AOL technology site Engadget wants to be more than a tech blog.
It’s taking the wraps off a new redesign and embracing a new editorial mandate that goes beyond gadget reviews to highlight how technology plays into areas such as music, art, culture, politics and privacy issues.
“We used to talk to the tech ambassadors and early adopters, and we will have that audience,” said AOL president of content and consumer brands, and former HuffPo boss, Jimmy Maymann. “But from a content perspective technology has become more central to people’s lives across these different areas, and that’s what you’ll see from the new site. And, of course, that leads into more monetization opportunities.”
The broader mandate is a familiar course. The Verge, part of Vox Media, has expanded from its geeky roots to cover the intersection of tech with society. In fact, The Verge’s car coverage now drives as much as 30 percent of its traffic.
Engadget, which generates just under 11 million in the U.S. and 1.4 million monthly unique visitors in the U.K., according to comScore, has moved increasingly away from its gadget-blog roots toward generating more original news reporting over the years, much like its big sister Huffington Post.
Original video will also be front and center. Brands like Honda have been among those to sponsor some of Engadget’s most popular shows, which include “Citizen Mars,” an in-depth look at five of the finalists for the Mars One mission. The second season of the popular advice show “Dear Veronica” debuts this week on the site, while a new video show called “After Hours” in which editors take the tech they test out into the streets, will also launch this week.
Broadening its editorial focus to appeal to a larger audience, naturally goes hand in hand with ambitious monetization plans, specifically via native advertising, according to Maymann. And by that, he means both custom-made branded-content partnerships, as well as in-stream “native ad” units that can be run programmatically.
“We don’t want to put advertising on our pages which turn off audiences,” said Maymann. “Monetizing audiences effectively means finding ways to keep them there, so native advertising and branded content works well there.”
The redesign kick-starts in the U.S. and U.K. today and will roll out to its other international editions in Germany, Spain, China and Japan in 2016.
Mobile will also be front of mind, and the advertising opportunities there will cater toward ad experiences that blend well with the content and size of the screen, along with focus also on video, rather than standard display ads, according to Maymann, who added: “The banner isn’t ideal.”
Not a moment too soon. “Advertisers want to engage with audiences not just people looking at content,” said Havas head of publishing Dominic Fawkes, who added that the fact Engadget is looking to create a more personalized content experience will make it a more compelling sell for buyers. The previous version of the site had been disappointing, he said.
Carat global chief digital officer James Harris said Engadget has had difficulty monetizing via advertising outside the U.S. Its perception among buyers as a U.S-centric tech platform has also limited the number of advertisers willing to spend. “Tech is a hard vertical to monetize beyond a certain point, and broadening its reach will open up more partners there.”
Huffington Post has expanded so swiftly internationally by partnering with established local players such as Le Monde in France. The down side is that it must then share revenue with those media outlets. “This might be a strategy aimed at trying to unlock more revenue for Engadget but also provide more global volume to sit alongside Huffington Post,” said Harris.
He added that AOL is an interesting entity but a tricky one to understand, and that if this is part of plans to better align it with the company’s overarching “culture and code” strategy, then that’s a positive step.
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