A year has gone by since GardenRant celebrated our 15th anniversary by revamping our logo and site, adding new voices, and showcasing our Guest Ranters. Around that time, we also partnered with Mediavine to allow ads on our website. As we’ve had occasional comments, we thought it would be a good idea to touch base with readers about the reasons behind that decision, rather than debating assumptions in unrelated posts. I drew the short straw.
I’m an unlikely defender of ads for the simple reason that I’ve always hated them. But I am also a staunch realist, and just because I don’t like something doesn’t negate its worth. I also dislike assumptions – and we’ve seen some interesting ones lately.
We may have been prickly. Sorry. When you’re working hard and doing your best and trying to negotiate one more hour out of a too-long workday, it’s tough not to react to assumptions with annoyance – hey, we’re human beings. Even Scott. But it’s much better to react with facts. Here are a couple:
Those Voices are Real People
First of all, GardenRant is not an amorphous corporate entity that uses and abuses seven unbelievably talented writers as content machines, locking us into home offices with laptops and lattes while it milks millions of dollars off a lucrative Mediavine contract and promises to vest our stock options in ten years.
Nope. It’s just us. Normal, horticulturally-bent, human beings with day jobs.
Second, none of us married and divorced Jeff Bezos. That, I admit, might have been a better life strategy, but that ship has sailed. Thus we must — vulgar though it may be — work for pay. Or at the very least, not pay to work. And that’s where we hit my third point.
If We Were a Rich Man…
Good, customized sites cost good, customized money. And not just in their creation. They cost good money to maintain. Once those initial checks have been shakily written, the real [annual] hurt begins – domain name registrations, hosting services, plug-ins, email distribution services, graphics, trademarking, accounting, technical experts; and, if a site has any form of shop for retail merchandise, commerce fees.
A great deal of these fees are tiered. The larger your email list, the larger your bill. The higher your traffic, the higher your fees. Big sites need big servers to deal with that traffic without hanging up or crashing. So, while www.insertcoolgardenblogname.com might be able to do just fine with a free site to cope with 900 visitors a month, or might perhaps pay a small fee to the hosting service to keep those visitors from seeing any ads at all, that model doesn’t work well when traffic is high.
And, we’re thankful to report that traffic is high.
GardenRant was created by four opinionated writers just over 15 years ago. It was a big hit. Not only did it take early advantage of a new way of communication called blogging – it was very different in the garden writing world. It didn’t feel it needed to add to the noise of “How to Pick the Best Weed and Feed,” and instead questioned the need for the damn stuff in the first place.
GardenRant didn’t pull its punches, and we punched up a lot of the time. We still do.
But we’re also a site full of observations, stories, events, tours, reviews, proposals, discussions, and letters – all tangibly or tangentially linked to horticulture.
It’s why you’re here now. And we’re so glad you’re here. We’re proud of the legacy and culture of GardenRant. And every time we see commenters engaging not just with us, but with each other, we know we’re trustees of something important – a community.
Our voices have changed over the years, quite literally. And while we can never satisfy everyone’s thirst for their region’s voice at any one time, we welcome Guest Ranters and readers from all over the world to add their perspective to the discussion at hand. Many of your names and opinions have grown so familiar to us that we even talk about you behind your backs during Zoom meetings.
Only in a good way.
Media is changing. Our voice is not.
So now that you know what we do, it’s important to mention what we don’t do – certainly to our financial cost, if not to the cost of our integrity or your GardenRant experience.
→ We don’t choose posts based on clickability.
→ We don’t tell each other what to write and what not to write.
→ We don’t publish Guest Ranters based on name recognition or potential backlinks.
→ We don’t do lists.
→ We don’t focus on how-to.
→ We’re not Influencers (sadly even in our own homes).
→ We’re not Brand Ambassadors.
→ We don’t do paid subscriptions or webinars or Patreon.
→ We don’t gratuitously and artlessly stamp keywords all over individual posts to attract the roving eyes of Google. (Hell I can’t even get Scott to fill out his meta data, and don’t get me started about Allen and his beautifully obscure post titles.)
Most importantly perhaps, We don’t think of good writing as content. More fool we.
It’s a balancing game
Thus, for all that we do, and for all that we don’t, we ask that you sheath your swords and your adblockers (and for some of you, your tongues) and understand that through the grace of our advertisers and the occasional affiliate link, we are able to bring this community of thinkers and gardeners together.
At the moment, our ad revenue is generated by impressions and clicks, which means that each time you even scroll past an ad, it puts some fraction of a penny in the bank. Clicks on ads garner more, which is why we joined Mediavine as we felt it was a reliable middle man connecting real brands with real consumers – not a clearing house for viruses or spam. As a middle man, it also allows us to remain free of influence. It’s tough to take big companies to task when they’re holding sponsorship or ad revenue over your heads – especially when you’re as opinionated as Elizabeth Licata or Susan Harris. Or me for that matter.
We will of course continue to monitor ads and placement here and in the UK, and have made a few positive changes this week to your mobile experience. We also continue to encourage garden-related brands and services to advertise with us via Mediavine, in order to make these ads increasingly relevant to our audience and connect with real gardeners, not just consumers.
When you have a constructive concern, we want to hear it, but ask that you send it directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. And we gently request that, before your fingers hit the keyboard, please think about the many sites you visit on a daily basis and how many ads greet you there. Think of the magazines you read and the insane amount of ad content you passively consume in the process. And think of the thousands of newspapers across the nation that had to close up shop once Facebook Marketplace and Craig’s List replaced the bill-paying classifieds.
Ad-free sites are only ad-free because someone’s paying the bills – whether it’s blogger or brand. And who that person or company is, is not always so obvious, despite disclosures. [Music plays ominously.]
In the future, we may look at other ways of paying those bills, but our overriding concern is to keep the discussions at GardenRant accessible to everyone.
So thank you for being a loyal reader and supporter. Thank you for buying a GardenRant mug or for clicking an affiliate link or relevant ad, or for merely training your eyes to see past the non-relevant ones. Thank you for commenting, ranting, engaging with others, and often making us laugh. Thank you for allowing us to be different.
But most of all, thank you for sharing GardenRant with other engaged gardeners interested in moving beyond the how-to and finding their tribe. I can’t promise that we won’t piss them off occasionally, but I promise that here, they’ll find something worth discussing. – MW
I appreciate your thoughtful and very reasonable explanation of ‘why ads’. I do have a question in return, though, in response to the request to ‘sheathe my ad-blocker.’
Speaking as a person who has a personal ‘global policy’ of never clicking on any ad on any website: What is the difference between my seeing an advertisement but not clicking on it, and seeing a blank space instead of the ad that I would never under any circumstances click on?
The end result in both cases is the same: No ad-click by me.
Asking someone who refuses to click on any website ads to suspend using an ad blocker is comparable to asking someone who hates liver, and would never eat it under any circumstances short of actual starvation, to nevertheless have a plate of liver on the table in front of them at every single meal.
To some of us, all website ads are liver.
Thank you for identifying a hole in my explanation – I’ve gone back to add a bit more text and rectify it.
“At the moment, our ad revenue is generated by impressions and clicks, which means that each time you even scroll past an ad, it puts some fraction of a penny in the bank. Clicks on ads garner more, which is why we joined Mediavine as we felt it was a reliable middle man connecting real brands with real consumers – not a clearing house for viruses or spam.”
As far as the liver metaphor goes, I don’t think I can make it any clearer than I have already. I happen to dislike ads intensely. I don’t watch commercial television and even hosted PBS pledge breaks in a former life. I get it.
However, as I also get sizeable bills (like those mentioned above), to keep my personal site running without them, I am faced with the bizarre situation of paying to give readers articles to read, so I know what I’m talking about. When you step up that traffic to the level of GardenRant’s, you can no longer ignore those bills. However much you may hate liver.
Ads are the price we ask our readers to pay to access all of the wonderful writing here on GardenRant. We use a professional ad service and do not over-optimize our settings to grab every penny we can. We ask, gently, that you pay for what you come to read in the easiest way possible – ads. They keep our site free, they keep it independent of influence, and they help us to make decisions to professionally improve the site when we need to. – MW
Garden Rant is the only blog I follow almost daily. I read others now and then, especially in Winter when I can’t do much gardening, or if I am branching out into something new and need some info. So if ads help you guys keep it going then “bring em on!”
We promise not to open the flood gates Greg. Thanks for your support! – MW
I don’t see any problem with the ads. Every newspaper or magazine I’ve ever read has had ads, nothing new here.
Thanks, Marianne, for saying it better than I could! I’ll just add that since we qualified with Mediavine (because our traffic is high enough), we’ve finally had the funds to sink into improving the site. I’m no longer sheepishly looking at GardenRant, wishing it looked better. I assume readers prefer the improvements, too.
I didn’t notice the ads until you mentioned them. I think my brain is just trained by now to scroll right past them. There ARE websites where ads pop up and block my view unless I click the X. I leave those sites immediately. So far, this is not happening here. I realized (actually from the recent post discussing plants and place) that this site is not a vehicle of the average gardener, but written by folks who make their living, at least in part, by gardening, so the ads make sense. The win-win is interesting content for the reader and a bit of income for the writers–as it should be.
Alison, thank you for summing that up so well. Glad you’re here and please share us with other gardener-thinkers like yourself. – MW
Media has always been supported by ads. Unless you are paying for streaming services for your TV – most of those are ad-free, though you just pay for it directly rather than this more indirect method. So I don’t have an issue with the addition of ads to the site. I’ve even clicked on a few. Heck, even if you made it a subscription site, I’d subscribe. I’ve gotten more from this site over the last decade-and-a-half than from all of the “gardening content” sites with their listicles and generic advice.
I use ad-blocker, and I am always being asked by various sites to allow ads. What is never said is if I choose to allow ads, does this mean ads will only show on the site I’m currently viewing or will they subsequently show on all sites that I view. I would be okay with viewing ads on Garden Rant but NOT on all other sites.
When I used to allow ads, they drove me nuts. They would literally flash at the side of my screen or scurry across the screen’s content or they would come on with loud audio and then those same ads would follow me around where ever I went online stalking me. There are certain companies I boycott because their ads are so obnoxious.
I’ll check back to see what your answer is. I DO think the Garden Rant website has improved a bunch over the last year or so. I’m not talking about the content (it’s always been good). I’m talking about the ease of posting.
Also, if I decide to unblock ads on Garden Rant, I don’t actually know how to do it.
Thanks for your understanding and your willingness to support the site by turning off your adblocker. You can “whitelist” specific sites in the adblocker plugin you are using, but instructions vary browser to browser. The best thing to do is google “how can I turn off an adblocker for a specific site in [insert your browser name]” and go from there.
We will most likely be implementing a gentle reminder for readers that they have an adblocker installed, and asking them to whitelist GardenRant to support the site, and that may (I’m not sure at this point) take you to the correct settings for your browser. Stay tuned, and again, thank you. – MW
Ads per se are not much of a problem, it is the quality of the ads – video playing, popups across the screen, bottom banners, flashing sidebars – and the amount of data it takes to play those ads that becomes problematic. You need to keep in mind that not everyone who comes here is even on the same quality of internet speed and service. All that ad data can bog things down on slow internet, even stop pages from loading when an ad script gets caught in a hairball.
I don’t know how much discretion you have with Mediavine or whomever it was to curate the ads, but who and what is being advertised does not matter. It is the package it comes in that can be annoying and lead to disgruntled comments.
Thanks for your comments Christopher. I very much understand the issue of poor data speeds as I share it. My internet data is currently delivered by horse and wagon and costs a fortune. I have to conduct Zoom talks from a friend’s wired up office about 15 minutes away. It severely hampers my professional life (though ironically it also enhances it – but that’s a discussion for another time). It is frustrating to me that most of the nation assumes that everyone has high-speed internet and builds basic services around that model. Beyond frustrating.
And yes, ads can tax that data considerably. I have a feeling that many of the ads that are causing people annoyance may be doing so due to those lag times – because the comments definitely vary between users here. We only have a certain amount of discretion, but will continue to keep an eye on it. – MW
I think this is my problem with ads, too. I don’t mind a static add, a nice graphic to some garden company or whomever, but I just got served a bunch of videos for political ads while reading this article. That’s what is annoying. I also get vertigo and migraines from weird flashes and ads don’t help and I typically don’t linger on sites with a lot of moving and flashing ads long. If I can click out of them I will. More static ads if you need ads is my 10 cents!
I so appreciate that GR doesn’t treat readers like kinder-gardeners… I’m glad you’re not beholden to sponsors/pushing the latest flim flam fertilizer. I appreciate what each of you do to keep the content flowing and the servers rolling. Would be wild to see the chat transcripts.
I’m a vault Jenny. 😉 – MW
You make an excellent point. Not everyone is on fiber (or even has access to it) or has a high speed service. For example, mine is only 10 mbps download which is one of the reasons why my computer is always on a hardwired ethernet connection.
Sorry, my comment was supposed to be in reply to Christopher CNC, no idea why it did not post that way. 🙁
Personally, I never block ads as I’m aware that this is how the world works these days. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, they say, and equally there’s no such thing as free speech either. There’s always some sort of price to pay. Advertising on a blog is the lesser of a great many evils. My recent comments to Anne about the advertising on this site were based on the fact that they actually prevented you from reading the blog when viewing on a mobile phone. I have no idea how it affects the site when viewed from another device.
It’s good to see that you’ve “tweaked” it now so that it’s not so overwhelmed. I was able to read this blog quite easily.
I might still consider Pilates for the senior citizen though.
And thank you for writing so graciously and still with humour about a potentially difficult topic. And for a great site! Go Gardenrant.
Thanks Charles – the graciousness is heartfelt. I’m proud to be part of this great group of people. – MW
Yep, well put, Marianne. Wonder if people used to object to ads in newspapers and magazines. If I remember rightly the (London) Times used to have the whole front page given over to ads.
Some sites – as in their advert producers – really haven’t got it yet and splat them everywhere, which can’t be productive. I imagine they will learn…..It’s the how they do it which counts most, I think.
I also understand the need for ads. For me, it’s not the fact that you have advertising, it’s the quality and style of the ads that’s problematic. I don’t use ad blockers, except once I actually physically blocked ads on this site with a piece of paper taped in front of the monitor where the flashing ads were. There are times when they just get to me, and I can’t tolerate all that flashing. (And I always mute my computer so I don’t have to hear the blasting noise. It really would be good if the ads worked in the opposite way, where you unmute them if you want to listen to them, rather than having to mute them each time they change, which is frequently.)
The other problem I’ve had with the ads on Garden Rant that happens from time to time, is that an ad will suddenly appear on top of the text, covering it up so I can’t see the brilliant writing I was trying to read. I have to back out of and forward back into (is that a thing?) into the blog in order to finish reading it without the ad covering it up. This, I believe, is a technical problem which I don’t know if it’s my computer or the advertising company’s issue. These ads that I’m talking about don’t have a little “x” to close them. It’s a matter of them showing up in the wrong place on the screen.
All that being said, this site is worth all the ads. I adore Garden Rant. And yes, I would happily pay for a subscription if y’all ever decide to provide that option.
Thanks Sally – both for your support and for constructive comments. We don’t want our writing blocked either! If you have further issues with this particular problem, please let us know at email@example.com. It may be, as we’ve talked about above, a data issue too. – MW
I’ll do that. Thanks!
I don’t mind the ads! And I very much appreciate the well-written discussion and explanation. I do prefer the ad locations that are along the right side of the screen or as images in the text. The ones as a pop-up on the bottom of the screen I don’t like at all. Between them and the website banner on the top, I get very little actual article text length in-between and have to scroll down every few sentences. Maybe this is my browser? If possible, it would be a slightly better experience to either have the website banner retract when not used, or not have bottom ads that cover the screen.
I’m still reading and loving this and will keep doing so! Thank you very much for the great and free content! I wish I could get more ranters in my garden magazines–I get Horticulture and Fine Gardening. Any ranter want to submit to my local bimonthly called “The Triangle Gardener?” I have no idea if they pay though… probably not…
you have cups for sale with Garden Rant? was this a joke? I sure haven’t seen any such on your site.
Anything you Ranters do is all right by me. I know how to handle advertising. I’m also privileged to have good tech service. Of course, I don’t read on my phone. People do?
Lol, yes, people read on their phones. Scrolling through AP or WSJ (subscribed) or Washington Post (subscribed) is how I get 95% of my news.
Reading on the phone slouched on the couch is not quite as pleasant as curling up with a good book. But much more enjoyable than sitting at a desk reading off a computer monitor.
You don’t get to enjoy the smell of a book. But you can set the font to 12 or 14 and never wear reading glasses again. I like larger phones, so any size 6″ screen is preferable. Currently a Galaxy S 9+ refurbished.