How to use gardenblogs and bloggers to promote your business


The subject of businesses advertising on and promoting their products on gardenblogs has caused quite a stir lately – starting here on Trey Pritsenberger's blog.  In 130 comments there and further on a Facebook page for gardenwriters, these connections were debated:

  • Bloggers now writing for Troy-bilt – the Saturday Six you see advertised in our sidebar.  Trey objects because it isn't just Troy-bilt but also Lowes that the Six are promoting.  And independent garden centers, like Trey's, really feel the heat from the Boxes.
  • P. Allen Smith and his sponsors paid air fare and lodging for 24 gardenbloggers over a weekend in April – here are the details.  Lots of discussion in the comments covered whether the bloggers are adequately disclosing the freebie nature of the trip when they write about it or the products they heard about that weekend.  The FTC rules were invoked.
  • And Trey started his post by mentioning advertising on blogs – like the ones here on the Rant.  Just to clarify (and not to join the catfight), I posted a comment explaining that Blogads are set up and paid for automatically, without blogger involvement. (Which I've since found out is incorrect.  I'm not the contact person and didn't realize that bloggers DO get advance notice before ads appear.  My bad!)

No need to rehash all that, but can we brainstorm/discuss civilly how companies can best connect with gardenbloggers?  I'll start.

Hire a blogger

This is, of course, my first choice and I've been blogging for independent garden centers for a couple of years now.  (Currently here and here.)  Magazines have hired experienced bloggers (Fine Gardening, Horticulture, as have the aforementioned Troy-bilt and Lowes.  (Come on, local garden centers, do you want the Boxes to beat you at building customer loyalty?)

Would I blog for just any company?  Definitely not, and I know that Scotts Miracle-Gro will be disappointed to hear I'm not available.  (Smirk).  But gardenwriters struggle to pay their bills and if a company doesn't hire a blogger, they'll probably hire a PR and marketing firm, paying more for a blog that fails to connect with their customers or the blogging community. Back in 2008 Amy wrote: "You Probably Don't Need a Marketing Company To Get You Blog Exposure, Period" and that's only become more evident in the three years since then.

And just recently there are some new reasons for local companies to blog (posting valuable content, not just marketing) with the opportunities to republish their blog posts on Patch and other micro-local news websites. 

Advertise on blogs

We're seeing a slow but steady increase in advertising on blogs – finally!  I encourage all you hard-working gardenbloggers out there to set up a Blogads account and display it prominently.

Send products for bloggers to try out and review

Sure, send us your products to write about, but I like the offers that come initially by email with the opportunity to opt-out – to reduce my growing cache of stuff I'll never use and can't figure out how to get rid of.  And I probably won't review plants if they didn't grow well for me, gadgets that don't work, and books I didn't like.  I DO feel obligated to mention the source of plants if and when I mention a freebie.

As to whether we need to reveal the free nature of every plant and book we receive, there doesn't seem to be consensus opinion on this.  Many have suggested that it's understood that book reviewers didn't buy the book, and I agree.  For plants, tools, et cetera it's probably necessary.

Your turn

Bloggers, what do you think?  Companies marketing to or through bloggers, what have you tried and how well did it work for you?


  1. We UK bloggers watch what’s happening in the States with interest as company/blogger relationships are much more entwined than they are over here so far. But we seem to be catching up fast!

    We don’t have FTC here in the UK yet, so I use the ‘Blog with Integrity’ voluntary code of practice which is similar.

    I disclose book freebies as I review books I buy too. Even if I didn’t I’d still disclose as I believe I should make it clear whenever I’ve received something for nothing.

  2. There are several garden bloggers that I no longer follow due to their mediocre content, and I now found that one common denominator was the P. Allen Smith trip. I suspect that some of the best bloggers don’t snap up these freebies as enthusiastically as the mediocre bloggers. The freebies seem to reassure them that they are writers, when their content tells a different story. I think your advice is sound – pay good writers to blog for you. Content rules on the web.

  3. If garden bloggers are going to make the jump into journalism and think of themselves as media companies by accepting ads, reviewing products and celebrating swag, then they need to learn a few basics about ethics.

    You can’t be bought, even by your sponsors. If you are paid to blog – reveal. And for god’s sake, don’t gush over free trips. Your followers won’t want to read about it.

  4. Susan,
    Not sure I agree with you on the blogads. Every time I come to this site there is an ad advertising divorce counseling, or how to hire an attorney. Is that really the image you want to project? Sure, it’s some change for the bank account, but attorneys and divorce counseling?

    How can a site proclaim, “suspicious of the horticulture industry” in it’s manifesto? By advertising for members of this industry, you have become a “part” of the very industry your suspicious of.

    Beware of accepting just any ad. While many of your readers will know you don’t control what ad’s show up, they do know you control whether these ads show up in the first place.

    Very interesting going forward with all this. Monetizing your blog through ad banners my bring some income your way. The question is whether you will alienate the very readers who helped build the interest in the site in the first place? Not sure, but I did notice the increase in advertising here, and it does matter.

  5. I understand that advertising helps pay the bills, and sometimes a little more. I agree with Troy that I wouldn’t want to see inappropriate ads like for divorce attorneys, not only is it unpleasant, but it just isn’t even relevant.

    There are ways to choose what advertising is on your blog, and I appreciate those who are choosy about this. Like this guy: I think it comes down to integrity and ethics. I wouldn’t want to earn money by advertising for companies or products that I don’t agree with.

  6. I find that neither gardening NOR blogging has been, so far, a path to earning or saving money.

    When I started gardening, I thought it would save money. I didn’t consider the cost of the compost, manure, soil additives, nutrients, mulch, and the water bill.

    My hobby became even more expensive when you weigh those costs against the fact that I live in an area where produce is cheap and abundant.

    But then, I love working in my garden, so I wouldn’t give it up — even if each tomato does cost $5 in the end.

    Same goes with my blog — so far, I’ve paid for hosting, the URL, and I’ve spent countless hours upon hours writing and guestposting. No money has come in. But, like my garden, I love cultivating the blog.

  7. Ok, as a reader it’s confusing, and not always clear at first what is motivating the writers (that’s why your Manifesto is nice). It seems like there are multiple categories of bloggers:

    Bloggers who blog for the love of the subject and/or writing, or to develop a community;

    Bloggers whose blog(s) are their livelihood;

    Bloggers who blog for one or more businesses to make a living;

    Bloggers who own a business and only write a blog for their business;

    Bloggers who are in a gray area between these motivations.

    Probably many of us don’t pay too much attention to the writer’s motivation as long as the content is interesting to us (Earth Girl is right on, IMHO). I know I “read first and ask later” when it comes to “who is writing and why are they writing?” Like many readers, I stumble cluelessly upon various blogs through links in articles I’m reading, or from other sites. No doubt the Troy-Bilts of the world count on this. Perhaps lots of freebie offers are what draw others to certain sites, I don’t know.

    I wrote for a year or so for a tea blog for free, just for the love of writing, and a new-found interest in tea. I was completely naive about how it worked at the time. I never got freebies and bought all of the teas and products I reviewed, and was shocked when I received some free product once in the mail, many months AFTER I had written a (mixed) review that was linked to in many other blogs. Later I found out the owners of the blog were getting free trips to India and China, free products that they rarely reviewed or gave away, and that they did give other (“professional”) reviewers free products to review. Apparently their attitude was “Why pay for the cow when the milk is free”. And Lowe’s has discovered they can leverage Troy-Bilt’s willingness to give away free products into publicity for them (or maybe they have a mutually-beneficial agreement worked out).

    So I now really appreciate knowing where the freebies come from, and what the writer’s motivations are, and if they’ve been given something to review or if they are reviewing something they found on their own. But when content is free to read, and it’s interesting to me, I’ll probably read it, regardless. When I have to start paying to read it, I’ll “cull the herd” of what I read.

    This begs the question: If blogs would not advertise or promote stuff, would we be willing to pay to read them? Or should we continue to support the advertising as a way to support the bloggers?

  8. If you thought the comments following Trey’s post were a ‘catfight’ then I don’t believe you must have read them. To call for ‘civilized’ commenting here sounds a bit snooty and odd.

    Cindy McNatt has the best advice, I believe.

    To read that you ‘finally’ are glad more garden bloggers start advertising really turns me off.

    Which comes first, writing quality posts about your gardening experience or striving for more comments and ‘impressions’, gearing your posts for the largest audience?

    I’ve stopped reading Garden Rant, because of the ads, book promotions and links to this and that outside garden news and cliquish ‘news’ about this and that trip being taken to ‘garden events and conventions.’

  9. I’m like many Americans whose subconscious mind can shut out an obnoxious ad when they sense one, so blog ads don’t even register to me. They register only as clutter and weaken the aesthetics of the page.
    I never adopted ads on my pathetic little blog because it isn’t written to bring in financial compensation and I don’t like the look of advertisements on a blog page: it makes them look cheap, messy , aesthetically crowded and like a poster child for WalMart.

    It doesn’t bother me that blog writers who put in time ( where do you find it ! ) are reaping the rewards of being offered commercial products to endorse to the public so long as there is some extent of openness , truthfulness and a modicum of ethics. That’s how commercial capitalism works.

  10. Well, first of all YOU chose to use BlogAds. They aren’t the only internet advertisers out there. So when I come to Garden Rant, I am greeted by:
    Troy-Bilt. Much as I like that company, it now means Lowes.
    This weird divorce lawyer ad.
    Avant Gardens. Very cool stuff.
    The friggin’ Bloomerang Lilac, which is basically unavailable to IGC’s anywhere, at least west of the Mississippi.
    And then a bunch of books through Amazon, some by you folks; I assume you get a small fee each time a book sells through Amazon.

    So as an IGC owner, I see:
    — promotion of big box
    — promotion of PW, which is simply no longer an IGC brand
    — promotion of online book sales, rather than local independent bookstores. You are aware of these folks, I hope:
    — and a divorce lawyer.

    This all helps to widen the growing divide between garden bloggers and independent retailers. Some of us who maintain our own websites, blogs, and Facebook pages are doing our best to keep up, but I urge garden bloggers out there to look more closely at what ads you are choosing for your sites (directly or indirectly), and how you are coming across to the nursery community.

    It is normal to accept a free book in order to elicit a garden review. It is not unusual to get free products to encourage you to try them and write about them; I get them, too. The big junket the PW paid for went way over the line, and I sense that some of the bloggers were naïve or being disingenuous about the impact it would have on the perception of their integrity. Journalistic ethics do apply to bloggers, so at a minimum full disclosure is necessary.

    Trey’s post hit a nerve. But please understand that we small retailers see, once again, the huge corporate hort industry trying to muscle and buy its way into the public’s view. They have vastly more resources than we do. So this will continue to be a controversy, and his blog has made everyone much more aware of what has been happening.

  11. I too found the divorce lawyer ads odd – just assumed one of you went through a divorce before I started reading regularly and that you felt strongly about whatever lawyer is connected to the ad.

    I love opinions, but I hate being sold and I think this blog maintains a nice distinction between the two. I don’t assume that you give something a good review because you got it for free so I don’t think you necessarily need to reveal that it was free. That said, once your credibility is gone, it’s gone for good.

    I assumed you blogged to get the speaking gigs where you made your real money. I like the idea of hiring a professional blogger.

    Would I pay to read this blog without the ads? Not with the current density of ads, but maybe if they became more obnoxious.

  12. Everyone seems to have a different tolerance for ads, and here’s what bugs me – if they take up the most important places on the web page and make it hard for me to find the substance. I’m equally annoyed when magazine design makes it hard to tell what’s ad and what’s editorial.

    Anything intrusive, too, like pop-ups and sound, of course. Very user-unfriendly of them.

    Content-wise, all publications on any medium have to make choices about when advertisers should be rejected for some reason. Ads that bother me as a reader would be maybe a gun manufacturer ad on a pro-gun-control blog, or an ad that’s offensive to someone – often it’s women. There must be others I’m forgetting. But off-topic ads don’t bother me – as long as they’re not in the middle of the screen or flashing at me.

    Don, thanks for explaining that so well. I don’t have an answer, but I think I understand how all this could impact you.

  13. It is not easy being a salesperson. It takes a hard shell to take rejection after rejection, yet keep plugging away. God bless them, we need sales people. And that’s why most bloggers, if they put ads on their site, outsource that job to a third party. Most bloggers are content creators, not salespeople. Yet, that is the most profitable way to gather income for a blog: sell your own ads. But that is an entirely different skill set, one worth learning. It is rather humorous that your Garden Rant book ads link to Amazon, instead of the independent book store of one of your own, Amy Stewart. Why not link to your own book store to sell them?

  14. Full disclosure: I am not now nor will I ever be a blogger. By the time I catch on, the world will have moved on to some other form of creativity.

    The ads don’t bother me and I think the contests are a fun way to get people to participate. It does seem like some of the viewpoints and the writing is directly opposite of what you claim in your manifesto. Finding out that some people are making money with online writing is great news but then hearing the concerns you’ve brought up in today’s posting kind of stinks up the place – I thought bloggers were going to carve out new territory, forge new relationships with readers, go about business in completely new ways… you’re just stepping backwards into the same mess with all the problems of mainstream media. What happened to change?

    “Same pile. Different foot” Detective Munch

  15. To clarify, bloggers who are part of BlogAds can choose to turn down ads before they go live.

    And as to why we have an Amazon affiliate account rather than promoting my own bookstore–well, two reasons.

    First, I don’t personally support sending people to Amazon over independents, but I was outvoted on that one. There are four of us, after all. No hard feelings, just that’s how the vote went.

    And my bookstore doesn’t sell many new books–we are mostly used and rare, and couldn’t create a widget like Amazon’s. But or are examples of affiliate programs we could use instead. (We used Powells for a while years ago and got no revenue from it, however.)

  16. You write:
    “to reduce my growing cache of stuff I’ll never use and can’t figure out how to get rid of”

    Where you live there are probably charity shops who love getting donations of those items. Serving many parts of California, EMQ FamiliesFirst is headquartered in Campbell, with offices in San Jose, Los Gatos, Fairfield, Concord, Davis, Sacramento, Fresno, San Bernardino, and Los Angeles. There are several shops in the San Jose CA area whose proceeds go to EMQFF.

    There are cancer-benefit shops, Goodwill and Salvation Army shops, and shops to benefit any number of other charities that will take your unwanted items, and delight someone else with them.

    My MiL has a friend who volunteers at a cancer society who gets older models of electronics (still useful) when we upgrade, items we don’t need anymore, clothes we no longer fancy or which no longer fit, and things for which we don’t have storage, if they are not already destined for a new home.

    Plants I no longer want/can finally replace can be passed on to my gardener, if he knows of a client who’d like them, but all the glazed pottery I bought for orchids I managed to kill go to J’s shop.

  17. Wow! You can donate the things you don’t want through, if that helps. I blog so that I can remember what the heck I planted where and when I did it. I had NO idea that the P. Allen Smith thing was a promotional gig. I swear to God, I thought all these people going on the same trip were good buds trying to do a reunion around gardening. I think Trey and his comments were pretty dignified so I missed the cat fight, but then again, I’m from Chicago and a cat fight to us involves hair curlers and chairs flying across the room. I think ads on blogs are really dull and I never read them or notice them. I think I have three ads on my silly little blog but heck if I know what they’re for. (I was warned to never, ever, ever click on my own ads on my own blog or the google police would have my head.) If someone wants to send me free stuff (plants), I’ll take it. If I like it, I’ll let them (and everyone else who will listen) know. If I don’t, I’ll simply say nothing. If they want to send me tools, I’ll refuse. My husband’s garage is packed and the last thing I need in there is another item that will come in handy someday. Seeing how nutty these things can get in the blogosphere, an ad for a divorce attorney may not be such a bad idea. Waiting to see an ad for anger management classes next. But what do I know? I’m just a Dummy in the Garden. *wink*

  18. I view the garden blogger as the new garden magazine, only it’s online. Accepting freebies, even a trip, is pretty standard in the media, as long as you don’t feel pressured to have to give a positive review or a favorable post.
    How do garden writers learn about plants, garden products, garden books, etc. unless, on occasion, they get free samples to try?
    I wonder what criteria were used to choose what bloggers went to P. Allen Smith’s retreat?

  19. I want to question your statement about not reviewing an item if it doesn’t work, a plant if it didn’t grow for you, or a book you didn’t like. What’s the point of a review if not to post your opinion? If you only post about things you like, the value of your objective opinion goes way down in my book. Why not save the readers some money to help us not to purchase something that won’t work, and also letting the manufacturer/grower/editor know that their product needs improvement? You can’t be a reviewer and only critique what you like, imho.

  20. Robin, Your statement may have been directed at me as I was the one who said I wouldn’t say anything if I didn’t like a certain product. You are absolutely right and I never thought of it that way. I was caught up in the “if you haven’t something nice to say, don’t say anything” (and my mom thinks I never listened… hmph!) But thinking about this, I HAVE written reviews for things I thought were not so good except that those were items I PAID for. Somewhere in my head, I got this idea that if someone gave me a gift and I didn’t like it, I should keep quiet. Thanks for enlightening me. If your comment was directed at someone else, forgive me for babbling on and on. It’s something I do much too often, I think. 🙂

  21. PS – To the Garden Rant owners, do you know that the ad for the reblooming lilac has a typo? Fragrant. The ad reads “fragnant”. Unless that’s a new thing, I think it’s a typo.

  22. I read only about 30 comments on Mr. Pritsenberger’s post and found it to be fascinating reading. He’s simply doing what needs to be done–asking important questions, trying to get to the truth of what’s going on in American gardening businesses. I was impressed by the responses from some of the bloggers and Troy-bilt. Transparency and honesty is where it’s at. We’ll eventually catch on if someone’s been “bought” and their credibility will plummet.

  23. Wendy, I think Robin was responding to what I wrote in the post, and I have to agree. As a reader I want to know the absolute truth, good or bad, but when reviewing books, by other writers I probably know or will someday meet, that gets tricky, and is why you’ve probably never seen a total pan of a gardening book in a gardening publication, online or in print. So most reviewers decline to review the books we really dislike, so you can take the lack of reviews of a book as a bad sign.

    About plants, I certainly have written about plants that die or otherwise fail for me, but I don’t rub it in by saying “This plant I got from Company X was a dud.” I just name the plant.

    As for gadgets, I can’t remember ever reviewing one with a brand new attached to it.

  24. One can point out the negative aspects of a thing, plant or book in a review in a constructive, useful, kind way (as the Troy-Bilt rep on Trey’s blog pointed out, they’ve used what they learned from reviews to better their product). Readers just need to remember that the review is told from the reviewer’s point of view–you might like a book that someone pans, for exactly the reasons they didn’t like it. I appreciate honest reviews, if they are not obviously nasty or flip.

  25. It wasn’t that long ago and probably still is going on a bit that garden related web sites with active communities were writing Terms of Service to make theft of content legal and morally acceptable. GardenWeb and Wellsphere come to mind. At the opportune time and with full ownership rights of all content stored on the website, they were sold for big bucks and turned into nothing but advertising platforms with annoying ads of every stripe and description. Plenty money was being made by a few folks and the real suppliers of all that content that drove traffic to the sites got shafted. Then too you had the feed scrapers just plain stealing content to their own sites and filling them with ads.

    Attempting to legalize theft and claiming the moral right to do so really got my dander up. Plain thieves were easier to understand.

    Now what we are seeing are the advertisers going directly to the source of the content. Perhaps they were paying attention when these formerly lucrative websites withered on the vine once the big sellout was accomplished. Hopefully they always steered clear of the outright thieves of gardening content. This new trend is certainly better in my opinion. Why shouldn’t the individual people who generate the content reap some of the rewards?

    Yes, “Same Pile. Different foot.” The difference the interweb of the world is having is that now we know the real people behind some of the advertising and writing being done in the garden media. It is no longer generally faceless unknowns in a magazine or book.

    There is no one right way to blog, to advertise, to review, to promote, to shill, to completely sell out. As capitalism generally has no morals and accepts no responsibility, we will wait for that promised magic of consumer response to reach the just equilibrium. Just don’t hold your breath.

  26. Quite a dodge saying ads on blogs are set up automatically without blogger involvement.
    Fact is you have to opt in to have ads on your site. So a little white lie here.

  27. Greg, I’ll clarify (no lies, white or otherwise).
    We chose to put embed the Blogads system on GardenRant. Individual advertisers then design and purchase their ad without our involvement, except for an email notification of an upcoming ad in case it’s something we want to reject.

  28. I am the one who said don’t give a review if you didn’t like it. The reason you don’t slam it in print is that someone gave to you it without any exchange of money. Also, your credibility as a writer is at stake. Readers expect you to try things in the garden. If I don’t like something I’ve tried, I just don’t write about it. Someone else will probably review it. It’s not like this plant opens this weekend like a film, and all major reviewers have to chime in on it.
    Why not just go on to the next plant, book, garden gadget? More will be coming your way if you have a blog or garden column.

  29. A key difference between blogs and traditional media is the ability of blog readers to contribute (for the most part) uncensored, immediate comments – and many times the blogger even comments back! This dialog creates a personal connection that simply doesn’t exist in print media. Is it any wonder that some readers feel invested in their favorite blogs to the point where they have strong opinions on advertising, sponsorship, content, etc.? Would anyone here even care if a divorce attorney ad showed up in the garden section of their newspaper, let alone bother write a letter to the editor? Bloggers, particularly those making a living in the green industry, might see advertising, freebies and sponsorship as the natural evolution of things, but I’m not surprised all readers don’t. I support anyone trying to make a living off of quality content, but it’s disingenuous to think you will be judged on content alone, rather than the totality of what you and your blog represent.

  30. Blogs are online publications and as such they aren’t exempt from the model that sustains almost all publications. Which is advertising.

    Just as off-topic ads and obviously unplanned juxtapositions are seen in print publications that carry ads, so will they be in online publications. As a print magazine editor, I actually prefer to see a minimal relationship between ad content and edit content. It underscores the distance I try to maintain.

    When the model changes, so does the whole ballgame, online and off. Interesting times!

  31. I have an ad blocker up so I don’t see the ads. I hate ads on blogs. I’m not there to read ads. I don’t even like reading reviews. I usually drop a blog when it gets too commercial.

  32. My blog is for my business so I don’t take ads – it would be a weird dilution of my blogging goals to have that many doors leading away from me. That said, my wife and I have a separate blog (in an unrelated field) as a hobby and we’ve tried the ad thing. We’re super picky, though. If we don’t feel it adds value to our readers, it doesn’t go. I had grand plans to sell ad space to local businesses, but around the time I realized how much effort that was my spring rush hit my landscape design business. In hobby vs biz, hobby loses.

    As for reviewing freebies, you just put a policy posted on the blog. Ours states that we accept review items, but we do not guarantee to review them or, if we do, we do not promise a positive review. We’ve gotten stuff that sucks,and we’ve said it sucks. And believe it or not, those same companies have sent us more stuff.

    I can see it both ways. I would much rather see ads for independents, but those require either a one on one sales approach and setting them up yourself, OR picking an ad platform where you get a referral fee for sending the advertiser to them. It’s a heck of a lot easier, especially for a successful and busy blogger, to use a service that does it all for you. Which is right? I think your community will let you know either way.

  33. I have been combing this page looking for the ads that everyone is commenting on and I don’t see them. Perhaps the adblocker that I got for the forums I post on works here as well.

    For those who are saying there wasn’t a cat fight at Trey’s blog perhaps you are correct in that cat fight is not the perfect terminology. But the tone of many of the posts is a bit condescending and snarky, accusations were made, lies were covered up and while it was interesting to read it also made me a bit uncomfortable.

    Frankly when bloggers post reviews about products other than books that I already have an interest in I tend to just scroll through it pretty quickly. I saw all the Troy Bilt posts popping up here and there but if Trey hadn’t made such a stink over it I would never have paid any attention to it. In fact because I read his blog and the comments the name “Troy Bilt” is now firmly stuck in my head. This is a feat that none of the people who were actually invited to the event were able to accomplish. I guess it is true that there is no such thing as bad publicity.

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