Wirecutter tests new content on different platforms to increase affiliate revenue

This article is part of Digiday’s coverage of its Digiday Publishing Summit. More from the series →

It’s clear that the economic downturn has had a negative impact on publishers’ advertising revenue, but the impact on consumer revenue streams, like commerce, has been less obvious from the outside.

During a session at the Digiday Publishing Summit in Vail, Colorado on Monday, however, Leilani Han, executive director of commerce at Wirecutter, said affiliate revenue was up and consumers are reading commerce content on new platforms.

COUNTING ON COMMERCE

  • “The Wirecutter philosophy is reader service first, even if it doesn’t make us money, and there’s absolutely content and products that make us $0. And that’s fine.”
  • “When it comes to our performance and the actual shopping habits [of our readers], people are absolutely still shopping through our affiliate links.”
  • “People aren’t necessarily [on social media] to do product research. So instead, our focus there in engaging with the audience is [around] tips or surfacing a really great deal or [sharing] the latest on our reporting.”
  • — Leilani Han, Wirecutter’s executive director of commerce

Wirecutter saw a 20% increase in affiliate revenue during the fourth quarter of 2022, per parent company The New York Times’ Q4 2022 earnings report, and with just a couple days left in the current quarter, Han said that that growth has carried over into the first quarter of 2023 as well. 

“We’re not actually seeing a ton of softness at all. In fact, we’re having a pretty strong quarter, which is great. When you’re taking a look at some KPIs, like conversion rate, or [average order volume], it’s actually up year over year,” Han said, without giving specific figures.

Part of Wirecutter’s strategy for keeping revenue up and consumers engaged has been around diversifying the types of content her team is publishing and where that content is distributed. 

Han said she doesn’t want readers to only come to Wirecutter’s website in pursuit of finding the best wireless mouse, but to also look for answers on whether a viral item is worthwhile or how to properly wash bed pillows. Two years ago, the commerce pub started investing in its audience development team to diversify away from over relying on search traffic and to start meeting consumers at different stages of the shopping journey.

And while buying guides, product recommendations and reviews are still the core of Wirecutter’s editorial content, advice coverage and how-to guides for caring for products or shopping second hand for certain categories has become a growing content category.

“Traditionally, Wirecutter has been search focused, but what we’ve actually been finding is that social has been an interesting source for inspiration [for readers],” she said.

For example, producing reviews of viral products, like coffee alternative Mudwater or the $40 Stanley cup water bottle, are not typical products that Wirecutter would cover. But those product reviews, negative or positive, have generated views and engagement, according to Han. “That’s been a great way for us to expose different audiences to our brand.”

And when it’s the case that the targeted audience is less likely to be at the point of purchase, some publishers have believed in cost-per-click pricing, which gives them a small commission for getting readers to the retailer’s website, but they don’t actually buy the item. It’s a less lucrative model compared to cost-per-acquisition pricing, which rewards publishers with anywhere from 1-20% of the final sale when the reader ultimately does make a purchase. And data on what readers are willing to buy. However, it’s worth talking to affiliate partners about, Han said, because if nothing else, it helps to relieve some of the problems with losing attribution, a problem that’s particularly present on mobile.

https://digiday.com/?p=497517

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