How Publishers Can Use Ecommerce To Boost Revenues

January 31, 2022

The Bolt Team

Advertising and subscriptions have long been a revenue strategy for most publishers. But the industry is experiencing a seismic shift.

More than 1,000 employees were laid off in 2019 at some of the internet’s most popular media outlets, including BuzzFeed, AOL, Yahoo, and HuffPost and publishers are still wrestling with sustainable business models.

To evolve, publishers are developing new strategies to diversify their revenue streams, with ecommerce coming out on top. As the ecommerce space continues to skyrocket amid pandemic woes, publishers innovating with ecommerce features are seeing real returns. More than branded shops, affiliate links, and online shops, media companies are embracing brand licensing and remote checkout.  

So how can publishers leverage the ecommerce revolution? Keep reading to learn why ecommerce is a smart monetization strategy for media companies, plus four types of content you can create to drive ecommerce revenue on your site.

The traditional media business model: a crisis in the making

Two years before the layoffs, Buzzfeed CEO and founder Jonah Peretti, hinted that publishers were struggling. He wrote:

“The media is in crisis. Google and Facebook are taking the vast majority of ad revenue, and paying content creators far too little for the value they deliver to users. This puts high-quality creators at a financial disadvantage, and favors publishers of cheap media: fake news, propaganda and conspiracy theories, quickly re-written stories with sensationalistic spin, shady off-shore content farms, algorithmically generated content, and pirated videos.”

“The media is in crisis. Google and Facebook are taking the vast majority of ad revenue, and paying content creators far too little for the value they deliver to users.”

JONAH PERETTI, FOUNDER & CEO. BUZZFEED

According to Peretti, “The best media companies generate revenue from many sources, tapping a combination of advertising, subscriptions, studio development, brand licensing, and merchandising.” BuzzFeed then introduced a monetization model with several revenue streams. The focus is threefold: advertising, commerce, and studio. And in June 2021, BuzzFeed announced its plan to lean into commerce, growing it to 31% of its total revenue.

Content and commerce: a symbiotic relationship

For media companies, ecommerce just makes sense. Every piece of content you publish contains opportunities for product mentions, offers, and affiliate links. Let’s look at a few examples:

On Buzzfeed’s Tasty.co, this recipe for Sugar Swirl cookies combines full baking instructions with an opportunity to purchase ingredients. 

High-profile media sites aren’t the only companies following the content and commerce business model. Thousands, if not millions, of content creators, make money through remote checkout and branded products.

For example, Abby Lawson publishes an affiliate site for DIY, crafts, and organization. Or Nerd Wallet, a review affiliate site for financial products, which covers everything from credit cards to mortgages to investing to insurance.

Direct vs. indirect income streams

To add ecommerce to your media site, it’s important to understand the difference between direct and indirect income. Most media companies focus primarily on direct revenue. That is, income made from the content itself. This draws from traditional monetization methods that worked for decades for print media such as subscriptions, advertising, sponsorships, premium content, donations, conferences, and events.

But these methods haven’t been profitable enough to sustain digital publishers. At least, not alone. That’s why media companies are developing indirect revenue. This is income generated through your content without asking your audience to subscribe or pay to play. 

As a publisher, you already have the key ingredient to succeed: a large, engaged audience. You only need to create content that serves people who want help making a buying decision. Instead of sending them to a partner’s site, you facilitate the purchase on your own website. By removing redirects, remote checkout is fast becoming the future of shopping because consumers can easily make a purchase at the point of inspiration.

It’s as easy as mentioning relevant products or offers in your content, or creating content that recommends products that your audience is considering. 

How to leverage indirect revenue through content

Since you’re already producing content, from articles to podcasts and videos, your next step is to use that content to make relevant offers. Here are the types of offers that work well for publishers. 

Your own products: If you have your own products, you only need to create content that talks about the issues and problems that your product helps with. Be sure to include a link to your product pages, so people can click and purchase. HubSpot and Copyblogger are good examples of content-based companies that sell digital products.

Services: Another option for making indirect offers is to offer done-for-you services, coaching, or consulting to help readers achieve the outcomes you talk about in your content. 

Affiliate products: Don’t have your own products? No problem. Sign up as an affiliate for products that relate to your core topic. Then create content to promote those offers. Wirecutter and PC Part Picker are good examples of this model and you can integrate remote checkout to increase conversions and create a seamless shopping experience.

Types of content that drive product sales

There are 4 primary types of content that appeal to consumers: product reviews, product comparisons, best-of lists, and gift guides. Let’s take a closer look at each of them:

Product Reviews

Product reviews provide an objective analysis of products that your audience may be considering. In an article or video, you evaluate the pros and cons, cost, and effectiveness at solving the problem it addresses. Then share your recommendations, either to buy or not to buy.

This is a smart way to promote affiliate offers. Since it’s not your product, you can maintain complete neutrality, which makes you a credible source of information. 

As an example, security.org reviews individual products for sale on its website. This Ring Doorbell Review is a detailed description and analysis of the product, with feature images, comparisons to competing products, an editor’s rating, and a comprehensive recap at the end.

This review gives a quick reference to the doorbell’s features:

Product comparisons

Product comparisons are another popular content type that appeals to consumers who are ready to buy. This type of content appeals to people who are trying to decide between two or more products. But they want more information to ensure they make a good decision.

For example, WPForms published this article comparing two competitors with their own products. It compares the features and benefits of each product and then shares an easy-to-read summary of their findings. This type of content works well for promoting your own products. But be careful to remain objective. You can position your product as the best option, but be careful not to disparage your competitors. 

By giving an honest assessment of the products, you build trust. And that will often give your customers the nudge they need to buy from you. 

Best-of lists

Best-of lists are a combination of product comparisons and reviews. These articles list the top products in a specific category, so readers can evaluate multiple products in one place.

Tasty.co, for example, publishes a variety of best-of lists related to kitchen products such as 31 Bestselling Cooking Products From Walmart That Already Have Hundreds Of Rave Reviews and 31 Kitchen Products That Actually Do What They Say They Will.

To succeed with this type of post, focus on the types of products your audience is already researching online. Look for keywords with high search volume. And optimize your articles for SEO. This type of post works well for affiliate offers, especially if you’ve partnered with more than one product in a category. Here’s how to create this type of post:

  • Create a list of the top products in a specific category. 
  • Rank them, with your #1 recommendation at the top of the list. 
  • Write a blurb for each product, explaining why it’s on your list. 
  • Include an image of the product, along with details such as price or color choices.
  • Link each item to its product page

Gift guides

Seasonal gift guides leverage the power of special days, such as holidays or quirky awareness days like National Hangover Day or National Pie Day.

For example, this article in Town & Country Magazine offers 48 Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas for Stylish Women 2022. And if you need to buy a present for your loyal assistant, a quick Google search will uncover this article from Mental Floss for National Administrative Professionals Day.

This type of post is similar to a best-of list and aligns with what consumers are looking for in a timely manner. Look for the types of lists your audience is probably searching for. Then feature products that you have an affiliate partnership with.

How to add ecommerce to your site

To drive ecommerce revenue on a media site, you must make it as easy as possible for your audience to find your articles and complete the purchase. Ideally, the entire buying experience should remain on your website. 

With Bolt’s Remote Checkout for Publishers, you can easily turn your content-focused site into a marketplace. Whether you run a news and lifestyle brand or are promoting products on social media, a mobile app, a price comparison site, or in search engines through SEO, Bolt lets you engage with your customers wherever they are online.

Not only can you provide a one-click checkout, but you also have access to hundreds of retailers. And with Remote Checkout for Publishers, you get to keep ownership of your user data to gain end-to-end insights into the shopper’s journey.

Learn more: 5 Tricks to Improve your Buying Journey and Generate More Sales | Bolt – Perfecting Checkout

No more redirects, interstitial pages, and lengthy checkout flow that lead to high abandonment. And no need to worry about the extinction of third-party cookies. By keeping transactions on-site or in-app, you can acquire first-party data at the point of checkout.

Here’s why Remote Checkout is becoming the top choice for digital media companies like Bustle, Esquire, and InStyle:

Discovery

As the consumer reads one of your product reviews or seasonal gift-giving guides, your platform surfaces the ad, allowing your shopper to engage. Bolt syncs the retailer catalog to ensure the inventory is always up-to-date.

Checkout

Once your shopper clicks to purchase, they’ll select product details, shipping, delivery, payment, and then complete the order all in one click, without redirects. With One Click Checkout, and a network of tens of millions of shoppers, Bolt helps you convert more customers (50% compared to guest checkout). 

Bolt simplifies complex components to provide a single workstream that manages orders, tax calculation, discounts, shipping and delivery options, payment processors, and alternative payment methods.

Fulfillment

Once checkout is complete, your customer’s orders flow into the vendor’s existing order management system. This makes it easy for you to focus on promoting products, while the retailer focuses on fulfillment.

Are you ready to diversify your revenue?

Top media companies have already embraced ecommerce as a smart monetization strategy. And they’re blazing a trail for other publishers to follow.

By leveraging content that your audience is already searching for, you’ll not only serve your audience better, but you can also diversify your revenue and build a moat around your profits. 

One of the most elegant ways to do that is with Bolt’s Remote Checkout for Publishers. It’s the future of ecommerce. Are you on board?

ThinkShop by Bolt does not constitute professional tax or financial advice. Contact your own tax or financial professional to discuss your situation.