Forbes Media took a radical step last year when it started to put advertisers and outside contributors on equal footing with its editorial staffers, in print and online. Now, it’s going one step further with a Web redesign that will give advertisers even greater presence on the site.
Under a three-month-old program called AdVoice, advertisers could pay to have their labeled blogs appear alongside those of editorial staffers. Now, their contributions can run anywhere on the site that a staff writer or contributor can appear, not just the blogs section.
“AdVoice posts are treated with equal weight with any other posts,” said Kevin Gentzel, chief revenue officer, stressing that advertiser posts are labeled as such. While editors still decide what editorial content to run, he added, the voices of staff writers, outside contributors and advertisers “can co-mingle in an intelligent manner.”
Ad buyers have responded positively to AdVoice. Forbes has inked Microsoft to run in print and online and Toyota Motor America to run in print, Gentzel said.
“We…like the concept of taking valuable content that is client driven/produced and syndicating it out onto premium content sites such as Forbes.com,” e-mailed John Nitti, svp, managing director of integrated planning, ZenithOptimedia. “The more opportunity for user engagement, the better.”
Forbes.com’s last phase of its redesign, in November, seems to have helped lift traffic, if only temporarily. Unique visitors rose to 11.7 million in November from 10 million following its last redesign, but slipped back down to 9.3 million in December, per comScore.
The idea of Lewis D’Vorkin, the company’s new chief product officer, to mix advertising content with edit is a dramatic shift for a historic business brand that once prided itself on not using freelancers. (In another seismic shift, the company recently brought on its first non-Forbes family member as president/CEO, Mike Perlis.) On top of that, Forbes, which is under immense financial pressure, has taken some heat for relying more on unpaid contributors and mixing them with staff content.
However, while these latest changes might in some ways further discomfort those traditionalists worried about the distinction between advertising and editorial, they also mean greater transparency about where the Web site’s content comes from.
“It initially sounded like they were going to turn the site over to outside bloggers only,” a former exec there said. “Taking steps to place all their new moves in context is a very good thing. Having the bloggers as part of the offerings is fine, but the basic draw for the site in general is the output of the full-time edit team.”
Perhaps that’s why Forbes has started to spell out the roles of its contributors. Each writer now has a profile that lets the reader know if they’re a staffer or outsider contributor. As a Forbes rep explained, “The goal is to have as much specific information on contributors as possible.”