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Blogs Better at Pushing Product?

What do you think has more potential to influence buying decisions online: links in blog posts or a burgeoning social network?

If you chose social network, you would probably be using common sense. If you chose bloggers, you're on to something that Jupiter Research and Web metrics firm BuzzLogic have uncovered in recent research.

For avid blog readers, the links found within posts are the preferred method for retrieving related content from other blogs, Jupiter found. The results of its survey offer some hints for e-commerce and advertising opportunities.

Web analytics and advertising firm BuzzLogic commissioned the study. It found that blogs serve a key role in retrieving information on the Web, including product reviews and recommendations.

But consider a few caveats about the study as well: The medium has a ways to go before it hits the mainstream. In Jupiter's survey of more than 2,000 online shoppers, more than half said they had not read a blog in the past year.

But the 20 percent who typically do read more than one blog a month said links within the posts are more helpful in discovering content from other blogs than search engines. This suggests that "connected conversations" in the blogosphere are gaining traction as a way to influence buying decisions.

Another caveat about the happy conclusion for BuzzLogic: The survey-sponsor promotes a technology called Conversation Ad Targeting, aimed at reaching a qualified audience throughout its blog network.

Granted, the research noted, "connected conversations" by bloggers have a long way to go before they come close to challenging search engines and personal recommendations for discovering content online. But when it comes to moving merchandise, the study found that frequent blog readers expressed a vote of confidence for the in-blog links, something akin to the trusted referral that social networks have been trying to capitalize on as they dabble with various monetization strategies.

Half of all blog readers surveyed said they found blog content useful for making purchase decisions. Among frequent readers, more said they trusted blog content than referrals from their friends on social networks.

The study concluded that advertisers can leverage the affinity readers feel for their favorite blogs with some data points on trust. One quarter of frequent readers said they trust the ads that appear alongside the blogs they read frequently, compared to 19 percent who said they trust the ads on social networks.

Sites like Facebook and MySpace have struggled with disappointing yields from their ad operations. Despite the tantalizingly large amount of neatly organized personal data social networks have at their disposal, advertisers generally pay low prices for placement on those sites, in part because users are less interested in shopping than they are for general entertainment and communication.

The researchers found that blogs tell a different story. The study found that 40 percent of all blog readers said an ad on a blog led them to action, such as making a purchase. That figure jumps to 50 percent among frequent blog readers.

Nevertheless, the overall findings about blog readership suggest that, like social networks, new media is still knocking on mainstream media's door. In addition to the 53 percent of respondents who said they did not read blogs, another 27 percent said they read no more than one blog a month.