Building a Comprehensive Commerce Strategy for Publishers

comprehensive commerce strategy for publishers

The digital media publishing industry today has evolved from its traditional print counterpart. While physical magazine stands have declined, many aspects of the publishing business model have remained unchanged during this transition. Modern publishers continue to create content for specific niche audiences, generating revenue by selling content directly to readers or selling advertising placements to brands. However, the shift to digital platforms has significantly enhanced this business model through advanced analytics and programmatic advertising, making content and advertisements more targeted and efficient than ever before. This article explores the importance of affiliate content and provides insights on how publishers can seamlessly incorporate commerce into their overall strategy to achieve enhanced business outcomes.

Commerce content today

Affiliate-enhanced commerce content is viewed by many publishers as an independent revenue source, separate from advertising revenue, sponsored content, and subscriptions (or one-off purchases).

Editorial teams that create the ‘affiliate content’ are often a separate team to the non-affiliate content teams that produce the bulk of articles that are published each week. Where this is untrue, such as in the case of affiliate-centric sites like Wirecutter, the distinction between editorial and affiliate content is even more pronounced with an entirely separate masthead.

As a result of this separation, the commerce teams that manage affiliate content are often measured against commerce-specific metrics like total affiliate revenue, click-to-purchase conversion rate, and affiliate revenue per article.

This strategy can certainly be lucrative when executed well. However, the detachment of affiliate-backed commerce content from the larger-share-of-revenue initiatives like ad sales, sponsored content, and subscriptions mean that even the most successful commerce content is often at odds with the key performance metrics of those other teams.

Commerce, but make it holistic

The premise of a holistic commerce strategy is relatively simple:

Affiliate-enhanced content should be used to improve the effectiveness of a publisher’s highest-performing revenue sources.

When considered more deeply, this plain-sounding statement has wide-ranging implications for the role of commerce content for publishers. The table below summarizes some of those impacts.

Affiliate revenueA welcomed by-product of commerce content.The main purpose of commerce content.
Visitor lifetime valueLifetime value is created with a longer-term view of known visitors.It is challenging to comprehend the lifetime value of anonymous visitors. Visitor lifecycles are rather brief.
Sending readers off-site with affiliate linksKeeping visitors interested on the website is crucial for generating cash from advertising, sponsored content, and subscriptions. Linking to external websites is not advised.The main measure of content effectiveness. Content is optimized for this action.
First-party data collection (eg. visitor email addresses)To recognise and retarget visitors, as well as to increase their lifetime value through subscriptions or other channels, first-party data is used.Affiliate links don’t provide first-party visitor data.
Shopping insightsRich shopping insights are utilised to produce commerce content that is more efficient and even personalised, as well as to give other teams more precise visitor demographic information.Limited shopping behavioral insights means it is difficult to create data-driven commerce content.
Commerce team KPIsThe largest share-of-revenue teams’ leading metrics, such as pages per session and session length, are used to construct the commerce KPIs.Measured separately from editorial, advertising, and brand partnership teams using commerce-specific KPIs such monthly affiliate revenue.

Leveraging First-Party Data to Enhance Commerce Strategies

The digital media publishing industry has undergone a significant transformation from its traditional print roots. While physical magazine stands have declined, many aspects of the publishing business model have remained intact. Modern publishers continue to create niche-focused content and generate revenue through direct sales or advertising placements. However, the shift to digital platforms has brought advancements in analytics and programmatic advertising, enabling more targeted and efficient content and advertisements. This article delves into the importance of affiliate content and provides insights on seamlessly integrating commerce into publishers’ strategies.

Build visitor lifetime value

The value of data lies in how it is used to improve offerings and build meaningful connections with the audience. Publishers understand the importance of shifting from short-term to long-term visitor relationships. The digital subscription model has gained popularity as publishers aim to monetize existing consumers rather than focusing solely on acquiring new ones. Successful publishers will be those who can convert unknown visitors into paying clients. Commerce data plays a vital role in identifying and nurturing visitors throughout their lifespan, transforming commerce into a means of gathering valuable first-party information. Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are crucial for converting raw data into actionable insights, especially when combined with contact information like email addresses. This enables personalized engagement with visitors based on their extensive behavioral data. Taking a broader perspective, the success of ad-supported content should be measured by attracting and retaining readers, rather than solely relying on affiliate-enhanced material.

Simplifying On-Site Selling

Traditionally, publishers looking to build a richer commerce experience with on-site checkout faced limited options:

  • become a merchant themselves including holding inventory, or,
  • use a drop-shipping model with select brand partners

While these approaches can contribute to a highly effective holistic commerce strategy, they often come with operational and financial challenges that may not be suitable for many publishers.

The digital media publishing industry has evolved significantly, but key aspects of the business model remain. Modern publishers create niche content and generate revenue through various means. The introduction of affiliate marketing and commerce-backed content has reshaped the industry, and by incorporating a comprehensive commerce strategy, publishers can capitalize on this trend. Leveraging first-party data, nurturing visitor lifetime value, and exploring simplified on-site selling can drive revenue growth and foster stronger connections with the audience in today’s digital landscape.

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