Nov 6, 2010

Are Ad-Free Garden Blogs Better?

ad-free garden blog
Town Mouse published a post on the Town Mouse and Country Mouse garden blog about their blog being ad-free. This isn’t the first time that a garden blogger has posted about their decision to be ad-free and will probably not the last.

I have many blogs, some you may know of and some you may not. I choose to monetize some blogs and not others. There really isn’t much rhyme or reason to what I choose to monetize. This blog, for example, was ad-free until a couple of months ago. While my MrBrownThumb blog was monetized early on and has become a big part of my income. 

Over the years that I’ve been tracking garden blogs one thing that always struck me about this conversation are the judgments made about garden blogs with ads. I have a degree in marketing communications and perhaps that’s why I don’t have any qualms about slapping ads on my blogs. But I don’t judge those who choose not to monetize their blogs or choose to be ad-free.

Town Mouse points to Gardening Gone Wild and Clay and Limestone as two blogs who are “ad-free” and says: 
Come to think of it, almost all of the blogs I really cherish are free, and it's a sweet, heart-warming feeling that someone has given the gift of their time, and doesn't want anything in return.

I used the scare quotes above for a reason. 

Town Mouse describes GGW as being ad-free but there is a link to GGW’s Amazon store in their sidebar. In GGW’s posts I’ve regularly seen links to books on Amazon with an affiliate tracking code. Both methods of linking are advertisements from which the blogger will make a commission from the sale of any products purchased at Amazon. Does GGW’s Amazon affiliate account mean that they NOT giving the internet the “gift” of their time and indeed do want something in return? Are we garden bloggers who have ads less noble and not “generous?” 

Town Mouse has a pretty strict interpretation of what constitutes an ad, down to the comments. Comments left by businesses are subject to deletion, as is Town Mouse’s prerogative. But as a student of advertising I’d say that such a strict interpretation of advertisements would preclude an ad-free blog from even having badges (even the ad-free badge) and even banners to projects like, as noble as an organization as it may be.  

Also, in the comments of the post there is some discussion about ads that could be offensive. I’d like to point out that in the case of Google’s Adsense there is the option to filter out ads of companies or organizations you don’t agree with. I find it curious that people who may be ad-free or pro ad-free blogs seem to be ok with possibility of link selling and buying.  We garden bloggers are such complex creatures. If you are ad-free and want to badge visit 

Do you agree with Town Mouse that ad-free blogs are more generous than those of us with ads? Do you not care about ads on blogs one way or the other? 

Since I’m on the subject of Amazon affiliate links: Why do so few garden bloggers who monetize their blogs through Amazon disclose the nature of these links in the posts they‘re used? As a publisher who monetizes I try to be transparent because it is something that was drilled into me as a student. If I use an affiliate link I attempt to point out that the link is to Amazon and that I will make a little commission if it is used. It isn't that I question the intelligence of the reader, but that I don't want to take it for granted. Not everyone knows that links to Amazon are usually connected to accounts that generate the blogger some money.


  1. I have no problem with ads in blogs as long as they don't interfere with the content. After all bloggers have to eat too. Banners on the side are easily ignored. But when I have to scroll down an entire page because the content has been bisected by a monolith of Google Adsense, I get annoyed. I also get annoyed with posts that are nothing more than SEO optimized paragraphs.

    I too am surprised more bloggers aren't upfront about how they monetize with Amazon. The FTC regulations pretty much requires a certain transparency when it comes just that.

  2. I

    I can't type in your comment box or read your text because of the strip on the left side, facebook, tweets, etc. I couldn't get rid of it.


  3. You know, I think there are really two types of bloggers. Those who are professionals sharing what they love as an extension of what they do, and those who are individual hobbyists who love gardening but have a day job.

    It's beyond offensive to me when I hear it indicated that my professional knowledge should be offered up for free, with no benefit for me. I'm not offended with the mousies, I love them and think they're making a personal rather than sweeping statement, but I'm offended with that concept on the whole.

    When you work a dayjob and wish all day to come home and garden, it's one thing to share your thoughts in a blog for free.

    When your gardening knowledge is something people pay a steep hourly rate for all day, it's not a completely foreign concept for us pros to put some value on that knowledge.

    I'd include garden writers in that for sure. The vast majority of garden professionals blogging are doing so for personal gain.

    Maybe the people over at GGW would blog even if they had no books to sell or professional reputation to build. But, um, maybe NOT. It takes a lot of time and energy to blog and I think when you put that level of time and energy into doing something in your off hours that you could be getting paid to do, there is a fairly obvious connection between doing that thing and finding some personal gain from it.

    Plus, you know, the Amazon links aren't exactly making it an ad-free blog.

    I want to stress though - I really love the mousies and I'm not taking issue with them. It's just they've hit on the tip of an attitudinal iceberg that drives me up the wall as a professional selling sometimes intangible services.

  4. @kat, I'm surprised the FTC rules haven't caused people to be more transparent with their Amazon affiliate links.

    @Gatsby, Sorry to hear that, but on my laptop it stays on the left. I've modified it to get it to justify even more to the left. It may be your browser, but I checked with Firefox, IE and Chrome and it works like it is suppose to.

    @Genevieve, No arguments from me, although I think maybe you'll need to do some clarification or expanding on the comment about the Mousies. I'm not so sure I understand, but feel free to use the comments section to give your thoughts room to roam. I think we may have an interesting discussion in there somewhere.

  5. I don't care whether a blog has ads or doesn't, the content of the blog and the blogger's personality are what draw me in. My own blog has no ads, and is very eclectic in what I blog about.

  6. MB MBT, maybe it'my netbook,, but I really wanted to answer you. I make nothing from my advertising, almost a year and I think they have rung up $9.00, no pay till over $100. I have a few ads on my blog but am not in it to make money.

    I sometimes wish I could click on the ads as they seem like a good deal


  7. This topic seems to come up every now and then. To each his or her own I say. They shouldn't be critical of those with ads since they may not have any clue why they choose to monetize. Our family is a single income by choice. My wife and I chose to have one of use stay home to raise the children which happens to be me. The extra income I make off the blog goes to pay for all the gardening and landscape improvements around our house. I don't make a ton of money and what I do make comes from search engine traffic. I rarely market stuff to Garden bloggers since I know they don't want to hear a sales pitch for a post. I get offended by those who sit back and criticize bloggers who choose to monetize their blogs. I write for fun but I'm too pragmatic to let all those old posts that other bloggers don't read anymore go to waste.

  8. I don't quite know where the Mousies fit into this, so I do hope Genevieve comes back. As far as ad-free garden blogs being "better," -- no. They're not better, and they're not worse. As Dave said, above, we each make choices based on what works best for us. I love gardening, and I love blogging, so the two went together naturally and I started a garden blog. However, just because I enjoy what I do, that doesn't mean I owe it to the rest of the world for free. Novelists love what they do, and would probably be writing fiction even if no one ever bought it. Should they then be expected to write stories for the rest of the world to read for free? Of course not.

    My blog serves a variety of functions for me: it lets me blog about any gardening topic I want, it is a valuable part of my overall web presence, it helps me socialize with other gardeners, and it helps generate a small amount of additional income.

    To me, the whole ads or ad-free argument is the same as the self-hosted vs. free hosted blog argument -- neither is better, and I read all and any of them happily.

  9. I think she was referring to Town Mouse and Country Mouse...'the mousies'. Not the awards. That's just what I got from her comment...

  10. Let's get real. All blogs are marketing, whether or not they have ads.

    Everyone "wants something in return" at one level or another. If not money, then warm fuzzies (developing a following, making friends, being viewed as an expert, being popular, pushing an agenda (political, social, health, whatever), etc.).

    No one should ever feel embarrassed because they need to earn a living. If someone can make money from their gardening expertise, this is cause for rejoicing, not for questioning the heart-warming sincerity of their content.

  11. @Jan -- That makes sense -- thanks! I see "Mousies" and automatically think of my "Mousies" :-)

  12. Yes, the "mousies" I'm referring to are Town and Country Mouse, the mousies who started the discussion. Nothing to do with the mouse and trowel awards!

  13. @Terra, Thanks for the feedback.


    Thanks for coming back. I see what the problem is. We're both using different screen resolutions and that's why it doesn't fit on your screen. I'll see if I can find something smaller for people like yourself.

    @Dave, Excellent reply. I particularly like "I write for fun but I'm too pragmatic to let all those old posts that other bloggers don't read anymore go to waste." Yeah, after the post is "old" the only people who are likely to read it are people who do internet searches for who an ad may be useful.

    @Colleen, I think we're about due for another one of those self-hosting debates, it has been a couple of years, no? LOL.

    @Jan, Thanks. I see now that Genevieve has replied and you were right. I wish I had a prize to give you for getting the right answer.

    @Monica, Fantastic points. Whatever the reason for garden blogging there is something "selfish" about it because we are all keeping an eye on some kind of metric by which we judge our blogs.

    @Genevieve, Thanks for coming back and clearing that up. I wasn't aware that mousies was a nickname for that blog.

  14. So far I've been proudly add free, but am I really? After all, I talk about books, say when a plant does particularly well or which tools I really like. Isn't that advertising? In my view it is, but I don't get anything for it.

    Then the lines get blurred even further when you're offered stuff to review or if you win a prize from a fellow blogger who's been donated something for a giveaway. I'm always honest and say what's good or bad, but it's still an ad isn't it?

    There isn't really black or white with ad-free vs. monetising as far as I can see. Only shades of grey.

    Of course there are blogs out there that are out and out income machines - the ones you've highlighted in your content scraping pieces for instance are at the blackest end of the scale.

    But most bloggers? Particularly gardening bloggers? If someone wants to get rich from a monetised blog, then I wouldn't recommend gardening as the blog to do it with!

    I suspect most people who monetise their gardening blogs will just cover host fees, a bit for plants, compost etc. And that's fine.

    Besides, the majority of people doing that also make sure their ads don't interfere with their content. Which is good design anyway. Why put off the people you want to keep coming back?

    And if people want to remain ad free, then that's fine too. Let's not be judgemental when we have absolutely no idea about the whys and wherefores of the decision individuals make about their blogs. Ad free or no.

    I particularly like Garden Fairie's level headed comments. Hear hear.

  15. Like most of your commenters, I don't care if a blog is monetized or not; I'm interested in the content. And as a professional designer, I'm 100% in agreement with all of Gen's points. The two of us have had this discussion on Facebook before - individuals have actually tracked down our phone numbers and called our offices expecting free design advice, simply because we offer general advice via our blogs. But that's a rant for another day.

    I do think, however, you're being a bit unfair in how you're characterizing the Mice. While they seem to have missed the mark on Amazon links being a type of advertisement, the post states clearly:

    "Don't get me wrong. It doesn't bother me at all that people who write for a living, and whose posts and pictures are clever and entertaining enough to make me want to go back include ads on their blogs."

    I would also point out that they've dropped my barely-monetized personal blog from their blog roll, but kept my monetized informational site under their favorites category, as it includes articles and photos on water-wise gardening, a subject they're passionate about. From what I can see, they support the blogs with the content they care about, regardless of advertising.

    Their own blog is one of the best on-going sources for California native plants, and I use it as a professional resource. If they put a book out, I'd buy it. Can you blame them for being a tad self-congratulatory that they're doing this ad-free?

  16. @VP, Thanks for resubmitting your comment after it got eaten by the internet monster. :0)

    @Susan, Thanks for the comment, especially because you're the first to take a stance that's somewhat different from previous comments. Do I think I'm being unfair in characterizing the "Mice?" No. Maybe, a bit opinionated to make a point. TM held up ad-free blogs as being self-less and somehow nobler. So, what does that make monetized bloggers and their blogs?

    I don't think the debate is about whether ads on garden blogs bother people but how garden blogs with ads are being judged, by contrast, to those who don't have them.

  17. @Susan, P.S I certainly can't blame them for being self-congratulatory in regards to keeping an ad-free blog, but I don't see the point of drawing attention to it.

  18. MBT, the share/buzz thing on the left blocks my view, too so my solution has been to reduce the text size to miniscule & sit very close to the screen.

    Ads were rare when I began commenting on garden blogs in 2005 -still rare when my blog started in 2006. When they first became common I wondered if having ads could temper the freedom with which bloggers wrote and decided not to do it. I don't know if that was judgmental or just a cautious nature.

    Now ads on blogs are everywhere, making blogs more cluttered but without stifling the bloggers...most people still crank on about whatever they feel like anyway, don't they?

    Monica is right when she says
    Everyone "wants something in return" at one level or another.
    My blogs exist to lure interesting people into conversations, make them laugh, and get them to listen to my songs. Any theoretical income from ads wouldn't help because one can't buy those things, but I sure want them!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  19. (I am also experiencing the floaty-left-box over post text and images, FWIW, and don't like it, but it's not keeping me from visiting your sites. It has kept me from leaving comments once or twice, because it floated over the comment box, but thanks to Annie in Austin I now know I can reduce the font size and see the whole post again.)

    I've been pondering whether to add Google ads to PATSP, but I can't make up my mind, and frankly this whole conversation here is not helping. So I'm going to skip out without leaving an opinion on the moral rectitude of ad-free blogging. Clearly I need to spend more time thinking about it.

    In fact, I could have skipped making this whole comment, but I wanted to say something about the whole floaty left-side box issue.

  20. Hi - just to pick up on the Buzz box thing. I've had it covering up the text and comment box too, but I usually view blogs less than whole screen size. As soon as I made the page full size, the box 'freed' itself from the rest of your text and all was readable again. This might help others if they're viewing in the same way as me rather than making the text smaller?

    Like Mr Subjunctive I'm having a loooong think about whether to continue to be ad free or not, but like him I need to go away and think about it a whole heap more.

  21. Seconding VP -- the box thing is only a problem when I don't have my Firefox window maximized.

    One more thing. I have zero problem with ad-free blogs. I do have a problem, however, when ad-free bloggers try to elevate themselves as somehow "more generous" than those bloggers who monetize. As Monica pointed out, we're all getting something out of this: money, exposure, enjoyment, conversation, laughs, knowledge -- and sometimes, all of the above. Nothing wrong with any of it.

  22. I don't distinguish between ad-free and monetized blogs. As long as the content is compelling I'll read it and recommend it to others. I would however like it if that Groupon ad would stop following me around the internet.

  23. What Monica said.

    Whatever works for the blog writer/owner. It's not my place to judge or criticize. I can't presume to know their circumstances or motivations one way or the other.

    I think it's awesome that some people are able to make money blogging. Isn't it fantastic when a person can make a living doing something they love! :) That's cause for celebration.

  24. Ok, I've made some modifications to the floating widget, so hopefully it stops getting in the way. Appreciate you all saying something about it.

    Also, LMAO at Bucolic Bushwick being stalked by the Groupon ad. I've had the same feeling for about a month now. Mentioning the Groupon ad will probably not make it go away though.

  25. I'm guessing here, but I think the reason ad-free blogs are put on a pedestal by some is the implication that the writer is entirely uninfluenced by what to write. As soon as ads appear (or Amazon bookstores are created), one could infer that the blogger may slant their content in a specific direction, even if unconsciously. At a minimum, if you take the time to monetize your blog, then aren't you likely to also do your best to drive SEO, which influences title choice, topic choice, etc? Ad-free blogs can do the same, of course, particularly blogs that support a personal brand, even if they are not money-makers in and of themselves (I put GGW in this category), but still. I don't want to speak for the Mice, but that might be why they make a distinction.

  26. Susan, I can agree with that because I've made this very same argument one of the last time that ad-free blogs came up in the garden blogosphere. I think all blogs are influenced by external forces. The moment you know that other people will read what you say you change the course of a blog. It is kind of like the observer-expectancy effect.

    Appreciate the thought-provoking comments.

  27. Over the years I've thought about this question a lot. I've had ads in the past, took them off, put them on again, took them off. Right now I'm thinking deeply about this because I'm considering putting them up again. But it's a struggle, and here's why.

    As some of you know, I'm a freelance writer by profession. I'm usually fairly busy, with some regular clients, and some that do occasional projects. I began bloomingwriter nearly 5 years ago as a way of giving back to the gardening world around me. I like to encourage other gardeners, and encourage other writers too. Some regard other writers/bloggers as competition. I don't. I'm good at what I do, and if you're good at what you do, you'll prosper. There are enough stories out there for everyone.

    Here's the thing, however. The more I give...the more (some) expect. I get emails all the time wanting free advice, planting suggestions, growing suggestions, but not just advice about gardening. People want my opinions about social media, blogging in general, querying editors, critiquing websites, etc etc. And if I answer once question, they come back with four more. It seems many people have no idea how to use search engines effectively. It's timeconsuming to maintain a blog, read other people's blogs, comment on them (which is important), perhaps engage in Blotanical (though I don't do that much anymore), answer questions, do social media, do all my regular work too...and all these questions from non-paying people take time.

    Would monetizing my blog pay for my time? I don't know--it hasn't in the past, but I've probably been doing it wrong. Does it bother me on other people's blogs? Not as a rule: I have an innate ability to read around advertising, whether in newspapers and magazines or online. Comes from being a speed reader able to focus on what I need to read. The only time ads bug me is those highlighted ones in articles that pop open to a window--but the blogs I read don't have those. And in fact, I didn't notice any ad here because I use a flashblocker most of the time.

    No clearcut answer from me. I appreciate the discussion, and look forward to more of it.

  28. One more thing (if that comment was really published. The floating bar to the left doesn't bother me, but often when I write a comment I get this google error that says something about the URL being too large to process. Anyone else have that problem?

  29. I dont have a probelm with ads on blogs. Bloggers have a right as to whether or not to earn income from their gardening expertise if they wish so as long as the ads themselves do not overwhelm the reader like a used car salesman.

  30. wow, i hadn't even thought about monetizing and all that. very provocative opinions and ideas. if i ever get any readers, i will have to deal with this issue! (just started my little blog on outdoor living/gardens in laguna beach...) thanks!

  31. The time spent on this blog is valuable, as is your expertise. If you so choose, there is no reason why you shouldn't be rewarded for it with something more concrete than a warm fuzzy and a smile.

    A little story here, which is slightly off topic: I wrote and published a book. While most people are decent individuals, others have expected that I will not only answer all of their questions about the book, life, the universe and everything (as jodi said) but also expect that I am thrilled to find out that they pirated a pdf and sent it to all of their friends because they liked it so much. Gee, thanks-- I'm glad you liked it enough to steal it. I'm sure the utility company will be happy with me paying in smiles and compliments.

    Anyway, I personally am not offended by those who choose to monetize. I am not offended by those who choose to keep their blogs ad free. The quality of a blog hinges solely on it's content-- a well written blog is a well written blog, regardless of what is or isn't in the side bar.

  32. Thanks for sharing information


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