For Some Publishers, the Holiday Season Is a Key Way to Boost Ecommerce Sales

Bustle, BuzzFeed, Business Insider, Wired, and Ziff Davis explain their strategy

Bustle Digital Group is expected to hit over $4 million in ecommerce revenue this year.

All the presents have been unwrapped, but that doesn’t mean the season is over for publishers. The “gift guide,” where publishers curate products set to some theme and then get a cut of purchases made through the guide, isn’t just for Christmas.

As publishers continue to scrounge for loose change in the sofa, some are awakening to ecommerce opportunities by getting consumers to think about different ways of shopping year-round. Some digital publishers, like Business Insider, Bustle and BuzzFeed, do push out more content during the holidays, but spend a majority of the year seeding content to prime readers for big shopping days. It’s a strategy some older publishers, like Wired and Ziff Davis, also employ.

“Throughout the year, we do [gift guides] from a more genericized, evergreen [point of view],” said Jason Steele, senior vice president of commerce at Ziff Davis. “But come the holidays, things start to get more specific and funky in terms of trying to cater the content to the audience.”

Bustle Digital Group (BDG), which includes the sites Bustle, Romper and Elite Daily, has a dedicated ecommerce writing team of seven people (expected to expand to 11 or 12 people next year). The writers create curated product posts throughout the year, banking on search traffic to bring people to the content. The team creates an average of 25 posts a week, with only a slight increase during the holidays.

The company’s strategy, which mostly focuses on the Bustle site, is working. BDG is expected to “come in above $4 million” in ecommerce revenue for the year, surpassing its own expectation of $3.5 million, said BDG vice president of commerce and revenue development Meghan Muntean.

Both BuzzFeed and Business Insider (BI) Picks take their product recommendations seriously—and produce a lot more content during the holidays. (Both companies declined to give revenue numbers.) According to Breton Fischetti, senior director of BI Picks, this time of year is used to engage new readers coming to the site, trying to find the perfect gift.

Like BI Picks, the 20-person BuzzFeed commerce team tries to pick the best products for gift guides. “We don’t actually make any money if people return these products, so it’s to our benefit,” said Jessica Probus, director of market at BuzzFeed. The team, which has a gift guide landing page of over 300 posts, includes content from the company’s top lifestyle writers. In 2018, the team will expand to include “more specific shopping content for all our expanding verticals, doing more with SEO and more product reviews,” said Probus.

BuzzFeed, which works with more than 1,000 retailers for its commerce strategy, has also created actual products to highlight its brands, like Tasty and Nifty. The Tasty One Top, for example, is a cooking appliance that connects to the Tasty app and guides readers as they follow recipes; the Glamspin, a fidget spinner lip gloss, has over than 100,000 sold. Come 2018, you can expect to see more BuzzFeed-branded products, according to Ben Kaufman, Head of BuzzFeed Commerce.

The idea of integrating commerce into their editorial strategy isn’t a new idea for some publishers. Wired took its product review content to the next level when it debuted a new reviews design during Cyber Weekend (Nov. 24-27). To coincide with the new design, the recently expanded seven-person team reviewed around 200 products during this quarter—a move that led Wired to publish 67 percent more gift guides this year from November to December, compared to 2016.

All of Wired’s coverage is editorially driven and tied to its rubric of “Wired or Tired.” “We think the Wired brand means something,” said Jason Tanz, Wired site director. “Anybody can compare the features of phones but we care about this stuff as a lifestyle object, how it fits into your life—we think deeply about what it means.”

Wired’s revival of its products reviews is a yearly necessity, and it’s an approach that Ziff Davis properties, which includes brands like PCMag, IGN and Mashable, also takes. Gift guides are created throughout the year, with specific ones for a brand’s audience done during the holidays. Mashable’s content is geared towards the site’s social following, while AskMen relies on SEO and IGN focuses on returning visitors.

Unlike other publishers, Ziff Davis does have a dedicated ecommerce team, but they work with the editorial team to offer insight, rather than coming up with ideas themselves. “We have a dedicated commerce operation that functions symbiotically with [the] editorial staff,” said Steele.

The commerce team exists to share any data insight (and potential monetizing opportunities) with editorial. For example, the team knew Amazon Echo products were going on sale during the holidays, so they advised editorial to include the product in any guides.

With the latest acquisition of Mashable, Ziff Davis is looking to expand its audience from social. It wants to implement a similar strategy to PC Mag, which focuses on SEO. “Typically, [SEO] transacts a lot greater percentage wise [in sales] than a person coming through from the homepage or social,” said Steele.

2018 may end up being the year publishers stop pivoting to video and instead search for new ways to bring ecommerce to their brand.