The Trouble with Advertisers and Community Sites

You don’t think there’s any trouble with advertisers and community web sites, do you? If so, you must be one of the lucky ones who manage a content site that is editor-managed and not relying on user-generated content (UGC).

I managed a couple UGC sites, one of them being a particularly interesting and unique professional site. Still, advertisers weren’t really queuing and it was rather difficult for me at that time to understand why a lively, very content-rich, niche community (marketing and advertising) would have troubles being properly monetized. I had a few agencies telling me it was quite common for middle to big advertisers to avoid UGC sites like the plague, and the reasons given were:

low CTRs, especially in message boards. Most common ad implementations you see in forums are lacking creativity in terms of placement and formats chosen, causing users to become ad-blind quite fast.

lack of targeting, even in niche communities. It is inevitable that a good part of a community or web site with UGC will end up having loads of completely useless, irrelevant content.

legal issues that may arise from having ads placed on content that is not moderated (or it is, but not fast enough). Ads ending up on copyright-infriging content, to give but one example, is not a risk advertisers are willing to take.

ad serving difficulties caused by the fact that high-end ad serving providers aren’t too keen on working with UGC sites either.

My take is that the truth is probably in the middle. There are many excellent communities that can offer advertisers precisely the niche audience they are looking for, without the shortcomings mentioned above (take for example – I’ll get back to it later), and it’s a shame that advertisers are not willing to consider them. Agencies seem to be feeding this gap by turning a blind eye to community sites and not recommending them, for fear of being rejected and not knowing how to educate their clients.

This leaves very few options to communities / UGC sites in terms of monetization. Except for the obvious solution of using Google AdSense, what else is out there? How have you monetized your community / UGC site? Would love to hear your feedback!