I need to let you know something.
This is my first "article" for CoffeeGeek, and it is full of guilt inducing words for the visitors to this site. I also need to tell you I make no apologies for this. This article is all about keeping this website healthy, invigorating, and growing. It is about you, the reader of this website, and the advertisers (which we call supporters) of this website.
This article is not for those of you who already do many of the things I suggest below, except for me to say "thank you" to you for your continued support of this resource, and to give the thanks of everyone involved in Coffeegeek, including both the people behind the scenes, and those who simply enjoy the website.
But first, a bit of introduction. I am the news editor and advertising support person for this website. You probably have heard me on the CoffeeGeek Podcast - maybe some of you have seen me at the trade shows. My main behind-the-scenes job on CoffeeGeek is working with our sponsors and advertisers.
Now for the article. CoffeeGeek is at times, in trouble. In trouble of continuing on as a resource that upwards of 400,000 readers visit each month. It has to do with our sponsors, and you, the readers.
Some of our sponsors are not happy. It has nothing (well, almost) to do with our forums, or how those associated with CoffeeGeek are running the website. Some of our sponsors are unhappy because they do not see any tangible return from their investment as a sponsor on the CoffeeGeek website. Translation: they do not believe anyone is clicking through on banners; and more importantly, they do not believe there is any real loyalty from the readers of this website towards their companies. In short - CoffeeGeek visitors are not buying from them.
Some background on how this site runs
This website is not inexpensive to run. Let me put that in plain English. This website is expensive to run. I canít provide the specifics, but it costs a lot to host, run, and work on the website. This doesnít even factor in the expense involved in covering trade shows, running the podcast or other expenses. But I do know that it costs more, some months, than the website makes in sponsorships by advertisers. We have some good months, and we have some bad months. Usually the website breaks even over the course of a year, but this year is not looking so good. In many ways, we are victims of our own success. As traffic grows, it costs more to host and run.
We only allow advertisers who are directly related to the business of coffee and espresso to sign up as partners (we also allow some SCAA allied companies, such as syrups, etc. to sign on). We could easily open up the advertising to any and every business, allow pop up ads, the works, and possibly make a healthy profit based on our visitor counts and perhaps even click throughs.
But we only want to bring you advertisers who are selling coffee and espresso related items. This is more of a moral and targeted choice by us than anything else. We think it serves you, the reader, best if all our advertisements are coffee related. We also had a perhaps naÔve thought that if you only saw coffee related advertisements, you would respond to them more.
Second, we do not have any "per click" or "per view" ad schemes - all the ads we sell are flat rate, based on amount of days on the website, not clicks or views. When a vendor buys a banner ad for our site, they buy the spot (they can change the ads when they want) for blocks of 1, 3 or 6 months. The same goes for the SponsorAds (the yellow and white text ads) and the geeklinks (the "Where to Buy" links on the product review pages).
The only relevance "click throughs" have - our sponsors do see the number of clicks generated on ads they run. But we don't charge them for individual clicks like most advertising schemes (Google, etc) do.
I am just as guilty though. I donít click ads very often either when I visit other sites. But, that is primarily because I am wary of ad related viruses and spyware being added. So, this is probably the best place for me to reassure you that I personally really do check the sites that are linked to banner advertisements to ensure it works properly, and that there is no spyware or site redirection when you click on the banner.
This means there should be no fear of inadvertently being directed to an inappropriate-content site or having spyware added to your system from merely clicking on our sponsorsí advertisements. In fact, if you do click on something on our site that you find inappropriate (more specifically, porn sites Ė and itís not happening on my watch!), please do email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will look into as soon as possible! (for me, that means as soon as I get that email, I look!) Our advertisers work to try and give our readers a fair price, and you should try and take full advantage of this!
What's going wrong
We've lost some advertisers in the last year - and it is almost always for the same reason:
CoffeeGeek reader apathy towards many of our advertisers, and their ads.
There is another reason which I will get to below. But apathy in the form of not purchasing from our active sponsors is the number one reason why we lose advertisers.
One situation is going on right now, as I write this, and it is one reason why I am writing this article. We have a sponsor of very good quality products who has signed on, for the first time, with two graphical ads: he has a side "billboard" ad, and a top banner ad. In his ads, he has a special coupon code for CoffeeGeek members. He bought the ad spots for one month on a trial basis, to gauge how good advertising on CoffeeGeek will be for his company.
In the one month run of his ads, he did not log a single sale using the coupon code for his products.
He has paid CoffeeGeek a substantial amount of money for those ad spots - enough to cover the expense for thirty or more 1lb bags of coffee, to give you an idea of the cost. And he's saddened by the lack of response, and the lack of sales.
Right now, I am struggling to explain to him, to answer his email in a way that can possibly satisfy him, or somehow keep him as a sponsor and advertiser of the website. And do you know what? I have nothing I can say to him. Nothing except perhaps this article.
One other example I can bring up (because I have Mark Prince's permission to make this public) is one of our premium sponsors during the Holiday Gift List this past year: Green Mountain.
They were excited to be associated with CoffeeGeek and our membership, and were very happy to not only pay the premium sponsorship price and offer up substantial prizes for our giveaway; but they were going to commit to six months of substantial advertising on the website.
After three weeks of the Holiday Gift List running, we were contacted by Green Mountain. Because of the absolute lack of click throughs and purchase through their specially coded links on their sponsorship pages within the Holiday Gift List, they withdrew their offer to buy six month blocks of ad spaces. In fact, they were hesitant to pay the second portion of their HGL sponsorship rate, but did so because they knew a large portion of it was going to the CoffeeKids charity fund raiser.
This was no small sum. CoffeeGeek lost upwards of $5,000 or more in advertising revenue from this one company because a miniscule amount of people purchased anything from the company during their HGL sponsorship run.
Put another way, if maybe 100 or 200 people had clicked through on their links, and maybe 10 or 15 had actually bought something, they would have been very happy to stay. But the click throughs were barely double digits, and the buys were almost zero. This, for a sponsor who offered up amazing prizes for you, the members of this site.
There is one other element that has driven advertisers away from sponsoring our website, and it is some forum content. There are occasions where our sponsors are attacked in our forums. There have been negative posts about specific vendors who also happen to be a sponsor of CoffeeGeek. In addition, there is often a lot of promotion and talk about vendors who have never sponsored CoffeeGeek in the past or present.
None of us associated with the running of CoffeeGeek want to limit your freedom of speech when discussing your purchase experiences with vendors, good or bad. I really need to be clear about this. And in some cases, complaints about vendors are certainly valid. Also, when a vendor is a standout, praising them in our forums are, well, what our forums are all about.
But, it would be nice if at times if forum posters would exercise a little restraint, or try to find all other avenues to resolve an issue with a vendor who happens to also be a sponsor of our website, before posting their story in our forums. I am not talking about situations where you have tried for months to resolve an issue with a vendor. I am talking about situations where you may post a complaint about a vendor taking a few extra days to ship out a product, or you didn't like that they wouldn't match the lowest price you found on another website.
Regarding the frequent praise of companies who do not sponsor CoffeeGeek - again, none of us are asking you to stop doing this.
But, I do pose the question - why are you not seeking out CoffeeGeek sponsors more often and speaking their praises? Many, if not all our advertisers are vendors with high quality ratings and excellent products. In preparation for this article, I searched in the forums for praise articles for vendors, and out of a random sampling of twenty, I found only four that were about our sponsors. Out of that twenty, ten were about a company that is very popular for their coffee, but one that is not a sponsor of CoffeeGeek.
What you can do to help out
I think I have laid out the guilt trip long enough. I want to tell you about solutions, about how you can make sure CoffeeGeek remains an online resource that you can enjoy, participate in, get frustrated at, or just refer to occasionally.
Buy from our Sponsors
This one is obvious, but I still think it needs to be stated. Ask yourself this question: when you want to buy something coffee related, from a pound of coffee to a steaming pitcher, to an espresso machine, do you automatically look at the Active Sponsors page and purchase from one of these companies? Do you cycle through the ads on CoffeeGeek looking for a vendor selling the kind of product or item you're looking for? If not, I sure would appreciate it if you can start doing it. There are sometimes specials going that you donít normally see otherwise without the banner link code.
Don't block out our ads
This goes for both technical blocking out (ad blocking via your browser program) or mentally - just ignoring the ads as you peruse the site. Please remember these sponsors are our lifeblood. Actively read the ads, see if something sparks your interest.
Click Thrus are not enough
Mark Prince tells me that he sometimes gets emails from members who say "I click the ads on your site several times a day". While this is nice for the numbers our sponsorship advertisers see, it is not really a factor since we do not sell ads on a per click basis. Buying is important. Mentioning... oh wait, that is my next point.
Actively mention CoffeeGeek Sponsorship
Whenever you buy from an advertiser on the CoffeeGeek website, it is vitally important that you tell them you saw them on CoffeeGeek, and that you appreciate their sponsorship of the website. Our vendors need to hear that you know about their support of this website, and support them for doing it.
Price a bit higher?
Often, people will choose where to buy a $1500 espresso machine based on where the cheapest price is. Heck, people choose where to buy a $15 steam pitcher based on the lowest price.
What I want to ask you to do is this - if a CoffeeGeek sponsor sells that steaming pitcher for $1 more, or a CoffeeGeek sponsor sells that espresso machine for $25 more, or with slightly less "bonus items", still consider buying from the sponsor, and just consider the difference in price your "donation" to the website continued run and expenses.
Try something different
In many cases, we humans are creatures of habit. Here's an example: if we buy coffee from one source, we tend to just continue buying coffee from that one source. But we have new advertisers on CoffeeGeek who have excellent coffees, and why not give them a shot to see if they too can give you some interesting tastes for your cup.
Don't think "the other person will do it"
This happens often, I'm as guilty of it as anyone. Often, you may think that others are doing their part, buying from sponsors, mentioning this website, and well, you'll do it next time. The problem is, this is the normal behaviour of someone online - not the exception. Not many "other people" are doing it. We need you to stand up and do it. Yes, you :D
Some good news
I think more than anyone else, Mark Prince (this website's senior editor) wants to constantly give the readers of CoffeeGeek more and more. More content, more contests, more good information, more guides, that kind of thing.
One step he's taken recently is to hire a new content editor to give our Columns section a jab in the arm and get much more quality content onto the website. This also means more Guides in the future.
We also have plans in the works to add features and functionality to the forums and answer many of the complaints about their use. All of these things cost money, which we get from our sponsors. Mark has skipped trips to the Roasters Guild, to the Canadian Coffee and Tea Expo, and to several upcoming events this year to cover these expenses. Travelling to cover events like the SCAA show is not always covered either.
This past year, I had to cover my own travel expenses Ė hotel, food, etc. just so that I could be at the show to make sure there were photos and people covering the enormous show. It is a tremendous amount of area to cover in a short period of time. But, because we love what we do so much, we do it just to bring more to the site. Iíve already started saving for the Charlotte trip next year, and am still quite determined to try and make it.
We want to bring you the best possible resource online or offline for coffee and espresso. You are a huge part of that, because to me and Mark and everyone behind the scenes here, this website is yours and is about you. You are part of this community of coffee and espresso lovers worldwide.
Right now, several of our sponsors continue to sponsor the website simply because that's what they want to do - sponsor this resource for your use and enjoyment. Some of them do not see a tangible return on the investment, other than paying for this resource you use. They are literally doing it out of the "goodness of their heart" to bring you this resource.
Let them know how important their sponsorship is. Let them know that they make a difference and are a valuable part of this community. Shop from them and tell them "I saw you on CoffeeGeek". Doing so will go a long way to the continued success and longevity of this website and resource.
When this site started, we decided not to charge you the visitor for anything. We decided to only host advertisements for coffee related companies. We decided to make all content free, and rely on the good will of both our advertisers and our readership to keep this resource and community running healthy, happy, and vibrant.
Because of these decisions, we have a symbiotic relationship with our sponsors. We work as part of a community, and in that community, we try to help one another. Apathy is dangerous in that the lack of action may cause undesirable reactions. Please remember that that without our sponsors, Coffeegeek would not be here.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. I feel it's an important message to bring to all of you. I hope people don't get upset with this, my first article, but understand that, as part of this community of coffee lovers, you too have a role and a responsibility. Spend your dollars the way you normally do. But please consider spending them with our sponsors and let them know you appreciate them bringing this website to you.