By Michael Rondon

Consumer tech has been considered an area where content and commerce fit together naturally, and Purch has been a leading publisher in the arena. The company expanded those efforts last year though, bringing ecommerce to its science verticals.

Folio: talks to Rob Britt, chief content officer at Purch, to find out how they strategize for a joint content-and-commerce operation, and how it works on a day-to-day basis.

Folio: Purch rolled out a new ecommerce platform across a few of its sites last fall. Now that you’re half a year in, what’s the status of the project?

Rob Britt: It’s going really well. The fourth quarter is the source of a lot of ecommerce activity so a lot of what we’re doing now is setting ourselves up for a strong Q4, and seeing growth along the way.

It’s not like we’ll be competing with Amazon directly, we’re not going to have everything in stock ourselves, but the focus is on aligning our ecommerce efforts with the content creation. That means that the ecommerce team and content teams meet regularly to make sure the right hand and the left hand each know what’s going on.

That’s not to say that the content team is waiting for the ecommerce team to tell them what to do, but we do have conversations.

Folio: You just mentioned the relationship between the ecommerce and content teams. Can you elaborate on how they work together strategically?

Britt: The editor of the site and one or two other editorial team members who are working on a specific part of the site will get together with the leaders of our SEO and ecommerce teams. They’ll talk about potential categories we can get into for product reviews.

We also have a dashboard that has all types of data including search, traffic on this particular site, traffic on our other sites, knowledge of the industry in general. We also look at potential revenue from direct display ads, as well, so we’re looking at the whole picture, not just ecommerce.

The editor makes the final call on which areas we’ll move into. And a big part of that decision will be how that category fits in with our brand, the other content we’re creating and if we have the expertise in-house to execute on it, or if we know we can go get it.

Folio: Once you get a product review vertical launched, what’s the relationship like between the ecommerce and editorial teams? How aware are editors of the transactions they’re driving?

Britt: The editor gets feedback in terms of performance, mainly monthly, high-level traffic and revenue. You’re not going to win in every category, so if we have one that’s not working from a traffic or revenue perspective, we need to understand why. It may be that we need to push harder, expand the number of products we’re reviewing, or we may have some SEO issues we need to address, or it might be that we didn’t get the buy buttons right—it could be a number of things, and we’ll analyze that on an ongoing basis.

Our editors need to pay close attention to the ecommerce side of things because it’s part of the experience. If people come in the door and have an expectation they’re going to get good advice on, say, fitness trackers, and we send them off somewhere where they have a lousy buying experience, or no buying option at all, we’ve ultimately failed them.

Is that a responsibility of the editors? Of the ecommerce team? We think everybody should be paying attention to it.

We’re not writing content for the store, but we do feel an obligation to help the reader find the best solution.

Folio: How is the audience responding?

Britt: If you look a few years back, there were review sites out there that didn’t even have buy buttons, and there was trepidation about adding them here at our company, as there was at many others.

We actually did some testing around this on one of our tech review sites that has a really strong fan base. The core audience was coming to the site every day and had their expectations built up over the course of a decade. When began adding buy buttons to the site, we were all on pins and needles. In reality though, there were literally no negative comments [except for a few isolated technical glitches].

That told us consumers wanted a full experience. They wanted you to help them make the purchase.

Folio: The flip side is that there is an obvious conflict of interest in reviewing a product that you’re also selling. How do you handle that potential conflict?

Britt: It’s absolutely a concern, and again, it’s ultimately about serving the reader. If we don’t think you should buy something, we’ll say you shouldn’t buy it.

Once we figure out what categories to go into, that wall [between editorial and ecommerce] goes back up, and it’s very high. The ecommerce team never asks us to write anything. And the writers that are actually involved in the reviewing are typically never involved in the conversations around which product categories we’re going to move into and why.

When a writer gets an assignment to review a product, their directive is simply to find the best one—that’s all their marching orders consist of. When that content comes back and it runs through the editorial process, it goes through the SEO team and we present it to the ecommerce team so they can figure out which buy buttons to put or if we should link to Amazon or stock it ourselves. The editorial team doesn’t get involved in that aspect.

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