5 key eCommerce tips for digital publishers

Sovrn Publisher Advocate // April 23, 2020

Revenue diversification, already a priority for publishers in the 2020s, has become all the more pressing as COVID-19 disrupts global markets. With that in mind, What’s New in Publishing recently organized a publisher’s round table comprised of some of the best and brightest in the field of eCommerce.

Betsy Fast, Chief Content Development Officer at Hearst, led a fascinating discussion of eCommerce tips and strategies, and the conversation touches on all the things that publishers can do in both the short and long term to grow their revenue sustainably. 

You can watch the full discussion here (27 minutes), but we’ve broken out our top 5 takeaways below.

eCommerce revenues are relatively stable

Display revenues may be down, but people are still buying. As we find ourselves housebound while trying to conduct business as usual, eCommerce has become the only solution. Home goods, fitness, sporting goods, electronics, and beauty in particular are seeing a lot of traction. Our own data shows that publishers using Commerce are better-protected from fluctuations in the marketplace.

The key to success, according to Betsy, is to leverage your editors and focus on your audience, and “lean into what works.” Provide services your readers need or enjoy, and find other ways to “help them get on with their daily life in a really tough time.”

Of course, loyalty matters, and an eCommerce strategy can’t be built overnight. But readers are looking for trustworthy publishers now more than ever, and that trust can also inspire readers to shop through you.

Diversify your merchants

Over-reliance on a single retailer opens you up to a lot of risk. When retailers see large amounts of organic traffic, they tend to lower or “zero-out” commission rates as a result. That’s certainly happening now. However, if you diversify your merchant base, you’re better-protected from these fluctuations.

The best way to do that is to trust your editors and your audience. As Betsy puts it, “We’re looking for deals, what editors think is true to our brand, and top retailers for our audience.” 

This has the added benefit of creating more competition among retailers. When they see publishers directing traffic to other merchants, they’re more inclined to increase their own rates as a result. Adding more merchant diversity isn’t just good for you, it’s good for publishers.

Use eCommerce to backfill your display inventory

This tip comes from Bryce Widelitz, Senior Director of Business Development at CNN. If you’re seeing unfilled display inventory, use it to drive readers to your commerce content. For Bryce, this means focusing on tasteful, service-oriented content that readers will appreciate and respond to.

Traffic doesn’t necessarily equal revenue.

It’s important that publishers understand their top-performing pieces of content from a traffic perspective as well as from a revenue perspective. Identify highly-viewed pieces of content that don’t bring in much commerce revenue, and optimize your link strategy within those pieces. Similarly, highlight your best-performing commerce content and focus on driving more traffic to it.

Understand the landscape

No one can predict the future. But it’s important to understand that the digital publishing landscape has likely changed irrevocably. Hearst, falong with many other publishers, has been transitioning its live events to a digital format. That change may not be temporary. “Will people want to go to events?” after this is over, asks Betsy. Whatever the case, the new normal we discover post-COVID won’t be the same normal that we left behind. 

New to eCommerce? Here are our tips for new publishers. When you’re ready, sign up for Sovrn Commerce and create a new revenue stream for your business.

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