The Strategist has grown from a pop-up blog to a key peg in New York Media’s revenue strategy, so the commerce brand has gotten a front- and back-end makeover.
On Thursday, Sept. 12, the product recommendation site will unveil a redesign that’s been in the works since the beginning of 2019, featuring not just a new homepage and article templates but also an overhauled product database designed to keep information about the 75,000 items Strategist has written about current.
The redesign is part of a larger effort that includes the launch of the vertical’s first-ever brand advertising campaign, which will include both digital and out-of-home advertising outside New York, as well as the launch of a separate operation in the U.K. The U.K. launch marks the first time a New York Media property has set up an editorial operation outside the United States (the company has sales reps in Paris and Milan), a milestone driven partly by early success in the region and by key differences between the markets, Strategist editor Alexis Swerdloff said.
These moves come at a moment when commerce content has grown increasingly competitive, not just among publishers but as platforms including Google hunt for ways to leverage Americans’ growing comfort with buying things online. Publishers’ commerce strategies have also evolved to a point where their audience, revenue and product strategies have begun to diverge from normal ad-supported digital content.
“New York is known for launching pop-up blogs. But we’ve outgrown the template [with The Strategist],” said Daniel Hallac, New York Magazine’s chief product officer.
Though New York Magazine has been making product recommendations in print for decades, The Strategist was a modest experiment when New York launched it in 2016. By the spring of 2017, the vertical had gotten enough traction to justify adding three editors and a small collection of regular contributors. Today, The Strategist is the third-largest source of traffic for New York Media, after Vulture and The Cut, and more than 23 full time employees work on it. The brand has delivered double- or triple-digit growth in revenue every quarter since its launch, and its yearly revenues are projected to more than double in 2019, a spokesperson said. The spokesperson would not provide hard numbers.
Much of that traffic, around 60%, comes from search; “strategist” is reliably ranked among New York’s top three search keywords. But a good percentage of Strategist traffic comes from direct visits from repeat visitors, who account for 20%-25% of Strategist’s traffic, said Camilla Cho, Strategist’s gm of e-commerce.
Those people visit to read many different kinds of content, from its buying guides to its daily deal posts to its regular columnists’ entries. The homepage redesign is designed to showcase that breadth: There are dedicated zones of the page redesign for each, allowing regulars as well as first-time visitors to find those things right away.
The redesign also allows editors to change the contents of the Strategist’s homepage more quickly. If a popular item comes back on sale, for example, a Strategist editor can easily surface older articles or items about that post, even posting an image that links directly to a retailer site selling that product.
The Strategist’s article templates have been changed too, with tweaks designed to enhance conversion rates. Those ranged from changing the color of the buy buttons (the developers discovered white buttons drive better results than orange or black ones) to including increasingly popular commerce content features such as listing the number of items included in each post, as well as a call-out of how many items are on sale.
Unlike most publisher redesigns, the number of ads on The Strategist remains unchanged; while its pages will run banners, the Strategist does not feature any branded content about shopping items. The pages also do not have a Taboola widget that lives at the foot of articles. New York also did not hunt for a sponsor to launch the site redesign with.
On the back end, New York’s design and engineering teams made changes designed to make life easier for the Strategist editorial staffers. The product database gives editorial staffers an opportunity to analyze the past performance of particular products to hunt for story ideas. For example, a database search for makeup products, sorted by which ones converted best or sold best, can give a Strategist editor or writer the raw material for an article in just a few minutes, Swerdloff said.
The redesign will set the stage for a brand campaign that will go live in stages, starting in October. Most of the campaign will be concentrated on Instagram and Facebook ads, and it will be aimed both at audiences that look like current Strategist readers as well as people that currently follow other commerce content sites. The out-of-home ads will be deployed in three U.S. markets where Strategist already has a good foot-hold; only about 15% of the Strategist audience lives in the New York area, in line with New York Magazine’s site as a whole.
Though the campaign is meant to increase brand awareness for the Strategist, the changes beginning on the site are designed to turn people into regular visitors. “We want to become habit-forming,” Hallac said.