Depth Replaces Reach for Small Publishers

With the coming of  2017, expect native advertising to take a sharp turn to e-commerce. Buzzfeed rolled out its gift guide newsletter in late September, but now we expect all new product reviews to include ways to buy the product that’s reviewed. And actually, this kind of native advertising makes a lot of sense, because it doesn’t annoy the consumer. Presumably, if someone is reading a product review, they’re considering whether to buy the product, and if they decide to buy it, an affiliate link or a shopping cart might just simplify things. And both publishers and advertisers are looking for ways to stop consumers from blocking ads.

This Christmas is going to be the big “tell” for both mobile advertising and e-commerce. Not only will Buzzfeed, whose readership is primarily young women, use native ads to sell products on its site, it will go further into tailored newsletters, moving into verticals like medical, grammar, and even people whose vocabularies include curse words.

And Buzzfeed is not alone. Before Gawker Media was sold, Nick Denton admitted that he got about 25% of his revenue last year from e-commerce.

What does this mean for traditional advertising? Not much, because the percentage of ads that are amenable to e-commerce is limited. Most large advertising spends are focused on branding. However, what it means for publishing is another story.

It means every publisher doesn’t need to go to Facebook to find an audience. Small publishers who go deep into verticals with affinity groups can do very well with small audiences that are very faithful. Take Brian Lam, a former journalist who now publishes The Wirecutter and Sweet Home. The Wirecutter uses product reviews to drive sales. Here’s what Lam, who used to work for Wired and Gizmodo, says:

Everything we choose is an award-winner, and we don’t focus on presenting you with anything but the things we love.

Consider them billboards for electronics and everyday things. The point is to make it easier for you to buy some great gear quickly and get on with your life.

Lam is transparent about the fact that he gets an affiliate commission for every product he sells. While his business model wouldn’t support a large organization, it does fine for his small team, and it earns him a loyal following among gadget geeks.

And what’s at the top of his site? A single banner ad for an HP laptop. And on Sweet Home, a single ad for an air purifier. Nothing to turn readers off, and something the readers might also want. Everything else on both sites is a product review.

We think this represents the future of advertising. Fewer ads, well-targeted, not looking for gigantic reach, but for depth of targeting.