The publishing industry has long struggled to find the right monetisation mix that works for everyone – advertisers, publishers and consumers. However, today striking this balance is not only possible but it is also, for a number of reasons, becoming crucial.

With competition for people’s attention increasing in the digital space, consumers have more options to switch media channels than ever. And if it’s not fickle consumers making life difficult for publishers it is the search engines constantly tweaking their algorithms to favour only quality content and pages with fewer and fewer ads. This, of course, undermines the traditional ad model that most publishers are used to.

As we can now no longer rely totally on advertising, one model for survival in the current media landscape is to boost revenues through “content + commerce”. I believe there is a virtuous circle that can be achieved by providing a good experience for the user. This starts with helpful content in an environment that makes the consumption of content both friendly and efficient. If the customer is happy with the advice and experience then it is easier to connect them with the marketers on the page. Having said that, this is easier said the done, and why a lot of publishers just add more and more ads to the page to compensate for the click through rates. But the rewards make it worth the effort.

So, if you want to pursue a more commerce-focused approach, what types of content works best? Essentially, “Reviews” and “Guides” are much more effective for creating “actionable” content than the traditional news category.

This is down to the nature of content and what the buyer’s intent is when they are reading it. When the intent is to buy, fix or add on then “Guides” or “How tos” are by far the best content mechanism and there is a definite opportunity for a “content + commerce” relationship with brands. If the consumer is still at the research stage, then “Reviews” are the most effective. News, on the other hand, is really an advertising media and should be used just to raise awareness.

Despite this, the majority of publications continue to focus on news categories regardless of the costs and labour involved. This is often because news content is seen as the most engaging and more highbrow. However, “Reviews” are far from dumbed down content; providing your own conclusion, rating and scores is not something publishers can make up and time has to be spent with the products under review to accurately appraise them. But ultimately it’s this type of content that drives our conversion rates at upwards of 24 percent.

Publishers also need to remember that they need to know their customer as well as possible. So their focus must be on researching and understanding customer data. Content production must then be driven by that data; while journalists may think they know how to write for a product or market, the data can often show that consumers are thinking differently.

With so much consumer energy spent searching for information on products, pulling everything into one place is a guaranteed winner for publishers. Trip Advisor is a great example of how this works in practice. The website provides professional and community content and helps people by simplifying the decision to book a hotel. This is what we’re replicating in the tech category to drive stronger relationships with marketers.

Beyond this, publishers looking to develop their “content + commerce” relationships, need to look at how they are delivering their content. This means understanding where the individual platforms lie within the buying cycle and whether they can actively trigger buying decisions.

For example, our data shows that the majority of purchases still take place from desktops. To this end sites like Top 10 Reviews will display a matrix of those 10 on the screen. On smartphones, however, the site only displays the top 3 on the first page. This is because smartphones are at a different stage in purchase funnel.

Essentially, experience should be customised to the device. Users tend to be trying to do something other than a direct purchase on smartphones and tablets. Tablets tend to be used earlier in the buying cycle for browsing and research; while smartphones tend to be used for showrooming.

Once you have created the content and optimised your review pages, you can build more valuable commerce relationships. This may mean stripping out a lot of the exiting ad space, but the value of the remaining inventory will be enhanced through its relevance and conversion rates, plus the fact that ultimately you are creating a better experience for the user and therefore ultimately making them more likely to respond to any marketing messages or calls to action.

By Antoine Boulin at Purch 

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