively.
The BlogPaws ad network asks up front what ads you support and which you’d never consider for your site. You also get to opt out of a campaign before it goes live on your site.
Now that’s doing it right.
But even Google AdSense gives you control if you take it. And now, you can even block Google AdSense ads similar to others you’ve already rejected. That’s the answer to the puppy ad problem I noted above.
Passive income is a myth. It always takes effort to make money. So if you feature ads on your site, put the time in and do it right.
Doing Well While Doing Good
For me, making money is fraught with danger. That’s why I’ve worked for nonprofits my entire adult life. And even then, I’ve faced ethical compromises and conflicts of interest.
But I have a strong entrepreneurial urge.
Deep down, I believe it’s possible to be financially successfully (although my idea of financial success looks like poverty to many people) while supporting our highest values.
But ethics come first—at Something Wagging and at my former first home buyer’s blog, Hands on Home Buyer.
I don’t want my money-making efforts to harm dogs here. Or home buyers at my other blog. It’s not worth it to do something good for the blogger but bad for anyone else.
Your Turn: What do you think about the ways bloggers make money (or don’t) from their pet blogs? If you’re a blogger, what affects your thinking about covering your expenses?