Intention, Authenticity & Value: 3 Key Commerce Strategies for Publishers
There’s a good reason that’s the case. Monetizing embedded links that direct readers to products allows publishers to generate meaningful revenue from their content. Simultaneously, advertisers get the opportunity to acquire customers at an attractive return on ad spend. Here are three ways publishers can make the most of native commerce to generate meaningful revenue and the pitfalls to avoid along the way.
1. Be Intentional With Content
Native commerce can make up to 15-25% of a publisher’s overall digital revenue, but this requires creating or facilitating conversations with audiences about potential purchases, as well as keen analysis of behavioral metrics. Larger publishers create editorial teams specifically to write convincing articles that help readers decide what to buy. At the same time, emerging roles such as commerce editor or director of commerce are tasked with maximizing affiliate revenue by drilling down into detailed reporting.
This level of investment may be beyond smaller publishers, but they can still focus content on commerce and use performance metrics to identify successes. For example, some commerce platforms can sort analytics by page view to identify content that is driving high levels of traffic but low levels of revenue. They can then feature monetized links on those pages to make the most of the traffic.
Conversely, publishers can sort reporting by revenue-per-mille (RPM) to identify content that receives minimal page views but proportionally high commerce revenue. To drive sales, content must be authoritative and demonstrate journalistic expertise that readers can trust. Publishers can then explore strategies to drive more eyeballs to these pages.
These metrics should not be ignored—rather, publishers in search of meaningful revenue boosts must commit to doubling down on what is working and re-evaluating what is not, as well as to crafting articles that specifically help readers discover what to buy.
Optimizing content for monetization is easier when publishers understand what their audience is interested in. Rather than relying on assumptions, publishers can—and should—track what readers buy after visiting their website and engaging with their content. They can use this data to produce in-depth reviews of those items, as well as present alternative or complementary products for readers to consider.
2. Maintain Authenticity & Authority
Some publishers are understandably hesitant to produce content with the intent to drive commerce. They fear that writing about products will cheapen their brand or reduce the value of their content, but this can be avoided if publishers are both authentic and authoritative.
Publishers should be open and honest with their readers, and only write about or recommend products they actually have experience with; readers will know if they’re faking it and this will erode trust—and audiences—over time. Commitment to voice is paramount, so publishers should think about the types of brands and products that are consistent with their unique expertise and relevant to the interests of their readers. These will be the items their readers already want to buy, as opposed to jarring departures.
Take a niche website about horseback riding, for example. Readers are likely to be passionate enthusiasts who want to access content about developments or events in the equestrian world, but they’ll also be receptive to content that specifically helps them decide what to buy. From tack and grooming equipment to yard boots and competition wear, horse enthusiasts spend a significant portion of their income on riding-related purchases, and they look to authoritative publications to recommend products and help them spend their dollars more effectively and efficiently. When done with authenticity and authority, affiliate marketing is the online equivalent of word-of-mouth marketing
Ultimately, publishers can’t earn revenue from commerce without discussing what to buy, and they shouldn’t feel concerned about writing authentic reviews or recommendations for products they believe in. When authors are passionate about their subject and can offer authoritative, relevant product information, they can craft arguments that drive sales without cheapening the conversation with the reader.
3. Understand the Business Model
Display advertising is still an essential revenue driver that should not be overlooked, and publishers must understand the difference in business models between display and commerce. Display is sold on a cost-per-view basis and revenues correlate positively with website size, which incentivizes publishers to thin out content and drive up the number of pages a consumer visits.
Commerce is different, as high value can be generated from smaller sites and audiences. Commerce is the opposite of display in that it incentivizes publishers to focus on long-form content that presents in-depth views on products and gives the reader information to make informed decisions.
Publishers can take practical actions to make the commerce business model work for them. For instance, they can keep the number of steps from content to purchase to a minimum by linking directly to a merchant’s product page from within content, rather than to another page on their own website. The more steps the reader has to take before purchase, the higher the chance they will drop off before buying.
Publishers can also review affiliate links regularly to ensure they are driving maximum revenue. A single product is often available from multiple merchants, each paying different commission levels, so regular assessments can help publishers maximize their earnings.
Native commerce is a viable supplement to other revenue streams, but it requires more than just adding monetized links to content. By drilling into analytics, creating content with the intent to drive sales, writing about products with authenticity and authority, and understanding the business model, publishers can help readers decide how and where to spend. This drives meaningful revenue not only to publishers, but also to the readers who trust them.
Related story: 5 Ways Publishers Can Take Advantage of Affiliate Commerce