Publishers are changing page templates for shopping content pages

As commerce has grown from a stream of incremental revenue into a lifeline for some media companies, some publishers have begun overhauling the way those pages work.

Instead of uniform templates, publishers such as Wirecutter are using different presentation formats for different product categories; in addition to using conversion data to build relationships with advertisers, sites including BuzzFeed are using it to tell site visitors what’s most popular among past readers; and sites such as the Strategist are adding widgets to their pages that follow people around with some of their most timely content.

On one level, these improvements are meant to improve conversion rates and drive more revenue. On another, they’re designed to encourage people to visit more regularly, build up reader trust and direct long-lasting relationships, increasingly high priorities among media companies.

“We’re very much in the 2.0 phase,” Nilla Ali, BuzzFeed’s vp of strategic partnerships, said of the site’s commerce product strategy. “2.0 is about, ‘How can we amplify the successes we’re seeing?’”

Last month during Prime Day, BuzzFeed began adding a widget to the top of its commerce articles that highlighted the products past readers had bought most frequently. The theory was that the widgets would help readers get through lists, which often had upwards of 30 items listed, more easily.

The widget drove click-through rates that were seven times higher than the ones BuzzFeed typically got during non-sale periods, enough to encourage them to keep adding them to past popular articles.

That widget is part of a broader trend at BuzzFeed and other commerce publishers to highlight and repurpose what is working. Ali said that BuzzFeed’s editors now regularly use the three years’ worth of affiliate conversion data it’s gathered to find content to repackage and redistribute, mostly through Facebook. “It’s about reformatting,” Ali said.

Other publishers have made changes that keep top-performing content visible. The Strategist noticed that its daily deal posts, which perform especially well with regular visitors, were getting lost as the site published more content throughout the day (the Strategist’s homepage feed populates in reverse-chronological order). So New York Media’s development team built a widget for the daily deal post that follows desktop visitors as they browse the site.

To make things even more user-friendly, the widget now links directly to the retailer’s site, rather than the Strategist article describing that product. An upcoming redesign of Strategist’s homepage, due to launch late next month, will feature more of those kinds of widgets.

“We’ve built up a lot of trust with our users,” said Camilla Cho, gm of e-commerce at New York Media. “We’re now at a point where we’re comfortable showcasing the direct product links.”

Outside of optimizing the most successful content, other publishers are trying to find ways to deepen the brand loyalty built up among their readers. Back in the spring, Wirecutter began publishing list-style articles designed to help readers discover broader varieties of products, said Blaine North, Wirecutter’s executive director of product and design. That included product lists, but this summer, it’s been experimenting with advice with no monetizable links at all, such as a recent post about how to visit San Francisco for a weekend on less than $100.

“The No. 1 thing for us is helping them make a decision,” North said.

Because commerce content monetizes differently from regular ad-supported content, commerce publishers quickly began treating the page designs differently. For example, The Strategist long ago removed a Taboola widget that sits at the bottom of most of the other New York verticals’ pages. Other sites, have gone so far as to strip all ads off their top-performing commerce pages to ensure that they load faster.

To test new formats and designs, many publishers are using paid social distribution to learn what works and what doesn’t. Though most commerce publishers focus on search for referral traffic, some are using Facebook as a place to test whether certain kinds of content resonates with their audience. The amount of money publishers have spent this year to date to distribute commerce content through Facebook is up 75% from the previous year, according to Keywee Chief Commercial Officer Jared Lansky.

But even with all this expansion, a certain amount of focus is necessary. “Where we’re seeing success is where publishers understand what their audience is,” Lansky said. “They’re not going to find success with stuff that’s not tied to their endemic audience.”

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