The best advertising provides a service. Imagine reading an article about the best places to travel in 2017 and, lo, a hotel app on the page allows you to book a room on the spot. Ever on the lookout for new revenue streams, publishers are increasingly letting servicey apps put buttons on relevant editorial.

Condé Nast Traveler, for example, has been running buttons from Uber and Hotels.com on its mobile sites since last October to put in front of its 4.2 million monthly mobile users, using mobile-commerce firm Button. This is Condé Nast Traveler’s first affiliate marketing partnership, meaning it earns a commission by promoting others’ products.

The buttons only show up on Traveler’s pages and slideshows that feature hotels and travel destinations. For instance, when you read an article titled “The Best New Hotels in NYC” and click on the hotel you are interested in, say, Ace, you will be directed to a page that features the hotel’s address, website and buttons from Uber and Hotels.com. Condé Nast Traveler takes a cut of the sale once you finish your transaction on Uber or Hotels.com. The publisher also gets paid by app downloads if you click on the button but don’t have the app.

The hotel page features Uber and Hotels.com buttons that let readers book a car or stay.
Uber and Hotels.com buttons on the hotels vertical

Most revenue from the button comes from hotel bookings, and one-third of the overall sales from the button per day are in the thousands-of-dollars range, according Gina Lee, director of product for Condé Nast Traveler. She noted that 2 percent of Traveler readers who see the Hotels.com button will actually tap on it compared to the industry average click-through rate of 0.1 percent for mobile display ads. And 7 percent of Traveler readers who are directed to the hotel page on Hotels.com app will purchase a stay, compared to 2-3 percent conversion rate in e-commerce.

“So far, we found that people feel comfortable using those buttons,” said Lee. “Since we are a content-first organization, we typically don’t promote travel deals. We want the transactions to be more organic.”

Women’s publisher PureWow — with more than 10 million monthly visits — has been experimenting with the OpenTable and Hotels.com buttons for travel content since last September. The publisher is using Skimlinks and Bam-X for affiliate marketing.

Huffington Post added Hotels.com to travel stories and Jet.com for entertainment content 18 months ago. Mark Silverstein, head of business development for Huffington Post, said that the integration with those buttons is smooth and it doesn’t negatively affect page-load time.

Publishers did not disclose any revenue details on these partnerships, but it’s fair to place them firmly in the “incremental” bucket. Alexxandra Miles, strategic partnerships manager for PureWow, declined to provide numbers and diplomatically said the button business was “nice to have.”

There are any number of nice-to-have, incremental opportunities for publishers. “Just one line of javascript,” publishers are often told in the promise of a new small source of income. But more often than not, these revenue opportunities don’t add up to much, especially as publishers deal with a commoditized market for what used to be their bread and butter in display advertising.

Publishers also cannot get granular transaction data. For instance, if a publisher adds an OpenTable button and you make a reservation through it, the publisher knows that you took an action, but it doesn’t know which restaurant you made a reservation for.

“We cannot get into that granular level at the moment,” said Silverstein. “Of course, the more data, the better. If we have that piece of information, we may consider some partnership with an upscale restaurant, but that’s not a primary focus right now. It’s more important to make sure that our readers are getting value from the experience.”

Forrester predicts that U.S. affiliate marketing will reach more than $6.8 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of 10 percent.

Michael Jaconi, co-founder and CEO of Button, said that the company is currently working with around 50 publishers and the number is growing. Travel and affiliate publishers will be two big focuses for the company.

“Every retailer’s goal is to grow the number of app users,” said Jaconi. “Google and Facebook are two reliable places for companies to find app users, but the reality is, there’s far more purchase intent of, say, travelers inside Condé Nast Traveler than Facebook. Retailers should tap in that conversion.”

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