How BuzzFeed and The New York Times are using Black Friday to drive commerce revenue
First, there was Black Friday. Then, there was Cyber Monday. Now the most important day of the year for commerce publishers stretches across almost two weekends.
“We work all year to get ready for this week,” BuzzFeed Commerce head Ben Kaufman said.
Here’s what’s new among six publishers that see this as one of the most important weeks of the year for their consumer revenue businesses.
The start of the shopping season is an all-hands-on-deck situation for Wirecutter, when staffers across the organization comb through tens of thousands of deals to figure out which ones are worth sharing with readers. Last year, it had 65 people across editorial, product and other departments pitching in; this year, it will have “around 100,” Wirecutter deals editor Adam Burakowski said.
One new wrinkle: This year, Wirecutter is boosting its customer service team to respond more quickly to reader questions. It has hired a temporary team responsible for sorting through emails and forwarding questions to the appropriate editors and writers.
More SEO magic
Even though shopping on Black Friday requires going to a physical store, it still drives an enormous volume of search traffic. That’s why last year, Ziff Davis made a move it had contemplated for years and purchased the domain BlackFriday.com. It spent the spring refurbishing it, stocking it with backlinks to its other properties, including PCMag and Mashable, as well as ad scans on top retailers including Target, Kohl’s and Amazon.
Thanks to the effort — as well as the acquisition of BestBlackFriday.com — those pages now come up at or near the top of searches for Black Friday and most major retailers. Site visitors can browse digital versions of circulars, which are also stocked with ads that Ziff serves.
“We basically own the market,” said Jason Steele, Ziff Davis’s svp of business operations. “We made a conscious decision to buy it up.”
More product integration
While commerce content is often produced by separate editorial teams and tucked on different corners of publishers’ sites, more publishers are putting it front and center to start the shopping season.
CNN, which is about a year into producing commerce content with CNN Underscored, launched a ticker on its homepage showing how much time remains for certain Black Friday deals covered by its Underscored team. It also put together 15- and 30-second ads that will run on CNN’s Airport Network, according to Bryce Widelitz, CNN’s director of business development.
Publishers including BuzzFeed and Brit + Co. are also using their own ad inventory on their sites to promote commerce initiatives ranging from brand-licensed collections of products and branded gift guides.
As commerce publishers have started proving their worth to retailers, many retailers have started to work more closely with publishers on several fronts. On the affiliate side, manufacturers have been more forthcoming about which products will go on sale months ahead of the shopping season, said Bill Gannon, the vp and global editor in chief of Future plc, which owns titles including TechRadar and Tom’s Guide. That gives the publisher more opportunity to figure out where those deals fit in their coverage plans.
Like Santa appearing at your local mall the day after Halloween, Black Friday is now an idea, rather than a specific 24-hour period. That means publishers are starting to roll more coverage out earlier in the week, as brands and retailers announce big deals further and further ahead of the unofficial launch of the shopping season. CNN’s publishing nearly twice as much holiday gift guide content as it did last year; BuzzFeed, which has several hundred gift guides it maintains, increased the total number of gift guides by nearly 15 percent; Future’s editorial teams work in shifts to ensure that there is continuous, 24-hour deal coverage and output throughout the shopping week.
“It’s probably an extra four days of intense work from what it was previously,” Wirecutter’s Burakowski said.
Finding deals and getting them onto a site quickly is its own art — one that some have tried to automate. The development team at Digital Trends has spent the past six months building an automated tool that can automatically identify deals and get them onto the site in a matter of seconds, said Lynda Mann, Digital Trends’ senior director of commerce.
Moving forward, Mann said, all of Digital Trends’ commerce content and the products in them will be tagged, allowing the site to target those offers at certain kinds of readers.
Publishers with a more established commerce organization often have a lot to juggle. BuzzFeed, which has generated $50 million in sales, according to Bloomberg, has to balance affiliate commerce, merchandise and a brand licensing business this season, and many of the programs involve multiple revenue streams: A Walmart deal it will begin promoting this week, which offers a 30-piece cookware set from Tasty, along with a Google Home Mini for $99, has brand licensing, advertising dollars and royalties tied together. It’s the type of offering that BuzzFeed would like to create more of in 2019.
“This is indicative of the work that we did in the prior two years, and where we’re headed,” Kaufman said. “We can leverage our audience and our IP to bring together really compelling offers.” But as sales data begins to trickle in this week, Kaufman said, he and his team will not hesitate to change its promotion strategy depending on how things are going. If customers are going crazy for BuzzFeed’s Goodful line of products at Macy’s, it’s going to aim its promotional energy at that instead. “We will follow the market,” Kaufman said. “Ultimately, we are a performance-driven group.”
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