Case Study: How an Unusual, Soft-Sell Sponsored Post Turned Readers Into Customers

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When Aaron Seyedian, a former World Bank staffer who became a management consultant, decided to make a major career move and start a novel home-cleaning service in the District of Columbia, he first tried telling his story with a traditional banner ad on a popular District forum, but it produced no results. So he set about crafting a message as creative as his new business, Well-Paid Maids, which he founded to “help prove that living-wage businesses can be successful in traditionally low-paying industries.”

The site he chose for his message was – shorthand for “Prince of Petworth” – a popular blog founded by idiosyncratic District resident and writer Dan Silverman that covers the diversifying, increasingly middle-class neighborhood of Petworth in the Northwest quadrant of D.C. — and just about every other precinct of the city. Seyedian was quickly routed to Local News Now, which handles PoPville’s advertising and technology. Local News Now, founded by veteran metro D.C. news publisher Scott Brodbeck, a former producer of TV local news, operates the well-established ARLnow and RestonNow sites in Northern Virginia across the river from the District.

The resulting sponsored post confirmed Seyedian’s business hunch. It generated $449 in revenue shared by PoPville and Local News Now, landed 20 new customers for Well-Paid Maids and produced higher income ($16/hour) for customarily low-paid home cleaners.

Here’s the story, told in this dual Q & A with Seyedian and Brodbeck.

First, Seyedian:

What were your goals with your sponsored post?
To grab my audience’s attention, I used a question-based title that would make them curious and highlighted an infographic that illustrated our core differences from the competition. This way, even the TL;DR [“too long; didn’t read”] folks could get the gist.

I tried to think about everything I hated about sponsored posts and do the opposite. As a reader, I find that sponsored posts on blogs are often lengthy, impersonal and overly centered on sales.  I set out to write a post that would be succinct and personal that only quietly makes an attempt (in one small paragraph) at conversions.

I highlighted my own reasons for moving to D.C. and my experience hiring a maid service and feeling uneasy. It helps, of course, that my target audience is essentially people who are similar to myself — because of this, I could write authentically.

How did you try to convert readers of the post into customers for your service?
If the concept resonated with readers, I felt they would be interested enough on their own to learn more and purchase a cleaning.  In order to make that as easy as possible, I listed multiple ways to contact me and answered comments.

How do you assess the feedback to your post?
I think the post was received well based on customers who specifically mentioned seeing it. They seemed to have an appreciation for our unique business model, which was the goal, and seemed to feel comfortable making first contact with me to ask follow-up questions — I think part of this was the informality of the post, which maybe made it seem like a conversation had already started between us.

How about the conversion rate of readers becoming customers?
I talk to many new customers who say they heard about the business from friends or on Facebook and a lot of that may be connected to the sponsored post.  PoPville now covers the District as a whole, and I would say the sponsored post has put us on a path to success in the entire market.

Do you plan to place any more sponsored posts about Well Paid Maids?
I do. I’m waiting a little while, however, until I have a new chapter of the business’ story to tell within a post.  I want to avoid having redundant posts across multiple outlets in the region.


Next, Brodbeck:

What does the success of Seyedian’s sponsored post tell you about this kind of messaging? Should other merchants be emulating his conversational, soft-sell approach? 
It tells me that it works. Online advertising works. I think that point should be emphasized because some people are still skeptical. The key is having audience attention and then harnessing it with strategy and execution.

To be clear: We have regular ol’ display ad banners that are legitimately working and delivering value for certainly clients. But it is not a one-size fits all solution. For Aaron’s business and what he was trying to accomplish, this specific kind of post was perfect. Knowing what will best meet the goals of any given advertiser and then working to make sure it is well executed is a differentiation point for us.

Does this experience give you a new view of how local merchants should present their message to potential customers?
It reinforces the point that the best kind of advertising is the kind that delivers value to readers rather than pesters them. This was an informative ad from a business owner who just laid his cards on the table, and readers clearly appreciated that.

The old days of needing to sell, sell, sell in your marketing are gone. The current environment rewards a focus on the desires of the customer and what brings them value, not a sales pitch.

We’re going to use this post and its results to show other local merchants how they can grow their business with sponsored content in an organic, authentic way. We’re going to take our own medicine and use it to inform, not to (directly) sell.

Regarding your arrangement with Silverman and PoPville, might you do similar such partnerships with other bloggers that could strengthen their sustainability and also be a new kind of expansion for you that doesn’t require a major investment?
I’m discussing it with a couple of other local publisher. I definitely think this is a good fit for all involved — on-the-ground, original local news reporting doesn’t scale well but sales, tech, advertising and sponsored content production can. Media analyst Ben Thompson, author of Stratechery, nailed  why it will work.

Many local merchants around the U.S., including Seyedian with his Well-Paid Maids service in D.C., have been putting their advertising in Facebook as well as with local sites. As a local news publisher, what’s your perspective?
At Local News Now, we put money into Facebook ads, to promote our site and to boost the reach of sponsored content. It’s definitely a compelling value and a part of a well-balanced marketing diet. But I do not believe one size fits all or in plowing all your money into one solution.

Our advertising and sponsored content solutions are a great complement to a Facebook campaign. In a recent survey, the majority of our advertisers told us that they were also advertising with Facebook. I think we will be co-existing with Facebook and serving SMBs for a long time to come.


I asked PoPville’s Dan Silverman what he thought about the success of Seyedian’s sponsored post on his blog. His answer: “I don’t think too much about advertising. That’s why I pay Scott.”

Tom GrubisichTom Grubisich (@TomGrubisich) has written “The New News” column for Street Fight since 2011. He is also working on a book about the history, present, and future of Charleston, S.C.