Over the last couple of months there’s been a lot written about new ad network – WidgetBucks. As with any new player in this market there has a lot of varied opinions shared about them with some publishers reporting quite amazing conversion and others finding the system frustrating as the team at WidgetBucks hones their system into one that works both for publishers and advertisers.
In this interview with Matt Hulett (CEO of WidgetBucks – note: I previously had this as being an interview with Dean Jutilla – but didn’t realize that it was Matt who had actually written the answers – aaah email intervews) I ask him about the journey so far, get him to give us some tips on how to make more money with WidgetBucks and we get a glimpse at the future for this emerging ad network.
Also in this interview Matt announces a significant change to WidgetBucks which is going to significantly alter the performance of the network for some publishers – particularly those with non US traffic. I’ve included my opinions on this change at the bottom of this interview.
There are a real array of ad network options available to bloggers these days – why should bloggers consider WidgetBucks?
In a very short time, we seem to have struck a chord with bloggers who have been looking for both money-making widgets and a better, more lucrative option compared to traditional ad networks. WidgetBucks offers both to publishers, bloggers and affiliates who want to make money online.
I’m not sure if people recognize this but ours is the only ad network that uses eBay as a barometer of popularity within our widget. We also show best prices on products from at branded merchants. So your site visitors not only see what’s hot and popular based trends of over 100 million online shoppers, they also are offered the lowest prices on those products.
We’ve also showed we do listen to suggestions from our publishers — everything from real-time reporting to monthly account summaries to more widget categories and more.
Who is behind WidgetBucks? What did you do before this venture?
WidgetBucks was created by Mpire.com , the online meta-shopping service that brings together all the most popular online marketplaces such as eBay, Amazon, Shopping.com, Wal-Mart, Target, Gap, and thousands more — into one single site. We blend all that historical pricing information with our pricing analytics and other proprietary technologies to create what we like to call the “Kelly Blue Book” for online products. We are able to tell people what they can expect to pay for that product they are interested in — and then help them take the next step in buying it. Mpire has been around since 2005 — and after originally focusing on offering eBay selling tools, we turned buyer-focused just over a year ago. Today, Mpire.com is getting between 800,000 – 900,000 unique visitors a month. So WidgetBucks fits into our strategy of distributing our pricing analytics across the Web, almost like thousands of little mini-Mpire’s being hosted on publishers’ sites.
We’ve seen a lot of people calling WidgetBucks a scam and really questioning our legitimacy. Naturally, new services draw suspicion, so it’s not terribly surprising.
What I’m hoping comes across here is that we are a real company, backed by real investors, and around me is a talented and dedicated team. I suppose mob mentality and grabbing pitch forks makes for a better, more clickable headline than learning the facts sometimes. But people should know that Mpire and WidgetBucks are both legit, and publishers who have followed our terms of service (which I guess means they’ve actually read them) will get paid — in fact, likely to be paid sooner than our 45-day term.
Publishers are talking about a drop in RPC. What’s the latest on that?
Right now, the team’s sole focus is improving network quality and maintaining our competitive RPC, which we have seen drop over the last 4-5 days. We are taking steps to get the RPC recover, and should see an impact on that over the next seven days.
What I mean by improving network quality is raising the lead “value” for merchants, who will be willing to pay a strong RPC. The key factor is non-converting clicks from outside of U.S. and Canada, because the reality is that this traffic is dragging down RPC across the board. International users who click-through to a U.S. merchant’s site and highly unlikely to purchase from that merchant for various reasons, such as language barrier or shipping cost.
You mentioned taking steps to help raise the RPC. What are you planning?
Publishers will be seeing two things, primarily. First, merchants are no longer being charged for clicks from outside the U.S. and Canada on WidgetBucks widgets, and as a result, publishers will no longer receive credit for those clicks. While this may seem extreme, it will ultimately have a positive impact on RPC levels. This change does not affect earnings from October (just posted) or the first half of November, by the way.
So the next natural question is, where do these users get sent? International site visitors will be redirected to mpire.com, which was mentioned earlier in the interview and was on TIME magazine’s list of the 50 Best Sites for 2007.
Second, early next week, WidgetBucks will become a “gated” ad network that will require approval to join. For current publishers, this does not change much for you. You are “grandfathered” into the network; however, we will continue to review sites for Terms violations. By raising the bar of entry, we anticipate this will help eliminate a number of issues we’re facing.
Just to clarify – when people are redirected to mpire.com – will they earn anything for that traffic at all?
No. Merchants are not being charged for that traffic, and therefore publishers will not be credited for it. And to be really clear, Mpire/WidgetBucks does not get the credit either. We will likely evaluate re-adding specific countries over time and evaluate their conversions, but we want to take a position over the next few weeks to be very tight on click traffic to restore our RPC numbers.
What are you suggesting that publishers with a lot of non US traffic do?
We suggest implementing a geo-based ad placement service to determine when to display a WidgetBucks ad widget versus an Internationally applicable ad. Some examples include MaxMind, IP2Location, etc, and there are solutions available for OpenAds that do this as well.
What do you wish you did differently in the launch of WidgetBucks?
We may have underestimated how fraudulent accounts and non-converting traffic would impact our RPC levels in certain categories. As a result, starting later this week, we are moving to a “gated” ad network that will require publishers to get approval before they can join WidgetBucks. Should we have done this in the beginning? Perhaps. But we felt the low barrier to entry was important to offer from the beginning.
What types of blogs does WidgetBucks seem to be working on best?
As you’ve mentioned a number of times on Problogger, product-focused blogs are ideal for WidgetBucks. We completely agree. By nature, our categories are geared toward products, so a mom blogging about baby gear or a camera buff reviewing the latest point-and-shoot can use our widgets to enhance their editorial with relevant offers. This is also true when using MerchSense, our contextual algorithm. Some affiliates have complained that MerchSense isn’t returning the right products — and this isn’t surprising for that type of blog. It’s currently set up to snap to product buckets (i.e. product blog), but we’re making improvements to the system to expand the buckets.
Have you got any tips for bloggers wanting to maximize their WidgetBucks earnings? What do the best earners do that the rest could improve upon?
We’re finding there are a few universal practices that can help publishers maximize their earnings. These include:
- placing your widgets above the fold, as well as varying your sizes depending on the content around it.
- also, make sure the ads are relevant to the content, either through MerchSense or by hand-picking the category
- we’ve also heard from publishers that unusual shaped ads, not the standard sized ads, actually convert better because they appear more as content.
- others are integrating a 300 x 250 widget into their relevant content.
- finally, with today’s news of the international traffic credit change, we’d suggest publishers adjust their geographic-coding for U.S. and Canada where WidgetBucks widgets appear.
Do you have any new features planned that you can tell us about?
Be on the look out for new widget creative — it’s currently being tested right now. We’ll also be creating more affinity-oriented creative, meaning a fantasy sports blogger or fashion blogger will have relevant skins to place on their widgets. Be looking for more interactive widgets as well. I know that seems vague but these new versions will let users engage more with the widget itself.
We’ve also already rolled out a few other features that have been lost in the shuffle of October earnings being posted and other buzz:
- Real-time referral tracking. We’ve had a lot of publishers ask for rolled up referral totals so we’re looking to add that. Also, within the referral table, referred accounts are only listed by ID, not by email, unless the referred publisher proactively selects the “Share Referrer Information.” Otherwise, it will default to the ID only.
- Show Deleted Widgets. This let’s publishers look at earnings from inactive widgets.
- Hexcode colors. Publishers now have more control over the color of the WidgetBucks widgets on their site by using a 6-digit hexcode 0-F or go from the color palette.
- Publishers can now determine the interval speed of how products are displayed on their widgets. It’s currently defaulted to three seconds, but can be adjusted between 1-10 seconds.
A Note from Darren
There’s lots of information in this post. My own personal opinion with the changes that were announced in it regarding non US and Canadian traffic – I’m not surprised (other publishers have done this), but it sucks. As a publisher who is running WidgetBucks on a blog which gets 70-80% Australian traffic (a country that I know buys extensively online from around the world) I’m very disappointed that yet again an ad network is changing the rules mid stream.
On a head level I understand the need for balancing the needs of publishers and advertisers and don’t envy the position that they are in – but as a publisher this will hit the hip pocket.
This happened with Chitika also (although they only limited some Asian countries and moved quickly to make partnerships with European advertisers to monetize that traffic better) and was one of the main reasons that publishers revolted against them. YPN have also excluded sites with non US traffic (although at least they did this from the start).
Even publishers with good traffic from the US will be impacted by this. For example I run the ads at DPS, a blog with it’s largest readership in the USA. However US and Canadian traffic only make up just over 65% of my traffic on that blog. So while on my Aussie blogs I’m looking at 80-90% less earnings – on my blog with good US traffic I’m still looking at a 35% cut in earnings.
One thing that confuses me about this is that when someone is redirected to the mpire.com site for not being situated in the US they are being redirected to store where that person can make a purchase – at least with some merchants. For example I just went to Mpire and did a search for the latest Harry Potter book – ended up at Amazon (which will ship that book to me here in Australia). I’m a bit unsure about whether Mpire earns either a commission or a CPC payment for that. I know that I do when I send an Aussie to Amazon and they buy something.
Matt advises above that bloggers geotarget and serve ads only to US traffic. The problem is that most bloggers don’t have the ability or resources to do this type of thing. It’ll be easier just to stop using WB altogether.
Perhaps one solution would be that WidgetBucks allows publishers to suggest an ‘alternate ad’ that they want to appear instead of the WB one when someone is viewing a page from a place outside of North America (in a similar way that AdSense allows ‘alternative ads’ to be shown when they can’t serve an ad.
Until they come up with an alternative I guess those of us with significant non North American traffic will be going back to other options to make money from our blogs. I’ll monitor WidgetBucks performance on my blogs for 24 hours but if the conversion drops by what I’m expected I’ll be switching all my units back to Chitika and AdSense pretty quickly (although with the AdSense changes revealed yesterday it’s not been a good week for publishers). For the slightly higher CPM earnings I was getting with WidgetBucks I’m not sure it’s worth my time to have to invest in geotargeting all my ads.