More Transparency!

19

I read Shane Cultra’s article about transparency today and I feel compelled to respond. Transparency is obviously an important topic, especially when there are many conflicts because of business relationships and friendships with industry participants. I agree with Shane that people should be more transparent. In addition to blog writers, this should also be a given for forum participants as well as people who use social media to talk about domain names and the business of domain investing.

I wrote about advertising on DomainInvesting.com in a blog post a long time ago, but I want to make a few things even more clear in case there is any confusion:

  • The only time I am paid is via banner advertisements and a few sidebar links. Nobody pays me to publish articles, do reviews, or write about their business. I have been asked, but I have no interest in doing that. If something looks interesting and I want to spend my time checking it out, I will do it on my own for free. This is especially true on a “slow news” day when I can’t find something else to write about.
  • I have never been paid anything for social media posts.
  • The 5 or so “sponsored” articles I publish a year are clearly marked as sponsored, and each sponsor donates the $500 cost directly to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute via my Pan-Mass Challenge fundraiser.
  • I buy my own conference passes – usually when they first come out and are discounted. This pays off when I attend, although I lose out when I don’t like in the case of Merge.
  • I don’t like speaking (or participating) at conferences, but I have never been paid to speak.
  • I pay for all of my own travel and related expenses.
  • I am on friendly terms with many people whether they advertise or not, and I tend to write more about companies with whom I have a friendly relationship because I am in regular contact. I also tend to write more about companies I do business with because I notice changes or receive customer emails that I write about.
  • Some companies give me discounts, although I don’t know if it’s because I am a Publisher or because I spend substantially more than the average customer. For instance, I have been getting discounted products/services at GoDaddy for over 10 years, probably because I spend 5 figures a year there and have been a customer since 2003.
  • I share more disclosures on the disclaimer page I link to in Author section of every article.

About 45 minutes ago, I wrote about Directnic’s acquisition of Fabulous. During the past several years, I have had a handful of domain names at these registrars – primarily from NameJet wins. I have also worked with Mike Robertson on several very large domain name deals. Neither company paid me to post their news, but I am happy to share industry news because it brings eyeballs, which I feel is my obligation to advertisers.

A second example is the NamesCon discount I wrote about last week. It was a slow news day and I think the discount was newsworthy since those will go away closer to the event. I didn’t use any tracking code, even though NamesCon is advertising. I don’t think it would be fair to them if I used a special tracking code to make it seem that their banner advertising is more effective because it had more clicks. Regardless, NamesCon paid a flat fee for advertising (just like everyone else), and it doesn’t matter whether or not I write anything.

Believe it or not, this blog earns quite a bit of advertising revenue ONLY from the banners. I charge a flat monthly fee for advertising. There is NO performance advertising. Advertisers pay me for banner space because they know I regularly publish articles that brings people interested in domain names. Some probably do it to help support the industry and perhaps cultivate their relationship with my company, but I think most advertise because there are a limited number of advertising opportunities. Whether people click on ads or buy a product or service, I am not paid any more or less.

I am definitely not perfect when it comes to transparency, but I do my best to operate in a way that others would find transparent.

Most of the advertisers on DomainInvesting.com have been here for several years. I sincerely appreciate their support. Without it, I would have no interest in spending time writing about the industry and would devote all of my attention to my company.

19 COMMENTS

  1. You’ve completely missed the point. When you write an article that MENTIONS an advertiser, good or bad, you have officially endorsed that company or person. If that company or person has paid you for ANY reason then you should state that if you are going to be completely transparent. Because of that relationship, by FCC law, it becomes a paid post. Not just paid to write a particular post. Any post.

    Again, I am not going to be the police. This is a one time thing that I am pointing out.

    • Maybe I did miss the point about that, but more transparency is always a good thing.

      In every single article I write, I have this note with a link to the disclaimer:

      “Please read the DomainInvesting.com Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest.”

      I also think the paying advertisers are apparent since people can easily see the banners.

      The “friend conflicts” are more complicated but probably less of an FCC thing.

    • I disagree with Shane.

      Mentioning an advertiser in a blog post does not by any measure equal “endorsement”.

      If one of us writes “Company X sucks” that could never be considered an endorsement, regardless of whether Company X is an advertiser or not.

      If you’re not saying your advertisers suck when they do sucky things, you’re doing it wrong.

      You only get repeat readers by building trust. When the readers trust that you’re honest. If they think you’re just shilling for advertisers, they will go away. Your readership will drop. And your advertisers will leave.

      It’s in the best interests of everyone to say your advertisers suck when they do in fact suck.

      But you don’t build trust by writing “Company X is an advertiser” in every post that mentions Company X.

      What if Company X is not currently an advertiser, but was two years ago, and now you’re writing about how they suck? Do you disclose that?

      What if Company X is not currently an advertiser, but you’re in the process of negotiating an ad deal with them? Do you disclose that?

      You may as well publish a link to a spreadsheet of everyone who’s ever given you money, or refused to give you money, or may in future give you money, at the bottom of every story. If the New York Times did that, every edition would weigh as much as the tree that it was printed on.

      Ads are plainly visible alongside the copy. There’s no need to disclose that a company advertises if the ad is right next to the article.

      Nobody in the mainstream media does this. Open a newspaper or turn on the news.

      If you’ve been paid to publish a shill article (which I personally would recommend against — I’ve turned down all such offers in the past) you should disclose that fact prominently. That’s a no-brainer.

      For an abundance of transparency, if you’ve received some significant consideration that’s material and relevant, such as a free flight or hotel room in exchange for speaking at or attending, an event that you subsequently choose to cover because it’s also newsworthy, you should probably also disclose that fact (even when your resulting story is not overtly positive).

      If a company says they will only advertise with you if you cover them favorably, tell them you’re not interested. But in almost eight years of blogging I’ve never had such demands, and I’ve never heard of any other blogger being given similar demands.

    • Shane,

      From your link:

      “If it’s clear that what’s on your site is a paid advertisement, you don’t have to make additional disclosures.”

      This is what I said. I don’t see how I’m wrong. This link supports what I’m saying.

      These rules appear to govern sites that commingle sponsor content and genuine editorial, not to sites that publish genuine editorial surrounded by obvious advertising imagery.

      Kevin

    • The “friend conflicts” are probably the worst. They’re also the less apparent and transparent. Gotta maintain a keen eye for likely “friend conflicts.”

      News on the other hand, is news. Elliot can have all the discounts he wants, but I’ll never get over DomainTools not giving me a heads up before no longer being able to get in at the lower price, since I had been a paying customer in the past. To me that totally stinks. For DomainTools, not Elliot.

  2. I guess you got a lot of .ws disclosures to make here here

    Those poor bastards are trying to unload all those worthless .ws domains now

  3. Common sense you are not endorsing a company if you say they suck. I am curious to what woke Cultra up, he certainly has not been doing this for years.

    Retweets on Twitter or Facebook likes certainly do not equal an endorsement. I see RT’s all day, they are not endorsements. Things must be really slow in domaining. Only took 8 of you to post Fabulous being acquired.

    • Here’s the thing that makes this complicated, especially relevant in this small industry:

      Let’s say you launch a new legal service and you email me, call me, or send me a press release about it. I decide to write an article about it for one of a few reasons: 1) because I think the service is interesting or will be useful, 2) because it is a slow news day and I am seeking content to write about, or 3) because I think you’re a really nice person and I want to support your business.

      I don’t think you and I have ever worked together nor have I hired you in the past. We have met at several events, have friends in common, and we are social acquaintances.

      Within my article, am I expected to disclose what I shared above about how I know you? It seems ridiculous to have to do that, especially if I am writing about news. With all of my industry connections, this would be necessary in every article and that would become cumbersome. Mind you, as I wrote above, in the Author box on every article, I refer people to the “Terms of Use page for additional information about the publisher, website comment policy, disclosures, and conflicts of interest.”

      I would understand the need for a disclaimer if the article was something like “You Need to Use Karen Bernstein’s New Legal Service” , especially if you were paying me for new customers or something along those lines. As indicated in the article above, I don’t get paid to write or paid per action and I don’t generally recommend a service or product when writing (too much risk these days).

      Anyway – nice to see your comment here!

    • Thanks, Elliot. Yes, I’ve never paid you to endorse my legal services, but am always open to it:) Just kidding.

      I think the key here is DISCLOSURE It’s one thing if someone expresses their personal opinion on a blog or in a Tweet. It’s another thing when they’re being paid to promote a product on their blog or in a Tweet and not telling anyone. It’s that simple. Another interesting tidbit is that the FDA Guidelines apply to everyone, not just US citizens, which I found to be very interesting.

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